The digitalization era: using IT/OT integration and analytics to prevent mission-critical failures

John Finney

The convergence of information and operational technologies (IT/OT) is a key enabler for the Internet of Things, Services and People

We live in an increasingly connected world. In five years, there will be more than 40-50 billion connected devices, according to a recent report on the Internet of Things (IoT). This increasing ‘connectedness’ is driving both organizations and individuals to expect more flexibility and an up-to-date flow of information – even in the most demanding circumstances. We expect to get alerts ahead of time, and we expect to be kept updated continuously and accurately, for instance, as power outages are identified and resolved. We call this “digitalization,” and it is changing the world in which we live.

The good news is that, operational technologies (OT) are getting smarter and this is enabling the convergence with information technologies (IT), bridging the digital divide. This helps to manage the resulting explosion in data and harness this information to prevent critical failures, among numerous benefits which also include boosting productivity, enhancing reliability, and saving energy as well as costs.

One example where digitalization and IT/OT integration has prevented mission-critical failures is the innovative Asset Health Center software, which enables predictive analytics and provides prescriptions on how to best avoid risks and failures. Asset Health Center has already proven itself to provide measurable results for a major North American transmission operator, and an increasing number of utilities are preparing their organizations to implement similar solutions for asset performance management and predictive analytics. As this article from LNS Research points out, utilities see significant promise in a connected asset lifecycle management strategy, which also explores areas such as workforce management and planning.

Furthermore, a global ABB survey of over 200 executives at electricity, gas and water utilities earlier this year showed the increasing belief that IT-OT integration is a key component of any effective asset management strategy. According to the survey report, some 80 percent rated IT-OT integration for asset management as valuable. 58% of respondents either have, or are planning to have, a strategy leveraging the IoT for asset management and 55% reported that the importance of asset management has increased over the past 12 months. A similar ABB survey across the rail sector also underlined that increased integration of IT and OT is key for long-term planning.

Raiford Smith of Entergy Services, Inc. in a recent report on the subject said he believes this trend will continue to grow. “I think it will be similar to the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) rollout,” he said. “Utilities will start with a single use case in mind but evolve to recognize they need a more sensor-heavy, digital, and connected environment. Rather than having to send a technician to manually gather data or inspect assets, they’re going to want data in more real-time, and they’re going to want to have analytics that continually monitor, alert and react to issues that arise.”

Utilities, it seems, are ready to grasp the opportunities offered by integration of IT and OT. And if this leads to the prevention of mission-critical failures, that can only be a benefit both for the organizations involved and the millions who rely on their assets.

About the author

John Finney

John Finney works as Technology & Business Development Manager for ABB’s Grid Automation business unit. John has a Bachelor’s Degree and a PhD in Electrical Engineering. He joined ABB in 1995 and has held a number of senior management positions in software development, product management, and R&D within ABB. John was instrumental in leading the business unit Product Management team as well as a Global Product Group for Communication Networks during a time when several new acquisitions of software and wireless companies. He’s also got very deep domain expertise after spending time working within ABB's Corporate Research organization.
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  • Cezar Maroti

    Utilities and rail are just 2 of the industries that can benefit from the IT/OT integration. But the learning from these areas should soon move to many other domains like agriculture, maritime shipping, telecom, etc.