Wanted: Courage to handle operational technology

Wanted: Courage to handle operational technology

December 21, 2021

How is OT being led in your organization? OT expert Hanna Pikkusaari discusses the need for brave changemakers in the OT field.

How would you describe OT management in your organization? Do you lead operational technology as IT according to your strategy and towards your courageous vision? Does OT support your outrageous promise? Do you have requirements for OT? Is cyber security somehow related to the operational technology environment and who has the responsibility for that if any? These are some of the questions I have had a privilege to discuss with my colleagues, competitors, service, equipment and infrastructure providers, developers, locksmiths, specialists, directors, challengers and skeptics. And the most important question is; Does OT exist? Can one consider OT as a similar gigantic group of industries as IT?

Operational technology is often referred to as an enabler of automation processes in factories, power plants, backbone network solutions etc. But, OT is present in buildings as well - in the shell enclosing production lines and power plants. Well functioning OT enables good indoor climate but also a safe and secure environment in factories not to mention the surveillance of critical targets and server halls of banks and search engine operators. 

Operational technology of the built environment has been traditionally very technology-oriented. OT systems have been implemented into strong-built silos with no need to worry about crackers, hackers or data leakage. And regardless of future goals, OT always includes old technology because of the very long lifecycle of operational technology as a whole or a part of it. And the solutions are still seemingly safe in their silos. 

OT is also process-oriented. Wide invisible operations affecting our daily life are controlled by operational technology. It can assure or create an image of safety and security. It controls heating, cooling, ventilation, security solutions, and supply of energy. OT is also an invisible servant of risk and business continuity management. OT of the built environment is one of your key functions as a business manager or director. It’s horizontal, affecting all the silos of the organization just like risk management.

COVID-19 opened our eyes to the invisible operational technology; counting the number of people in a room or in an open space, measuring real-time indoor air conditions and assuring proper ventilation in a building. During an evacuation process OT can give instructions via all the available channels from SMS to employees to direct information to an approaching rescue unit, force the elevators to a certain floor and open or close gates and doors when it’s needed. OT reacts and controls but can also predict and suggest. So, as we can notice, OT can also be human-centric. And because of its special features related to living creatures, it cannot be prioritized similarly as IT solutions. OT is special in that way. 

The fourth industrial revolution is taking operational technology to the next level when the internet of things (industrial or not), requirements of real-time processing of endless amounts of data, predictive analytics and machine learning do face technical and business continuity and risk management. Despite the revolution, operational technology will have its features, stiffness, and vulnerabilities from all the recent decades because of its long lifecycles. And just as poorly acquired IT solutions, operational technology can cause harm to business and other processes depending on OT. So, the procurement team has to be alert and not to overlook the requirements of the life cycle. It’s not surprising if the environment has gained technical debt even before day one. Just like in IT environments, information security batches, EU GDPR, change management, and continuous development should be taken into account. When evaluating the big picture, the environments are very much the same.

So, what if the OT solutions will end up being as fragmented as in flexible IT environments when the fourth industrial revolution will roll over operational technology? Then also the life cycle of a certain solution may shorten. Can it be so that the requirements of the end user or an investor will rise so high that the industry (OT) is forced to jump to the next level of maturity? And when only adding costs, the end result is way too high. So, we have to be prepared for letting something go and concentrating on the new. The industry needs gamechangers and changemakers. We have to show the path and be courageous, together. 

Hanna Pikkusaari 

Smart Tech Advisor


Wanted: Courage to handle operational technologyHanna Pikkusaari
Smart technology advisor, IT & OT expert and speaker