Dear Colleagues,

Although this note sounds like it is about high flying IT strategy; you can be assured that it is down-to-earth and impacts on everyone (and is thus relevant to you) – no matter whether you are an electrician in a process plant, a designer contemplating a mechanical system, a civil engineer or indeed director of Chevron sitting in a boardroom.

1. New Technology
One thing that is a given is the rapidly developing world of IT. The goals of your organization tend to remain constant and the challenge for you is in deciding whether a new IT system (e.g. Cloud, Virtualization, Mobility) will indeed be of real benefit or not.

The key question to thus to ask whether this new technology will reliably solve your existing problems or help you achieve your goals. If there are any doubts; then don’t proceed.

2. Cloud
This is a fast growing technology with enormous benefits but some major problems if not handled correctly.  You may be running all your applications in-house (or at home on one dedicated computer). Will running everything on the cloud solve some of your day-to-day challenges in managing these facilities? Do you have a reliable internet connection and how critical is your data in terms of security? Do you need to have access to your data no matter where you are in the world?

3. Energy Efficiency and Climate Change
IT data centers are chewing energy at enormous rates. Estimates (in the USA, at least) is that data centers are now consuming a few percent of the total energy consumption of the USA. Actively use tools to monitor your IT and telecommunications energy usage and work out ways to reduce it. You could easily save a considerable amount of money and help reduce your carbon footprint. Don’t forget your telecommunications system either.

4. Mobile Devices and Interoperability
Avoid proprietary systems and stick to open architectures that allow you to easily connect to other systems. Ensure that your mobile universe of tablets and phone are also interoperable with your existing IT systems. Seriously consider using tablets where you can demonstrate a benefit over desktop or notebook computing technologies.

5. Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD)
With your staff bringing their own smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices to your factory, office or plant (or indeed using them as mobile connections to your factory when travelling); control of security and access becomes more problematic. It is probably a losing battle trying to control users’ devices and trying to monitor every device that links to your network (unless you are in a prison). Best to look at alternative strategies such as protecting the data on the server and allowing users to access data on servers they are authorized to access (but doesn’t store the data on any mobile device).

6. Virtualization
The concept of virtualization is to allow several operating systems in parallel on a single computer (or CPU). This can reduce overhead costs allowing you to manage updates to software without disrupting the user. This is a fast growing technology and is something you will be increasingly confronted with no matter where your IT systems reside – in the plant or office.

7. Social Networks
Some engineering professionals may raise an eyebrow at social networks being mentioned. Personally, I shudder at the amount of rubbish that is exchanged on these forums (e.g. the interesting practice of ‘endorsing skills’ of people who you hardly know). However, these can be of enormous benefit for locating critical information, discussing thorny engineering issues and naturally in recruiting key staff for upcoming projects.

8. Big Data
Data is growing dramatically throughout the organization. Most of it being collected in different parts of the organization (e.g. emails / blogs / documents / video / images / process control data….). A holistic analysis of this disconnected data has the potential to reveal some great relationships between process and business data, for example.

You thus may need new approaches for capturing and storing your data. Data is generated in real time and you may need to consider 100 Gbit Ethernet and solid state drives to improve response times.

9. Support Users Aggressively
With the rapid democratization of IT to everyone in the company; poor support and lack of engagement by the department handling IT issues is quickly noticed. And indeed, the IT team will be bypassed if they do not aggressively support users and make their lives easier. Ensure the IT department is well trained and highly proactive and supportive of everyone in the company.

Thanks to Paul Simoneau for a thought provoking note on current IT isssues and who has also written some great books on SNMP and TCP/IP.

Remember with this rapid growth in IT opportunities, that as the Abbe’ D’Allanival remarked: The more alternatives, the more difficult the choice.

Yours in engineering learning,