Regardless of where you stand on the issue of climate change, it’s a fact that many companies — particularly asset-intensive companies in the industrial sector — emit significant pollutants and emissions. In most parts of the world, these organizations are also subject to regulatory compliance requirements for adherence to specific guidelines for pollutants.
Operations departments have typically used the tools, technologies and systems deployed on or around equipment (referred to as operational technology or OT) to prove compliance. Managed solely by operations staff, the processes and associated technologies have largely remained free of scrutiny by outside agencies — and the companies’ own IT departments.
Things are changing. Regulatory bodies, governments and even local communities are demanding more transparency in terms of how companies are controlling emissions. OT data is also in demand for analysis on a broader scale, meaning companies are increasingly being required — or at least strongly encouraged — to share emissions monitoring and management data. In a report released by Gartner in November 2014, analysts predicted that by 2017, one-third of polluting companies in industrialized countries will be required to provide real-time continuous pollutant information.
There are several issues arising from this.
With OT data increasingly under real-time scrutiny, it must be managed to a standard that can hold up to outside review. Direct access by outside authorities is going to be required, as are measures to protect the security and reliability of data. This won’t necessarily be cheap. Companies may need to upgrade to or invest in new equipment for monitoring, capturing OT data and securing access and auditability for external reviews. There will also need to be aligned security between OT systems and IT environments, and governance in place to ensure the integrity of the systems and data.
Then there’s the cloud factor. Some companies are starting to employ cloud services that can consume and analyze OT data, and deliver value-added services based on the data. Gartner analysts predict that by 2018, 50% of industrial companies will have put OT data in the cloud. The good news is that those that do stand to reap numerous benefits.
The cloud facilitates data sharing and collaboration, so companies will be able to use data to anonymously and securely benchmark their performance in areas such as sustainability, safety and regulatory compliance with their peers, with companies in other industries and even between their own geographically disparate operations. The data can also be used to drive continuous improvement programs with real-time feedback, as well as help companies develop new and better products and services to serve their customers.
But data sharing in the cloud comes with its own issues — namely, security and ownership. There’s a lot of value associated with OT data, and companies are going to want to retain some control over its usage and has access to it. That’s going to require strategies for sharing OT data in the cloud; a corporate position on OT data ownership, rights and sharing; and well thought out legal contracts.
Technology will continue to play a major role in managing and monitoring emissions. But the data the technologies generate will have far greater implications — some more challenging than others.