IT Infects Operational Technology

Earl Perkins, Gartner vice presidentMetro Atlanta IT executives heard a Gartner expert tell them “digitalization has infected physical things” at a briefing on cybersecurity and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Earl Perkins said, “IT has infected OT [operational technology] to a point now where things are starting to get really interesting.”

Perkins, a research vice president in Systems, Security and Risk at Gartner, shared his thoughts on “What Securing Industrial Automation and the Internet of Things Means for Digital Business.”

He first explained where OT and IoT can be found. Whatever controlled the elevators that got the briefing attendees to the 26th floor is OT, as are facilities management controls such as what controls the building’s HVAC.

The digital business areas new cybersecurity challenges when every device is passing along information.

But it’s all about the money, according to Perkins. People are creating “smart” frying pans, socks – and one person even started a Kickstarter campaign for a device that allows you to detect when you pass gas. The latter idea is to match it to what you eat.

“We are reaching a point now where technology is going down to physical levels where people are throwing Jell-O against the wall to find ideas that they can sell to people,” he said.

If you’re wondering what all of this has to do with your business, Perkins has an answer: the company’s business units and people determine what kind of initiatives are going to be used and what types of enablers.

IT departments will be finding out – if it isn’t happening already – that other departments already have tried to deploy OT within their sphere of the company. That could include engineers on the assembly line adding sensors and controls to their section without consulting IT. When problems begin to mount that will be when they come to IT.

IT has been playing catch up all along, and it won’t be changing soon. So Perkins advised the IT leaders to become proactive and try to move ahead, or at least stay at the same pace the business unit is doing.

IoT won’t survive without the cloud, and IT people had better stop asking if the cloud is secure.

“That’s yesterday’s question. We are moving on now,” he said. “The answer is yes, because what choice do you have?”

While two thirds or more of what works for security in IT is applicable to OT, many new things have to be learned. OT creates a larger threat surface. And as the complexity of the surface increases, so does the level of the threat.

Just look to the Sony Pictures cyber theft for an example of this.

“Sony Pictures was a watershed event because it showed us it is possible for a cybersecurity event to push you into a disaster recovery mode,” Perkins said.

With all of this data flowing around, someone has to manage it. He told the IT leaders that they should advise their children to go into data science, which will continue to be a growing field.

However, not everyone who uses the multitude of data produced in applications through IoT needs to be a data scientist. That data will be valuable to users in all levels of an organization. And those end users need to consume that data and iteratively explore it in real time in the application through embedded business intelligence and analytics.

Everyone lives in a more data-driven world. Shopping on Amazon results in real-time updates of recommendations. Retailers such as Target, Sears, Neiman Marcus and Kohl’s have online recommendations for visitors to their sites as well. Google tracks your every move – if you let them – and adds its own set of recommendations down to the street on which you are driving (or walking, or taking a bus…). Every organization wants the ability to use the best data that’s available for their own business.

Izenda believes that the democratization of data requires reporting, dashboards and analytics be available to more than just the data scientist or IT power user.  The data needs to be in the hands of the business staff who need to make the daily – or even hourly – decisions that are most advantageous for the company.

Izenda is an integration-ready .NET web application that allows organizations with on-premise, cloud, SaaS, and enterprise applications to deliver modern self-service reports, dashboards, and visualizations.

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