A key tenet of Darwin’s theory of evolution is the idea of adaptation, in which a species changes over time to better adapt to its environment. Based on discussions with industrial organizations getting involved in the industrial Internet of things (IIoT), I believe we’re witnessing a similar phenomenon among the ranks of industrial technologists.
Until recently, there was a clear division between IT, which controlled the data center, and OT, which was responsible for the care and feeding of operational automation systems. IT and OT were two distinct species with different backgrounds, skillsets, and priorities. Now, however, we’re beginning to see the emergence of a new breed of hybrid IT/OT professionals, who are bridging the gap that has traditionally separated these two worlds. IT and OT convergence is occurring at the level of the individual technologist.
Why is this happening?
An instructive analogy can be found in the rise of cloud computing. When developers found that IT was not responding to their needs, they did an end run around the barrier and used public cloud services instead. As developers took it upon themselves to secure the IT infrastructure they needed to run their applications, DevOps was created. This “Shadow IT” trend, well-established in business enterprises, is now gaining momentum in industrial organizations. As computing and data collection are moving closer to the edge — the domain of OT — a new combination of skills is needed, giving birth to the IT/OT hybrid.
There is also a generational shift occurring. Many OT professionals have been in the game a long time and are now approaching retirement. As they move on, a new generation is taking their place. Far from being intimidated by technology, these young digital natives were raised on it. They recognize the possibilities of the IIoT and will look to realize those possibilities as they increasingly push intelligence out to the edge and leverage data and analytics in new ways.
How to actively recruit for this
Forward-looking industrial enterprises are actively recruiting specialists with the skills required to manage both IT and OT technologies. They recognize the value of recruiting professionals as comfortable working with servers as they are with machine tools, packaging lines, or pumps and valves. Whatever their background, IT/OT hybrid specialists share a passion for the intersection of technology and industrial operations.
These professionals will likely have new expectations for the technology they use as well. Recognizing the value of data produced at the edge, they will likely place data protection at the top of their priority list. IT/OT specialists will also look for solutions that offer a better ownership experience, including working with vendors who assume responsibility for system availability. In short, they will demand solutions they don’t have to worry about.
How soon will we see this new species emerge? Unlike the natural world, this evolution will happen quickly — likely within the next two to three years.