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By Akshay Thakur

Demystifying OT: Know your OT from your IT to unlock real estate’s hidden potential

In the rapidly evolving world of real estate, it’s crucial for professionals to stay informed about the latest technological advancements. When it comes to technology, two key aspects to consider are information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Many professionals mistakenly assume that IT and OT are interchangeable, but they are distinct areas that play different roles in the industry. This article aims to demystify OT and shed light on its significance for real estate. By understanding the relationship between IT and OT, professionals can unlock new possibilities and drive success in their real estate ventures.

To grasp the concept of OT, it’s important to start by distinguishing it from IT. OT refers to the hardware and software focused on controlling and monitoring physical systems and processes. In the context of real estate, this encompasses technologies like HVAC, lighting systems, access control, security systems, elevators, and IoT sensors. These technologies ensure smooth day-to-day operations and optimal building performance. Moreover, OT systems have their roots in industrial control systems, machinery, and software that automate processes in various industries.

Why is OT important?

OT plays a vital role in real estate by enabling organizations to operate effectively and enhancing the overall value of their properties.

  • Comfort and productivity: OT systems create more comfortable environments for tenants and occupants, boosting productivity. With a building management system (BMS), a building’s temperature and humidity can be maintained at optimal levels.
  • Efficiencies and cost savings: OT systems improve operational efficiency, leading to significant cost savings. For instance, a BMS can optimize HVAC and lighting usage, reducing energy costs.
  • Security and safety: OT systems enhance security and safety in buildings. Robust access control and video surveillance systems monitor the premises, ensuring unauthorized access is prevented and responding promptly to potential security threats.
  • Sustainability: OT systems facilitate sustainability initiatives by efficiently tracking and managing energy consumption. Energy management systems (EMS) enable real-time monitoring, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Asset value: Real estate assets equipped with advanced OT systems hold greater appeal to investors. Features like smart technology integration and energy efficiency contribute to increased property value.

The difference between IT and OT

Before delving further, it is essential to understand IT’s role. IT encompasses the management and operations of technology, systems, and data within an enterprise. It includes user tools (email, instant messaging, document management), enterprise applications (CRM, ERP, HR systems), and hardware (laptops, mobile devices, servers, data centers).

The general differences between IT and OT can be summarized as follows.

  • Focus: IT manages digital systems, data, and software applications, while OT controls physical systems and equipment.
  • Nature of systems: IT systems are predominantly software-based, handling non-real-time data. In contrast, OT systems are hardware-based, primarily focused on real-time monitoring and control of physical processes.
  • Time sensitivity: IT systems operate on longer time scales, accommodating historical and real-time data analysis. Conversely, OT systems require real-time or near-real-time capabilities for monitoring and controlling physical processes.
  • Security considerations: While both areas require robust security measures, IT focuses on protecting data confidentiality, integrity, and availability. OT places a higher priority on the safety, reliability, and availability of critical physical processes and equipment.
  • Skillsets and expertise: IT necessitates expertise in networking, enterprise applications, collaboration tools, software development, data analytics, and cybersecurity. OT demands specialized knowledge of physical processes, industrial control systems, and equipment maintenance.

It should be noted there are exceptions to the above general differences. For example, IT systems like those used on trading floors operate on very time-sensitive data (near-real-time). However, the traditional boundaries between IT and OT are becoming increasingly blurred as technology advances. With the digitalization and innovation sweeping across various industries, including real estate, many OT systems are embracing software-based solutions, data analytics, and network connectivity. This convergence between IT and OT opens up new possibilities while presenting challenges for real estate professionals. As OT systems incorporate digital elements and connectivity, they share common attributes and considerations with IT systems. Consequently, it is essential for real estate professionals to adapt to this shifting landscape, recognizing the interconnected nature of IT and OT and ensuring that both domains are integrated and managed effectively.

The importance of caring about OT

With the increasing significance of OT in real estate, it is crucial for professionals to give it the attention it deserves.

  • Risks of poor management: Inadequate attention to OT systems can expose buildings to cyberattacks, compromising operations and resulting in financial and reputational damage.
  • Compliance and data protection: OT systems that collect and process user data must adhere to data protection regulations. Breaches can lead to severe penalties and reputational harm.
  • Optimal maintenance and operation: Effective management of OT systems is essential for operational efficiency, risk mitigation, and user satisfaction. Implementing best practices ensures smooth performance and sustainability.

The role of IT leaders

IT leaders play a critical role in ensuring the proper management and integration of OT systems.

  • Comprehensive ecosystem management: IT leaders understand the importance of secure and connected OT systems, and they work toward managing the entire technology ecosystem effectively.
  • Network infrastructure: IT leaders may choose to maintain separate networks for IT and OT systems or integrate them under centralized management. Carefully built logical separations and security measures ensure proper security between both areas.

Actions for real estate professionals

To navigate the technological landscape effectively, real estate professionals should consider the following steps.

  • Embrace digital transformation: Invest in IT systems to improve operational efficiency, communication, and data management. Property management software, tenant portals, and smart building platforms are excellent tools to consider.
  • Foster collaboration: Encourage communication and collaboration between IT and OT teams. Leveraging the expertise of both domains leads to innovative solutions and optimized building performance.
  • Enhance cybersecurity: Implement stringent security protocols, update software regularly, and educate employees on cybersecurity best practices to protect IT and OT systems from potential threats.
  • Develop a comprehensive technology strategy: Create a cohesive strategy that addresses both IT and OT needs. Evaluate smart building technologies, sensors, and automation to optimize energy usage, enhance maintenance practices, and improve tenant experiences.
  • Stay informed: Continuously monitor emerging technologies and industry trends related to IT and OT in real estate. Understanding the potential impact of IoT, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and data analytics helps professionals stay ahead in the industry.
  • Invest in or partner with the right talent: Attract and develop talent with expertise in both IT and OT. A diverse skillset allows organizations to leverage technology effectively.

Real estate professionals must recognize the importance of OT in shaping the industry’s future. By understanding the relationship between IT and OT, embracing digital transformation, fostering collaboration, enhancing cybersecurity, developing a comprehensive technology strategy, staying informed, and investing in the right talent, professionals can unlock the full potential of technology in real estate. Furthermore, by incorporating OT into their strategies, professionals can navigate the evolving landscape with confidence, optimizing operations and delivering exceptional tenant experiences.

Need help with your OT strategy? JLLT Advisory Services can help.