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Call it convergence

Draughn-01122015-convergenceLike any New Year, 2015 brings many promises as well as challenges looking for solutions. Technology is moving too fast to keep track of everything, but there’s one overarching trend leaders, policymakers and managers must not miss this year: convergence.

In recent years, the value of cybersecurity has become an integral part of the critical infrastructure industry. Historically, IT addressed security concerns while the rest of the business focused on design, implementation and operational issues. But as we have seen first-hand with recent events, cybersecurity is now a central concern for all industry segments. Integrating independent systems, which we call technology convergence, requires broader solutions to address cybersecurity concerns for public and private systems.

Technology advances provide additional benefits, but unfortunately bring additional risks that need to be addressed. As we reflect on the integration of technology from tubes to solid state devices in the 60s and 70s, from analog to digital in the 80s and 90s, followed by the integration of systems and networks in the 2000s to the present, we are no stranger to the prices and benefits of change. Even as we faced a fair number of challenges that at times seemed overwhelming, we focused and addressed the issues with solutions that brought additional value.

There are very positive indicators we are once again, as an industry, rising to the challenge with new solutions to address real concerns related to cyber and physical attacks on our country’s infrastructure. These solutions go well beyond software and firmware protection, extending to a whole new industry of threat and incursion detection devices. These can be integrated with analytics that not only detect threats, but can respond immediately to address those threats. While these systems not only improve security, they also protect our quality of life by building virtual fences to protect property and lives.

Independent and hosted systems are being integrated to improve reliability and responsiveness. Each new system requires a long-term strategic view, while balancing what can be implemented in the short term to address immediate threats. Evaluation of the cost, risk, and requirements go well beyond traditional IT departments, requiring vertical support from stakeholders in each department within an organization.

WOW! If that wasn’t enough to chew on, let’s mix in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. These devices offer a range of services and data gathering capabilities that could easily overload the data networks if not properly managed. This means extending our current approach to data management and control well beyond physical boundaries or borders.  Once again, security of the related control and support systems are critical to insure the risks of implementing technology advancements don’t overrun the benefits.

Utilities, along with the critical infrastructure industry, now have an opportunity to reduce the number of networks that support integrated and independent systems. Doing this can make these networks easier and more cost-effective to protect, operate and manage. Multiple technology options exist to allow individual departments to maintain systems separately to comply with corporate policies and government regulations, while still realizing cost benefits of consolidating requirements and objectives.

For decades, I’ve promoted the benefits of shared infrastructure like wire line and wireless communications systems, the power grid and transportation systems, to name a few. The opportunity to take full advantage of technology convergence to address cyber threats AND improve the reliability of our critical infrastructure systems has never been greater.  Basically, this convergence of intelligent devices, gives us a roadmap to transition the critical infrastructure industry into an intelligent critical infrastructure industry.

Critical infrastructure leaders recognize the threat risk, and required defense systems are being improved to provide better management and control. But the deployment and integration of better broadband networks requires coordination between our leaders, both public and private. As we upgrade and replace aging infrastructure, which includes power, communications, bridges, medical, transportation, and data centers to name a few, the need for solid industry leadership during the transition is critical.

About the author

Dan is our account executive in the Critical Infrastructure market and has more than 35 years of providing customer-driven technology and energy solutions to critical infrastructure operators in the United States and Canada. He focuses on critical intelligent infrastructure, from smart grids to communications connections, and how they are used as consumers become energy portfolio managers.