The Bullshit IT/OT Turf Wars: Why our IoT Tech and Telco ecosystem echo-chamber needs to listen more and preach less

Harinderpal Hanspal

Harinderpal Hanspal

From the dawn of IoT (Internet of Things), ownership of IoT technology between IT and OT (operational technology) groups has been an ongoing debate, recently documented in the  CIO article, “Edge Computing’s Epic Turf War.”

  

This turf war reminds me of the OSS (Operational Support Systems, aka network) and Business Support Systems (IT) turf wars in Telecom when IT gear started showing up in the telco network and central offices. It did not end well in some places, sometimes leading to network outages and unhappy paying customers. 


OSS budgets fell under the telco’s network group. It’s their job to make sure that the network was there when you needed to make that all-important call. Their processes, tools, and skills are built around that dial-tone being there when you need it. The IT or BSS group, on the other hand, has the job, amongst other things, of making sure that your bills go out in time. For billing, their processes, tools, and skills are optimized to ensure that THEIR customers, the internal functional groups like finance, have the tools to get their jobs done.


When things go sideways with the network, it directly impacts your ability to make a call. The OSS group’s ability, or inability, to do their jobs directly influences the telco’s business, customers, revenue, and profitability. They get paid to keep the telco’s PRODUCT up and running, regardless of which technology it runs on. BSS group gets paid to make sure the bills go out on time. How many times have you complained to your provider when their billing system goes down?  


I was reminded of this dynamic by one non-IT executive who procured technology for their organization without any IT involvement. As he put it, “my job increasingly depends on technology, and there is no way that I will depend on IT until they get paid the way I do!” Along with some other unmentionable four-letter words describing his feelings about their IT group. How would you feel when someone puts your quarterly bonus at risk?


Technology that SUPPORTS business is NOT the same as the technology that IS THE business, even when the CPU specs are identical. 

 

Manufacturing and O&M (Operations & Maintenance) executives whose jobs are directly reshaped by technology are taking control of their destiny as their jobs become technology-dependent. In many companies, tech budgets are now under majority control or full veto power of the “business,” or OT, regardless of which group grants the final Purchase Order.

  

They are also hiring and building their technology teams, reporting directly to them, where none existed before—keeping IT groups away from interfering with their jobs. We, technologists, have a disparaging label for these groups: Rogue and Shadow IT, the basis for many turf wars. 


This behavior is not new. We saw this when Chief Marketing Officers of yesteryear had to jump headfirst into Digital Marketing. Instead of seeking guidance from their IT group, they hired, reporting directly to them, marketing technology experts, and agencies, who helped them make marketing technology choices without any input or involvement from their IT groups. Analysts were even predicting that the CMO’s technology budget would eventually exceed the CIO’s technology budget!   


I wonder if there are any analysts out there who’ve looked into the future Chief Manufacturing Officer’s technology budget and compared that to their IT colleagues. Anyone?  


If we rewind the clock further, there are the many failed ERP projects of the early 90s. Those projects were frequently initiated and driven by IT groups and their technology vendor and consulting partners. People whose jobs were directly impacted by the change, like plant floor operators, were brought in when us techies were ready to train them on the new system.  


In one project early in my career, the entire plant floor came to a standstill on go-live day. Why? Because our new “visionary” workflow was different from how the job had been done for years and was too disruptive. Nobody had bothered to understand how the job was being done, because that was the “old” way. 


That, and the fact that the “vision” took two years to implement, meant we needed to send hundreds of people through training. Since we couldn’t stop production lines, it took many months to get everyone trained. When we finally went live, many had already forgotten which screen did what. Imagine going to THAT go-live retrospective meeting. 


Learning how things were done the “old” way could have saved much heartache, time, and budgets. And bonuses. We could have identified small changes that to implement quickly to make their jobs better, as we marched towards our world-domination vison. There would have been no long implementation cycles, and there would be minimal disruption to their jobs because we spent the time to learn HOW they did their jobs. The old way.  


I’ve had the first-hand experience of a manufacturing executive walking out of a meeting, five slides into the presentation, just as we were getting excited to talk about our game-changing Digital Twin technology using our proprietary AI/ML models. We should have known that this would not end well when he stopped us on our second slide, a slide informing him that he too would get “Netflixed” or “Ubered” if he didn’t change. He reminded us that he did not get paid to rent videos or drive taxis.


Later, he told me that blah, blah, blah is all he heard; we sounded just like every other technology vendor and expert, showing up and throwing up our wares, preaching to them about “Digital Transformation.” Many manufacturing executives remember the “big” ERP implementations and are not interested in repeating those mistakes. We techies seem to have forgotten those lessons.


Telling a manufacturing plant floor executive that their industry will get “Uberized” or “Neflixed” if they don’t change means nothing to them. Neither does gushing about our generic AI/ML models and Digital Twins. They don’t care about our world-domination vision. It doesn’t help them reduce inventory on the shop floor, and it doesn’t improve their product yield today, tomorrow, or the next quarter. It doesn’t keep them up at night or help them get their job done. Like us techies, it doesn’t help them make their bonus when they don’t meet their production targets.


The made-up turf war is one reason many IoT “wins” by IoT vendors, and their IT counterparts get stuck in pilot hell. Frequently, the IT groups only have enough budget for a Proof of Concept and cannot convince the plant floor executive or O&M group to open up the purse to get into production. 


The result is that you extend your pilot for another month, quarter, or even longer, sometimes with no end in sight, depending on how much budget the tech group has for “innovation” projects. For a startup, this could be the beginning of a slow death. For everyone else, it wastes money and time. 


Visionary business transformations are expensive and take time to implement. We can apply many lessons from the past “digital transformations” to today’s IT/OT discussion. Buzzwords we use might be new, but we’ve all seen this movie before, all too frequently. Even Netflix and Uber did not just show up overnight to disrupt their industries.


We in the tech & telco echo-chamber need to stop blaming OT for not seeing or buying into our world-changing “visions” for them. They are doing the jobs that they are paid to do. They already know that they need to change and leverage more technology for their jobs. They would not be looking to build their “rogue” technology groups if they believed otherwise.


Instead of “fighting” for turf, we need to help them on this journey by learning how they do their jobs today by asking questions and bringing our listening ears. OUR job is to use this information to develop innovative solutions that help our business peers do their jobs better, sooner than later, disrupting over time, one iteration at a time, and minimal disruptions to existing workflows. All of our bonuses depend on it.

 

Listening helps our customers, our companies, and our careers far more than preaching to win a technology vision/implementation/operation ownership battle. Using derogatory terms like “Rogue IT” and “IT/OT Turf Wars” does not help our cause. Turf wars are costly in time and money. Turf wars are not needed, just our ears. 


Or we all need to get paid like OT. 🙂 


Do you agree? What your experience, and what lessons have you learned?