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Realising full potential of digital technologies

Dec 30, 2018
5 min read
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Andrew Smart, managing director of Global Energy Industry Lead at Accenture, talks about new technology and what it offers the industry in the areas of productivity and efficiency as well as how to attract the next generation of the energy workforce


How much has the industry embraced digitalisation and is it being used to its full potential?

Recent disruptions in the oil and gas sector have been dramatic and have resulted in a wide range of material interventions on portfolio, headcount and cost. This has coincided with the realisation that many of the digital technologies, that have been transformational to other industries, can and should be of value in oil and gas. So, it is now clear that leaders right across the industry are keen to embrace digitalisation as part of the wider reset to drive competitive performance going forward.

Our surveys show that 70 per cent of upstream companies plan to increase their digital investment over the next five years, with the most popular technology being big data analytics. Most plan on deploying this technology to manage assets, drilling and completions, manage capital, and optimise production.

While there are strategies, plans and roadmaps focused on deploying ever more intelligent and connected technologies across the upstream lifecycle, most operators are yet to achieve material scale.

What are the main benefits of the technology across the entire value chain?

At its heart, digital technology offers the industry the opportunity to increase predictability, productivity and efficiency at all stages of the upstream value chain. In so doing, it offers increased safety of our operations and profitability of our businesses. These overarching benefits come from developing the right balance of ‘Human and Machine’ across the critical processes and decision points across the entire value chain.

Respondents highlighted the top three ways digital benefits as: faster and better decision-making (30 per cent), faster time to produce oil and gas (19 per cent), and reduced risk enabled by real-time decision support (12 per cent). By providing people, and even our equipment, the right analytics at the right time, we can help them make the ‘next best decision’ as a matter of routine, building improved knowledge and understanding as we go. Automation, allied with workforce enablement, will reduce ‘time to proficiency’, as well as increasing ‘time on tools’ for the workforce. In so doing, we can keep them safe and motivated in the process.

Is the industry agile enough to take full advantage of digital technology or does the workforce need more training?

The agility of the industry will certainly be challenged by digital transformation.  The speed of technology innovation and advancement is exponential, and waves of new technical capabilities are coming ever faster. This means that our digital transformations need to not only deploy at a pace that captures the value of the leading technologies that are available today, but also that we develop business practices that enable us to keep pace with what is coming tomorrow.

This is a major challenge for an industry that has rightly worked hard to contain risk, often via tightly controlled stage-gated processes and functional standards. While many organisations are now employing more agile methodologies, this still needs to permeate the wider culture for performance improvement and be embraced in day-to-day operations, not just for the development and deployment of new ‘proof of concept’.

This type of changes requires that many organisations are having to reassess their workforce strategies. Employees will need to learn to work in new ways, develop new skills and work with a wider range of fast changing technologies. To do this, they will also need to drive their own learning, while engaging with new members of the workforce who will bring new skills and capabilities, both from inside and outside their organisations.

How can oil and gas be made a more attractive career choice to young people who may have a lot of knowledge of new technology?

The oil and gas industry can provide fantastic opportunities for the next generation of technology-savvy and innovative workers, providing the industry itself is ready to embrace new technology and new ways of working that will enable this next generation to influence the way the industry works and operates. If we fail to convince the next generation that we can change, and that working here can enable them to develop skills for the future, then we will not attract and retain the talent we need.

Beyond embracing digital and new ways of working, it is also going to be important that we address the concerns that the next generation have about the image of the industry and the role we play within the societies and economies in which we operate. Owning the narrative for the societal value the industry has created over generations, as well as where there is a need for change, is also going to be key to engaging and attracting new talent.