Is Harmony Really the Exception?

The cover story of our Q3 Industrial Networking ("Break It Up!") and the issue's editorial page ("Common Ground or Battleground?") discussed ongoing struggles between IT departments and control engineers over who's really got control of the industrial network. Executive Editor Jim Montague, reporting for the cover story, found evidence that things are improving; but Editor in Chief Joe Feeley is not quite ready to believe it.

The issue struck a chord with at least one reader, who is shaking his head over the idea that IT and control are not working in harmony. Here's what the reader, a manager at a fuel and chemicals company, had to say:

Interestingly, earlier this year, I was asked by an Africa-based colleague about the relationship between business IT vs. control engineers within our North America-based chemical plant operations. I answered, “We manage our environments with the intent that our computer environments support all our chemical manufacturing and business objects in a safe, secure and highly available basis. On some occasions, we collaborate, such as when we change out firewall appliances or need special firewall rules. Why do you ask?”

The answer surprised me, though I should have expected it. The colleague explained that in their huge Africa complexes, they outsourced both IT and controls engineering functions, and selected different vendors for each area. These two vendors are to provide managed services for business IT and control environments. “The two teams work in just below a state of open hostilities,” he said.

I must be living with my head in the sand, but this conversation was my first instance of the conflict between business IT and control engineers that you describe in your recent article. Obviously, the two companies are competitors and see their opportunity for business on these sites as a zero sum game.  This concept is hardly conducive to team building.

From my viewpoint, the situation described by my colleague was caused by a combination of scale and operating model. Our North American operations are less than 10% the scale of the African operations. And both business IT and control engineering groups are primarily staffed by company employees. We are small from the viewpoint of chemical plant operators. Thus, employees are part of a chemical company, not an IT or controls technology group. We strategically use contractors and service providers for both generic and specialty services, but our intent is to have intellectual property owned by company employees because they have a vested interest in creating conditions conducive to company success.

In any event, I would say that we are fortunate to have such cooperation between our technology teams, and would like to think this is not the exception to the rule.

What’s your perspective? Do you have experience with the two department objectives being at odds with one another?