Operations Technology (OT) is a critical component of the
services that local governments deliver, especially in utilities. Devices that
monitor and control electricity, water and wastewater are commonplace within city
utility operations groups. From remote gate valves (water/wastewater) to
reclosers and sectionalizers (electricity), the real-time, mission-critical
tools of infrastructure management have grown in intelligence and scope.
Devices and equipment that exchange data and function to monitor and control
systems are getting smarter and more interconnected all the time, by embedding
more Information Technology (IT) capabilities.
Sometimes referred to as IT/OT convergence, this trend has significant implications for the
departments that own and operate OT, as well as for cross-departmental IT
support staff. The IT/OT converged world means bringing together applications
and devices in new ways, and tying together systems that have previously
operated in isolation. Along with the vast growth in numbers of devices and the
increased functionality in both the IT and OT spheres, bringing systems
together yields integration on an entirely new scale. Meeting the needs of the
IT/OT-integrated city will require advances in communications, adherence to
expanded standards, and a focus on architecture and security.
The network of the IT/OT-integrated world will likely not be
a single network, but rather a combination of private and public infrastructure.
It will be based on standard, open technologies such as IP (internet protocol) but
will account for proprietary, legacy protocols common in the OT space.
Growth in both IT and OT is enabled by interoperability
standards developed through collaboration between industry and government.
Perhaps one of the most important by-products of the smart grid era (the
industry-wide initiative to make the electrical system smarter and more
automated) is the work done by government and industry
interoperability standards to support grid modernization. IT/OT projects
relying on the current body of standards can move forward today with a high
degree of confidence that things will work together.
The design of an integrated IT/OT system architecture must
consider the city’s current and future ecosystem and be flexible and adaptive
to meet future needs, while providing the scale and security required for
mission-critical operations. Fortunately, industry-proven architectural
patterns exist to help utilities work through the design process. Microsoft
provides the Connected Government Framework
Reference Architecture as a pattern for general governmental IT and OT services. For
utilities, Microsoft’s Smart Energy Reference
comes with a well-documented reference model and helpful discussions on
While interoperability standards have flourished, security
standards and regulation have been somewhat challenging. Yet cyber security
continues to be an important theme, made even more critical by the convergence
of IT/OT. Cities and utilities are moving forward with effective strategies for
One such city is Burbank, CA. Burbank Water and Power spearheaded an effort to integrate communications
and data for real-time monitoring and management of both electric and water
utilities, while taking advantage of some early forward thinking about
combining OT and IT operations. BWP’s integrated IT/OT systems manage a host of
utility functions within the umbrella of the city’s infrastructure.
The trend towards IT/OT convergence holds promise for making
all infrastructure management more efficient and safer, as smarter technologies
in the field become more integrated. With careful planning and disciplined
execution, IT/OT convergence will make cities smarter.