Point of View

Industrial IT projects must plan for providing and maintaining operational technology (OT) expertise

March 6, 2020

Industrial customers (in manufacturing, energy, utilities, and so on) have been sharing with us the experiences and challenges of their major IT projects and interactions with service providers. was particularly clear on that front) throughout their engagements:

 

  1. OT expertise can come from inside the provider’s talent pool, from their subject matter experts (SMEs).
  2. Partnerships and joint go-to-markets on the provider side can ensure expertise and experience specific to the client’s industry and the project’s technical requirements.
  3. OT expertise can, and should always, to some extent, come from the customer; who better to know their processes, technology, and industry?

 

The proverbial IT/OT challenge is particularly stark in industrial sectors. Normally we hear industrial firms lamenting their internal talent problems, where operators and engineers (the OT experts) lack IT background or the skillset and desire to learn. This also manifests as a barrier to digital transformation and an inability for industrial firms to fully leverage emerging technologies such as analytics or the industrial internet of things (IIoT). However, the IT/OT challenge is just as prominent for service providers when undertaking major IT projects alongside their industrial customers—whether that’s the cloud, ERP, or any combination of those with emerging technology.

 

IT and OT expertise working in harmony for providers can overcome historical industry challenges; joint go-to-market is one attractive option

 

At a recent technology-themed event, we spoke with execs from a leading engineering services provider to the oil and gas industry. The provider had partnered with another leading professional services provider in a joint go-to-market that covered both the OT and IT expertise requirements—bringing them together so that both sets of IT and OT capabilities improved the other. They created a joint platform based on this dual expertise that was able to both prove its value to oil platform operators and overcome the historical data problems facing the industry. Our recent report delves into oil and gas data constraints and ways forward. When considering analytics solutions, the engineering provider’s OT experience within the industry meant it could better determine the “business as usual” case, on top of which analytics expertise from the partner provider’s toolbox improved the end client’s predictive maintenance capabilities and process optimization.

 

We have seen many examples of this type of engagement strategy throughout our service provider ecosystem: providers are partnering with IoT vendors to scale up solutions, and cybersecurity partnerships are making sure security is fundamental to any solution. But, industrial customers of major IT projects are also telling us their stories, laying bare the need for all-knowing and maintained IT and OT expertise.

  

IT providers’ internal expertise and experience can supplement clients’ operational understanding, addressing industry-specific challenges and business goals

 

We recently covered the industrial IT/OT challenge in relation to IIoT security, but the challenge goes way beyond security; it touches projects in their entirety, as we’re seeing throughout industrial clients’ thoughts. One data protection leader who was firmly focused on industrial cybersecurity as part of their firms’ ServiceNow project commented

 

“The provider supplemented the capabilities of my team and offered an easy way to scale and flex cost effectively.”

 

This picks up on our earlier third point, where IT providers can and must supplement clients’ technical knowhow of their industry and processes, which goes a long way to ensuring that providers recognize industry-specific challenges and that their IT projects pursue the business goals most relevant to the client.

 

Industrial C-suites love it when a provider understands their industry and works with them to appreciate the industry’s unique, overarching business challenges and goals

 

A principal systems architect from an engineering powerhouse was full of praise for one provider, particularly its relationship management skills with the client’s leadership team. The engagement started with IT service management (ITSM), and from that success, it expanded into a range of services:

 

“The quality of their people from a technical aspect is very high. Their dedicated services team has very good knowledge, a very strong relationship [with us], and is very responsive. Their technical quality combines with deep engagement and collaboration all the way up to the CEO level; the provider has a strong relationship with our executives.”

 

One of the key hallmarks of provider success in our 2019 Manufacturing Services Top 10 report was relationship management capability. As well as the obvious benefits of getting along well with your client’s leadership team, good relationship management will better project teams’ appreciation of industry- and company-specific challenges and give providers a much better chance of leveraging clients’ technical expertise in tandem with theirs.

 

Providers must make sure their technical capability is covered for the whole engagement—or risk annoying the client and delaying the project

 

An energy giant’s biggest challenge in its IT project engagement was, quite starkly:

 

“There was no backup resource if the provider’s SME was unavailable.”

 

Providers, especially those with small pools of SMEs to draw from, must have a strategy to always meet both IT and OT needs, with the latter often getting the least attention.

  

The Bottom Line: There are many ways for providers to meet the OT requirements of an industrial IT project. Just make sure there’s a strategy in place from the start that both covers and maintains all bases.

 

Whether it’s joint go-to-markets through industry-specific partnerships, a provider’s own SMEs, or leveraging clients’ technical expertise, meeting the OT requirements of major industrial IT projects is not just a characteristic of success for providers; it also lends itself to a favorable customer reference.

 

 

 

 

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