Don’t Let Your IIoT Program Succumb to Cultural Conflicts

Making IIoT a RealityIIoT has become a primary talking point about not only Industry 4.0 (I4.0), but all of the other digitalization topics around I4.0 such as analytics, artificial intelligence, augmented reality/virtual reality and digital twins. The ability to get information from the factory floor and move it anywhere and to anyone cheaply and in real time has driven IIoT into virtually every manufacturer and asset intensive industry client and vendor community discussion lately. With so much focus, both from management and leadership and technical and engineering staff, why then, have so few industrial internet of things (IIoT) projects moved out of pilot purgatory and into full scale production. Some will argue the business case isn’t there yet, others will argue that the technology is not ready or scalable yet while others say something else is lacking like leadership support or adequate deployment and support skills. There is possibly an even more fundamental cause projects are stalling; cultural wars inside the organization are inhibiting progress.

Big IIoT Projects are Often IT led, but OT Based

Our research data and client interactions lead us to believe that many corporate-wide IIoT projects are being led by the information technology (IT) organization. Often this is because the CIO has leadership team support, there are major cyber security aspects which are the purview of the CIO and because wireless technology is often key, IT is at the center of the technology footprint. There are certainly a number of pilot projects being pursued by engineering, maintenance and plant operations staff but they tend to be focused on a single use case and typically are in a single location. In many cases they are being thought of as “proof of concept” projects. Sometimes they are all supported internally or leverage a small startup technology provider trying to break into the market so willing to invest in the success, lowering the end user costs. But the big IIoT initiatives that are positioned as driving digital transformation or seeking to disrupt the status quo almost always come from the CTO or CIO’s office.

The challenge then for many IIoT projects is that while IT led or sponsored the technology typically comes from the operational technology (OT) side of the business in manufacturing plants or asset intensive facilities or operations. The business cases revolve around operational improvement driven either by higher reliability, improved quality or greater sustainability. Many of the data sources are embedded in process control systems or from onboard sensors attached to machinery. The communication channels may be reliant on programmable logic controller (PLC) or distributed control system (DCS) networks and frequently a historian is somewhere in the chain. All of these systems are operated by OT professionals, so an IT/OT interaction is going to be required for project success.

IT and OT come from Different Cultures so don’t Expect Instant Teamwork

IT organizations are often considered white collar while OT groups are blue collar. OT is thought of as engineering-centric while IT is viewed as either finance & accounting or software-centric. Many OT groups are comprised of older individuals while IT organizations can often be much younger. OT is about the business and getting things done from their own perspective while IT is overhead and focused on history in the OT mind. IT, on the other hand thinks of themselves as the guardians of process and data integrity and OT staff as “cowboys” with no discipline.

In joint IIoT project meetings these perceptions and biases may be hidden (or not) but they are real and reflect the culture of the two different groups. For your IIoT initiative to move beyond a point POC and become a corporate initiative the two cultures must learn to collaborate. According to a recent presentation by HBR Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management Amy Edmondson there are four common pitfalls organizational silos present cross functional teams when setting up projects:

  • Asking yes/no questions to start off with
  • Keep communications overly general
  • Making assumptions about what others mean
  • Assuming collaboration will take place by itself

Dr. Edmondson suggests that organizations look to one of two types of agents to help broker collaboration in teams with very different cultures:

  • Bridges: These agents facilitate collaboration by allowing the groups to function by acting as the intermediary, so others can work around differences without changing the way they normally operate.
  • Adhesives: These agents act as translators and facilitate discussion and build trust. The biggest difference being that adhesives develop the team’s capacity to work across boundaries in the future without the adhesive necessarily being involved. These cultural brokers need to be built into your IIoT project to ensure success. In “Teaming to Innovate” Dr. Edmondson offers a number of other ideas on how to make cross silo teams effective.

The biggest difference being that adhesives develop the team’s capacity to work across boundaries in the future without the adhesive necessarily being involved. These cultural brokers need to be built into your IIoT project to ensure success. In Teaming to Innovate Dr. Edmondson offers a number of other ideas on how to make cross silo teams effective.

If you are pursuing an IIoT initiative recognize that:

  1. IT and OT will both be involved in the project for it to be transformative
  2. IT and OT are two different cultures and that for your IIoT initiative to succeed you will need to proactively manage the cultural issues

Spotlight | Industrial Transformation (IX): Four Organizational Disconnects That Hinder Momentum

All entries in this Industrial Transformation blog represent the opinions of the authors based on their industry experience and their view of the information collected using the methods described in our Research Integrity. All product and company names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them.

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