IT and Operational Technology Alignment Innovation Key Initiative Overview

Archived Published: 26 March 2014 ID: G00262992


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This overview provides insight into how IT/OT alignment can help companies through the maturing process, leading to a transformation to more fully integrated digital businesses.


Figure 1. Progression of Change
Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Source: Gartner (March 2014)

Aligning operational technology (OT) with IT involves coordinating traditional IT management OT, such as devices, sensors and software used to monitor and control physical equipment.

Operational technology is hardware and software that detect or cause a change of state through the direct monitoring or control of physical devices, processes and events in the enterprise.

Traditional hard-wired electromechanical, proprietary, single-purpose or stand-alone OT systems are rapidly being replaced by more-complex OT software and firmware products that use common IT components. We call this "convergence."

IT/OT integration promotes a single view of enterprise information and process management to help ensure that every person, sensor, switch or other device has the right information, in the right format, at the right time. As OT products take on more commercial software infrastructure and underpinnings, simply getting OT to interface efficiently with IT systems at a process level is difficult enough for many companies. Getting IT and OT to work together to maximize business efficiency — while avoiding negative consequences, risks and pitfalls in the process — makes the task even more challenging.

During 2014, Gartner will further refine its IT/OT Alignment research agenda, providing a five-level road map that can help a digital business:

  • Identify how IT/OT convergence is occurring in its own business through research.

  • Develop a consensus of what convergence means to the company, which can help create a foundation for a coordinated IT/OT alignment approach.

  • Define the governance and management of an OT portfolio to reduce risk and costs.

  • Leverage data via management of IT and OT systems and infrastructure.

  • Optimize the power of IT/OT integration to transform the enterprise to a mature, true digital business.

Consider These Factors to Determine Your Readiness

As OT systems rapidly evolve from hard-wired, electromechanical, proprietary or stand-alone systems, interdependencies between IT and OT are increasingly complex. Companies must recognize that many OT vendors and systems are still in the process of transitioning their product architecture from rigid, inflexible and isolated proprietary systems to commercial platforms:

  • Determine whether your organization has conducted an inventory of OT systems and the technologies they are based on. This is necessary to determine where and to what extent IT/OT convergence changes your business processes.

  • Understand that IT and OT have very different architectures, and not all OT vendors have developed mature delivery processes and support techniques, so dependencies between IT and OT become critical.

  • Evaluate your unique circumstances (maturity, systems, architecture and so on), and seek to identify which IT/OT interdependencies should be constrained to reduce risk and which should be kept flexible to optimize performance.

  • Ensure you have the governance requirements needed to accommodate deployment of new OT systems. Unlike older, monolithic proprietary OT systems, new-generation OT systems need tools and processes in place to accommodate the need for cybersecurity, patching, upgrades, data management and SLAs, all of which are key to effective digital business.

  • Account for geographical variances. In emerging countries, IT and OT products are less established and ingrained, resulting in fewer, hard-to-integrate "old generation" OT systems. Additionally, industries in these emerging countries are less likely to be mired in established practices that separate IT departments from the engineering and operations groups. In such scenarios, organizations are often more willing or more able to align and integrate IT and OT groups and products.

What IT/OT Alignment Means to CIOs

The role of technology providers in the area of IT/OT alignment is still evolving, and most vendors still separate their solutions into IT and OT domains. While the opportunity for a cross-sell or a combined solution is still limited, a number of key players are emerging. Some are traditionally OT vendors that are expanding IT capabilities, some are offering base-level operating systems of IT and OT products, while others are IT asset management vendors that are promoting their products for managing the life cycle of OT products. Some are consulting or system integration vendors moving into the IT/OT integration arena.

For CIOs to determine which vendors are best-suited to help them meet their IT/OT alignment needs, CIOs first need to evaluate their current IT/OT alignment, for which Gartner recommends a three-level process:

  • Concepts defined. Understand convergence and to what degree your OT system architecture is converging with IT concepts. Identify where IT and OT standards, products and processes are aligned.

  • Implications and scenarios. Identify integration opportunities to link IT and OT systems, as well as IT departments, with engineering and operational groups. Identify the short-term as well as long-term impact on business goals and risks.

  • Technologies and vendors. Identify current and future technologies that apply to this innovation. Determine where to start with the innovation and your organization's readiness to adopt the innovation. Explore the most important vendors' offerings.

What IT/OT Alignment Means to IT Leaders

With proper IT/OT alignment, IT leaders gain a better perspective on where to focus efforts to improve business processes. Integrated IT/OT systems can become fundamental elements in determining an enterprise's digital business strategy, a strategy that can help shorten project timelines while promoting systemwide management and governance guidelines.

Once standards and practices are established, it becomes easier and more manageable to carry out higher and higher levels of IT/OT integration that go beyond time and costs savings to value creation via data visibility and agile availability of data.

The process of maturing the organization to higher levels of IT/OT alignment presents both an increased risk and an increased opportunity for the company to mature as a whole. The CIO should maintain an ongoing audit of IT/OT risk areas.

Achieving IT/OT alignment at the technical and process level is just the first step toward an effective digital business strategy. Getting processes and the people involved to work together to maximize business efficiency in an integrated way is the ultimate goal.

© 2014 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction and distribution of this publication in any form without prior written permission is forbidden. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information. Although Gartners research may discuss legal issues related to the information technology business, Gartner does not provide legal advice or services and its research should not be construed or used as such. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof. The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.

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