Evolution of IT departments to support IoT and digital transformation

Successful IoT deployments require bridging the gap between operations and IT.

wireless network - internet of things edge [IoT] - edge computing
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You can’t spell IoT without IT, but that doesn’t mean IT departments are big fans of Internet of Things deployments. In fact, we’ve observed that IoT tends to exacerbate some of the challenges that IT departments face within their organizations.

Understanding and anticipating IT’s primary areas of concern can help IoT deployments succeed.

Lines are blurring

Traditionally, the IT department has operated in a vacuum. The focus of IT departments has been in internal support, network management and managing enterprise applications. IoT deployments have been the traditional focus of operations teams that typically deploy point solutions to solve a business issue.

As IoT solutions increasingly use intelligence and data analytics, and integrate with enterprise management systems, the lines between operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) are blurring. OT is the hardware and software used for sensing and collecting data. This includes all the hardware at the edge of the network. Most IoT solutions involve a combination of OT and IT. The IT in IoT includes the network, cloud-based platforms, data analytics and integration with other cloud-based applications.

A typical IoT solution is deployed at the edge of the network to solve OT challenges. The IT department is typically involved at the end of the development cycle when cloud-based platforms and network connectivity enter the conversation. This typically results in a conflict between the IT and operations departments.

The impact of this conflict is predictable and often has a lot more to do with humans than technology. Here are some factors that contribute to a lack of enthusiasm among IT department for IoT generally:

No operations expertise in the IT department

IoT is largely an operational solution. That said, the use of an organization’s network, cloud capabilities and integration with other enterprise applications results in the need to involve the IT department during solution development. However, the IT department’s focus on security, connectivity and management often contributes to a lack of expertise in the operational and business objectives of deploying different systems. This typically results in conflicts between the IT and OT departments.

This issue can be resolved by adding personnel with operational expertise in the IT department to educate and manage IoT deployments.

Organizations are making that slow transition to create cross-functional teams and they are hiring operations personnel into the IT department. While there is movement in a positive direction, However, this transition has been slow and requires additional personnel training. Organizations must encourage closer cooperation between operations personnel and IT departments from day one to ensure success of IoT deployments.

Trying to use IT to solve OT challenges

IT departments typically use IT solutions to solve organizational challenges. This creates a conflict with operational personnel who are using technology to make business decisions. One area where the conflict is most visible is whether to store data and perform data analysis on the edge or the cloud. Operational personnel are often wary of connecting devices to open networks and look to keep all data in-house, whereas IT personnel are more inclined to centralize storage and analytics capabilities.

Providing relief to IT departments is the transition towards increased edge computing capabilities. Hardware devices on the edge have similar processing power as cloud-based platforms. In addition, the availability to analytics software and intelligence moves IoT closer to real-time analytics and data helping organizations minimize their networking and cloud computing costs.

Leading the conversation with technology instead of business benefits and outcomes

The IT and OT departments typically view IoT through their distinct lenses. The IT department focuses on the technologies that will be implemented, whereas the OT department focuses on business challenges that can be solved leveraging IoT. This often results in conflicts that can elevate distrust between departments.

Operations departments usually take the lead in IoT deployments and IT departments must work closely with them to ensure that the solution being developed works well in the current environment. We’ve observed that deployments that loop IT in earlier and welcome their department’s strategic involvement are more likely to succeed, delivering the necessary business benefits and helping the organization either save money, make money or increase productivity.

Integration of new IoT systems with existing systems

Organizations have been developing enterprise applications for years, and the layered approach to integration often results in a lack of cohesion and compatibility between distinct systems. These silos pose a challenge to organizations looking to centralize management and analytics of devices and systems. IT departments must find innovative ways to integrate existing systems with newer deployments. The aim is to break the silos and create a centralized solution. Alleviating this challenge is essential to realizing the vision of digital transformation and increasing the ROI from IoT deployments.

The last word

Bridging the gap between operations teams and the IT department is critical to the success of an IoT deployment. Cohesion and cooperation between the teams ensures that solutions deployed help the organization meet (and I hope, exceed) business objectives. The integration of operational expertise in the IT department can help organizations go a long way in achieving their goals. However, this is a slow process and organizations must make the long-term commitment at the CXO level to ensure its success.

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