Operational Technology by… Pet Fish?

Security3 minutes readAug 13th, 2020

Inside this water treatment plant is Freddy. Freddy has been running this plant for decades, providing very safe and very clean water to millions of people who just happen to be his family and friends.

When I toured this plant two years ago, Freddy was equipped with state-of-the-art systems that gave a great deal of insight into the specific condition of the water as it moved through the process. Multiple large screen monitors on the desk and wall of his office let him surf with a click through variables and states and measurements that would have been done by hand if even possible in previous eras of tech and economics.

Outside Freddy’s office, attached to the third stage of the system, is a tank with goldfish in it (see Freddy and his goldfish pictured above). Regardless what his 21st century Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system tells him, if those fish stop swimming, Freddy turns off the water.

Freddy is why I love infrastructure.

Water Treatment

Operational Technology (OT) folks take a very pragmatic approach to systems. Things work or they do not; you use processes and systems or you do not, because Freddy’s fish will swim, or they will not.

The day I met Freddy two years ago was the first step in producing the 25-year roadmap for his employer EPM, the publicly-owned national utility in Colombia. This roadmap divided planning into three eras: present to seven years; seven to fifteen years; and fifteen to twenty-five years. These eras could be characterized as: systemically doing what is known good practice now; leveraging at national scale the apparent emergent properties of current capabilities pervasively deployed; and finally, an era where Colombia is producing global competitiveness based on these in an iterative process of self-reinforcing development of infrastructure and societal and economic value.

In a world where Freddy and his fish are fundamental foundations that cannot be foresaken in the name of innovation, that path must by force follow the physical and economic realities of futures full of Freddys and their fish. Avenues that do not have both the physical and organizational structure as well as the economic context to foster all those Freddys cannot by definition define desirable outcomes.

As I worked through the implications at the scales of time and consequence, a number of truths emerged:

  • Following the inevitabilities of converging IT and OT systems in the first era puts Colombia in a position where practical economics perpetuate the derived functionality organically.
  • The most probable path forward from there creates predictable sets of social and economic benefits that will each provide further support for a next level of sophistication of systems and outcomes throughout the second era.
  • The set of probable states at the end of this fifteen year evolution contain economic realities that by their nature produce non-linear positive growth and accelerating feedback loops.
  • This path can be followed within the economic realities at hand. Achieving a similar result without embracing “IT/OT Convergence” would require a budget larger than the GDP of the nation.

Colombia has an achievable future where every one of 50M citizens in every crenellated mountain village is fully competitive with any citizen of any advanced nation on Earth. If, and only if, Colombia embraces the necessities of building a converged national infrastructure as reliable as Freddy and his fish.

Tags-   OT ICS