IT vs. Control Engineering: Conflict Resolution

Common Ground or Battleground?

By Joe Feeley

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This issue's cover story about conflict resolution between control system engineers and the IT staff should resonate with many of you.

For industrial data networks, it all began to change when Ethernet hit the factory floor, where controls people want deterministic behavior, while the now-involved IT staff needs fat pipes and — to get that bandwidth — adherence to network updates, patches and other unintentionally mischief-making code.

For many of the participants, the gap between the needs and wants of the groups was a call to battle of competing objectives.

Executive Editor Jim Montague presents some evidence in this article that things can be and should be better. There are more new tools, network design partitioning and subnet options that have a broader ability to help satisfy seemingly contradictory needs.

Montague writes that Nagesh Nidamaluri, senior general manager at Mahindra Vehicle Manufacturers in Mumbai, India, said that traditional IT vs. control engineering conflicts were resolved at his company mostly because he oversees both departments, and he encourages them to work together.

It would be nice to think that's all there is to it. If we're around plant sites and factory floors long enough, many, if not all, of us will have experienced entrenched silo-based management that creates divisional or departmental objectives and expectations without a thought about the effect on other parts of the organization. The disconnect between what the boss says and what the individual performance objectives of the staff members tell them can be scarily dysfunctional. I'm a believer that quite frequently, maybe always, the company's costing methods are the root cause and never get included in the discussion — right along with the technology.

I've written before about the purchasing manager whose job performance rating depends almost entirely on his ability to buy components at or below the cost built into the bill of materials. His office sits next to a facility engineer, who recognizes that a change to a more robust, but more expensive component would save the company many times that added cost by greatly reducing maintenance and repair expenses. Stalemate.

I'll be more encouraged that we've really turned the corner on conflicting network needs when the solutions we hear about stress how a company first modernizes its cost accounting enough to assign and identify costs in a meaningful way. That means those KPIs not only will make more sense, they'll be meaningful across all functional groups and departments. Common objectives, particularly those on which compensation and performance evaluation are based, do absolute wonders for cooperation. Add in those new tools that Montague writes about, and you have the makings of a high-performance organization.

Speaking of high performers, we're losing Ian Verhappen as a long-time, regular contributor to Industrial Networking. He's recently been appointed managing director for Yokogawa Canada, and we all wish him nothing but the best.

This is our 10th anniversary year, so we've been reprinting articles from prior-year issues that are an interesting look back at the state of particular topics and technologies at the time. Because of that, we thought it fitting to rerun one of Verhappen's articles from 2004. In fact, he's also the author of this month's feature on intrinsic safety, which he wrote before he took his new job. So, this clearly is the "Ian Farewell Issue."

We'll miss his expertise. In particular, we've relied on him to keep us updated on emerging technology issues such as Power over Ethernet (PoE), which is on our editorial calendar for this issue.

Perhaps the best thing we can do this time around is refer you to the most recent articles Verhappen wrote in 2011 and 2010 on the subject. "PoE–The Missing Link" discusses the increased interest in wireless networks. The need for associated distributed wireless access points seems to Verhappen to be the logical application that will drive the adoption of industrial PoE.

He followed that with "PoE–The Evolution Continues," noting that IEEE PoE standards continue to evolve. He examines the impact of these "new" IEEE standards on industrial applications.

In addition, www.ControlDesign.com/poe will bring you to a landing page with links to a comprehensive look at all of the PoE-related content on our websites.

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