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System Integration

Five OT vision planning steps

The operational technology (OT) world is moving fast and manufacturers and system integrators need to keep up. A vision plan can help provide guidance for the future.

By Matt Ruth September 21, 2021
Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

The operational technology (OT) world is moving fast. So fast that many struggle to clean up yesterday’s messes while trying to manage todays. Few are able to consider tomorrow, yet alone sit down and create a plan for the next 3 to 5 years.

Regardless of your ability to plan for it, the future is coming fast. Industry 4.0 proliferation, obsolescence of existing technology, and risk of that technology failing will be upon us before we know it. Not to mention baby boomers are retiring at an alarming rate, causing a brain drain. Applying Internet of Things (loT) solutions, data visualization and plans for leveraging machine learning (ML) need to be addressed in regards to this knowledge vacuum. Compound all of these considerations together and the C-Suite has one simple question, “What are we doing about our OT future in order to minimized risks to our company and capitalize on opportunities?”

Answering that question is challenging. It’s challenging because many professionals in the manufacturing space don’t have time to stop, study and plan. Lack of exposure and awareness compound the challenge as their focus is primarily on manufacturing and they may not know all the OT paths, possibilities or how to apply them in the long term. Lastly, there is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the size of the undertaking. Fear of actually knowing the gap. Fear of disrupting the status quo. Fear of guessing wrong and not being able to recover.

This challenge shouldn’t create paralysis. Just because it’s hard to start doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get done. President John F. Kennedy said it well, “We do it not because it is easy but we do it because it is hard (and worthwhile).

Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Five OT vision planning steps

As with any challenging, significant, and important effort, it’s good to get help, counsel, and coaching. Working with a OT system integration partner can provide a path to improve and expand both your bandwidth and your industry knowledge. Integrators have seen hundred, if not thousands, of systems to contrast and (the good ones) invest significantly in research, development and keep on top of the industry trends and possibilities to lend to your vision planning.

Having created dozens of five-year vision plans over the past few years, we have come up with a playbook to deliver a plan that can be consumed and adjusted as it’s executed in real time. There are a few key “success enabling” components in the development of vision plans.

1. Interview, engage, and understand – Planning the future OT structure of a manufacturer is not a spectator sport. It’s a process that requires emersion in the manufacturer’s locations and interaction with their professionals. The kernels of wisdom are inside your people’s heads. It involves (many) interviews and conversations with stakeholders. The SI is responsible to investigate, engage, and extract info such that a solid plan can be created.

2. Ask questions and make suggestions. – If the manufacturer has ideas, bring them to the table. In the planning phase, anything is possible and there are no bad ideas. Success comes from collaboration and interaction amongst the two companies. Don’t be bashful and don’t hold back.

3. IT/OT collaboration – The OT potential will likely rely heavily on the information technology (IT) department. Make sure IT is brought in early and often to share approach and provide their point of view and maybe even present counterpoints. IT executes vision plans often and has a great wealth of experience to consider from the perspective of funding, change management and organizational adoption strategy. IT should definitely not be overlooked.

4. Eat the elephant – Based on all the collaboration and fresh ideas, there is a temptation to front load the plan and “flood the engine”. Don’t get caught in this trap.  Make sure your plan is aligned with your resource commitment. Often a slower start in year 1 will result in a better kickoff and deeper engagement in year 2, 3 and beyond.

5. Find organizational balance – OT growth and value delivery is not dependent alone on technology. It must work in concert with a manufacturer’s people and process systems. There is no value in having the best OT solutions in a factory where the people haven’t been trained on how to maximize the system. There is no structure to support their needs as well as if the process is manually intensive and limited in an operator’s ability to connect with the system through automation. A good OT vision plan must balance people, process and technology.

Following these OT vision planning steps with an engaged system integrator will lead to a vision plan that adds value to the company, sets you up to maximize Industry 4.0, address your people challenges, and deliver return for years to come.

This article originally appeared on Avanceon’s website. Avanceon is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and


Matt Ruth
Author Bio: Matt Ruth is president of Avanceon.