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What is Operational Technology?

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

Operational Technology is a relatively new term but not a new concept. The use of the word Operational Technology OT for short is used to distinguish between Information Technology (IT) and has been more relevant since the advent of IoT.

With IT vs OT we can define operational technology cyber security needs among other things.

Let me provide you with a couple definitions from other sources and then I'll give you a different way to look at it more simply.

Google'd Definitions

Definition 1 - Wikipedia

"Operational Technology (OT) – the hardware and software dedicated to detecting or causing changes in physical processes through direct monitoring and/or control of physical devices such as valves, pumps, etc.

Simply put, OT is the use of computers to monitor or alter the physical state of a system, such as the control system for a power station or the control network for a rail system"

Definition 2 - Whatis

"Operational technology (OT) is a category of hardware and software that monitors and controls how physical devices perform."

Definition 3 - Gartner Glossary

"Operational technology (OT) is hardware and software that detects or causes a change, through the direct monitoring and/or control of industrial equipment, assets, processes and events."

In Other Words

Operational Technology OT is the "IT stuff" for industrial computer systems.

So now the question is, why do we need this distinction at all then?

Traditionally within the industrial world they would still refer to the computer and networking equipment as "I.T." and is typically run, maintained and operated by systems/maintenance engineers or technicians.

But this type of IT is different to what most people mean by IT, particularly in the Business world. Now this common term becomes a problem because when you apply IT solutions to Industrial IT systems - you break the systems!

Okay, so now we know there is a difference between Industrial IT systems and IT systems, and we have a name for it "Operational Technology", how do we know they are different?

When and where do we draw the line?

Well here's some key differences that I've found to be the easiest to explain it.

IT and OT have common technology, but different goals.