Why IT and Operations are on a collision course

Long autonomous, IT and operations are now forced to work together, spurred by increasingly complex digital devices that pose fearsome cybersecurity threats.

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Beyond that, Steenstrup says, you need a specific plan for how you will integrate operational technology with IT systems. "You've got things like maintaining data standards, data architecture and the ability to transform sensor data and use it in an IT environment." This isn't a process that will be completed quickly, he adds.

Achieving ongoing IT-operations integration requires support from top management and from the leaders of both disciplines — and those leaders must work closely together. "One CIO told me a while back that he could see that every future project his company does will be a hybrid IT-operations project," Steenstrup says. "And he could have a battle every time, or else do it once and sort out standards, vendors and methods — and then all those other projects would be quicker."

Kim Smith, vice president of digital innovation, Capgemini [2015] Capgemini

Kim Smith

Some forward-thinking companies are taking this a step further and creating cross-functional IT and operations teams. "At Codelco, a large mining company in Chile, they have innovation run by engineers and the data scientists who are there to help them mine better," says Kim Smith, vice president of Digital Innovation at Capgemini. "But they realized they needed to infuse some IT capabilities into the relationship, such as cloud technology and remotely operated vehicles." That company created an innovation center where engineers and IT folks could explore new technologies together. "It created a marriage of engineering and IT," she says.

When that happens, Steenstrup says, "I've sometimes seen the walls start to come down completely. If you have joint investments and architectures, you won't have these problems in the future. So people building things like oil platforms are looking to get started on creating alignment now."

After all, engineers are engineers — whether they work with algorithms or conveyor belts. "Manufacturing engineers and software engineers," Davidson says, "are both concerned about designing systems that work and don't break."

Building a smart grid, together

At SnoPUD, CIO Beberness and Heimgartner, assistant general manager for distribution and engineering services, have always seen eye to eye. And Heimgartner knew he needed IT's expertise to complete the project he was hired to undertake.

"We started [around 2006] with a system that Thomas Edison would have been comfortable with, and we've turned SnoPUD into a 21st century utility over the past seven or eight years," he says.

A vital element of that transformation was creating a smart grid, something that required both engineering and computing expertise. And that meant putting careful thought into how responsibilities and tasks would be shared. "In all our substations, we have gateway computers that run a Microsoft platform," Heimgartner says. "At heart, they're PCs. Do I want my engineering people to be responsible for patching those?"

The answer to that question is no. On the other hand, he asks, "Do I want IT people going into substations to do those patches?" Again, the answer is no, because a substation is a dangerous high-voltage environment that requires special training to navigate safely. The solution — a networked system that lets IT patch substation computers remotely — is just one example of a project that required IT and operations to work effectively together.

When it came to creating, deploying and maintaining the smart grid, Beberness and Heimgartner both recognized that they needed a clear breakdown of responsibilities between IT and operations. "When I got here four years ago, the IT organization did not support any operational technology," Beberness says. "Chris and I talked about what made sense and where the line is." In SnoPUD's case, the line falls between networks, servers and operating system patches, which IT manages; and physical stations, communications technology and SCADA software, which operations manages.

To keep everything straight, and to make sure no one was left uninformed, the two leaders created a RACI diagram — for responsible, accountable, consulted and informed — to settle just which members of each of their teams needed to be consulted on and/or kept in the loop about which decisions. "Consulted and informed are where most of the issues arise," Beberness notes.

"We ended up getting everyone in a room who was responsible for their piece of it, and we hammered it out through the RACI diagram, and it was so effective that the silo barriers we had around those issues kind of disappeared," Heimgartner says. One reason this worked so well is that he and Beberness discuss everything and are very aligned in their own views of how IT and operations work together. "People get that they won't catch Benjamin and me on different pages," he says.

The new smart grid got its first big test in late August, when a huge windstorm swept through the region, knocking down branches across Snohomish County and cutting off power to 175,000 SnoPUD customers — more than half of the utility's total customer base of 335,000. The outage took five days to completely resolve, Heimgartner says, whereas a lesser outage in 2006 took seven and a half days to fix, and a comparable outage in 1993 took 10 days.

"Some of it was the really great people who flew at the problem," Heimgartner says. "Some of it was our processes — and some of it was the visibility we now have with the smart grid."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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