SPE ENGenious Symposium Spotlights the Role of Digital Tech in Industry

The inaugural SPE ENGenious Symposium and Exhibition in Aberdeen brought together some of the brightest minds in digital technology and oil and gas to discuss the industry’s most transformative developments. Speakers examined the strategies and technologies that will shape the industry in a variety of areas, showing how they are being leveraged from the reservoir to the downstream market. Featuring more than 100 speakers, the symposium focused on key areas such as data analytics, automation, robotics, smart communications, and cybersecurity. Speakers came from a range of operators, service companies, and digital tech innovators, such as BP, Shell, SAAB, Saudi Aramco, Total, Schlumberger, and Baker Hughes, a GE company. Following are some highlights from the event.

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Digital Transformations Require Robust Organizational Cultures

Stephen Whitfield, Senior Staff Writer

Operational efficiency is the goal for any oil and gas company, and, to that end, the industry has seen a greater focus on using technology to improve process work flows. But how does this affect the people working in these companies? A panel at the symposium looked at how pre-existing organizational structures can make or break the implementation of new technologies, as well as the people skills and competencies needed to execute a digital work flow transformation.


Philippe Flichy, digital transformation strategist and advisor at Energy Embassy, said that the oil price downturn forced operators and service companies to trim their workforces and the big challenge they face today is maintaining the artificial efficiency gains those workforce reductions produced. Streamlining work flows is an ongoing effort. Flichy said any technical integration is a microcosm of application because companies adapt technologies to fit their individual needs. This has an effect on work flow optimization, requiring a systemic approach from the reservoir to the facilities.

“I think, if there’s one thing that’s evolved from the digital transformation, it is the fact that we were more concerned about wells and fields in the past and now we’re seeing things more globally as an organization, especially when looking at fields. That means the wells, the facilities, the export systems, and a lot else,” Flichy said.

This systemic approach requires an integration of disparate data and processes. Tony Edwards, chief executive officer of Step Change Global, said this can conflict with classic organizational models in oil and gas, which are generally based on geographies—for example, a company with an office in Australia, Africa, or the Middle East—that act as siloes, blocking people from information. Edwards said he has seen the emergence of a number of different models that are delivery-based, multidisciplinary, geographically agnostic, and operate in real time.

One example Edwards listed was the multidisciplinary production optimization team, which uses real-time data to support operational sites, maximizing throughput on a predetermined time scale.

Edwards said remote control is a key component of these new organizational models and that the mining industry has moved ahead of oil and gas in this regard. BHP Billiton has created multiple integrated remote operations centers (IROC) for its mining businesses, including an IROC for its coal ­business in Brisbane, one for iron ore production across its Pilbara operations, and a remote center for the Escondida copper mine in Chile.

Dennis Seemann, a senior consultant at Maana, said that companies must understand the business case behind any digital transformation efforts and they must also understand the effects that digital work flows may have on employees and management. He said that people respond to two main forces, incentives or fear, and that technology-driven reorganizations typically elicit negative reactions driven by fear. To combat this, he suggested that companies move away from “command and control” structures and that buy-in on a new technology must start with middle management.


“Middle-level managers have to become coaches,” Seemann said. “They have to see that this new technology is not a threat to them, or they will fight you. They will fight you, and they will win.”

Seemann said that perceived loss of power on any level of management can kill a technological initiative within a company: If a person feels marginalized, he or she will be less likely to work toward a desired outcome. Collaboration should be a priority, and workers must be made to feel included and accountable for the success of a new technology.

Seemann’s sentiments echoed those of the other speakers. Edwards said that people in functional organizations are incentivized to work within those functions and that multidisciplinary, team-based companies will have different reactions to new work flows than companies with traditional, heavily siloed structures. He argued that successful digital work flows are tailored to fit the strengths of the individuals within it. Transformations are an ongoing process, not a final product.

Andre Baken, founder and general manager of Digital Oilfields Assessment Services, said collaboration is nearly impossible if individuals within an organization are not in tune with their own concerns regarding a digital transformation.

“When you read about change management, you probably read about stuff like how you have to help your team become aware. But first you have to become aware of yourself. You have to become aware of the dialogue you have with that little man on your shoulder. If you can’t figure out why you feel things, why you react to things, it’s very difficult to have collaboration going on,” Baken said.

Standardization and Cybersecurity Go Hand in Hand

Stephen Whitfield, Senior Staff Writer

As operators develop assets that rely on intelligent and automated systems, securing the data from those assets will be key to maintaining consistent production. A panel session looked at the role communications standards might play in cybersecurity protocols, as well as the key drivers for the digital oil field.

ABB cybersecurity consultant Ben Dickinson spoke about the benefits of digitization and the main cyber threats to connected systems: ransomware threats that attack a system for financial gain; industrial espionage, such as stealing trade secrets stored within a system; a disruptive attack that has a direct impact on production; and insider damage from current and former employees, whether intentional or accidental.

Dickinson discussed mitigation strategies for each threat, such as patch management and increased training on spotting anomalies, but he also stressed that cybersecurity is a moving target. He said companies must recognize that there is no such thing as having a system that is completely immune from attack.

“You’ll never be 100% secure,” he said. “If you are 99% secure today, tomorrow that vulnerability may come out, someone may find something. So it’s a continual process. You can’t go out to a vendor and say ‘can you make me secure’ and feel comfortable with the technology that’s being used. Cybersecurity is a balance. If you make your system very secure, there’s a chance it will have an effect on production. So, it’s finding that balance and figuring out how much security you’re happy with.”

Dickinson said that increased standardization of communication protocols could allow for a common understanding among stakeholders when crafting security initiatives. Amal Alawdah, a consultant for Siemens, echoed this sentiment, saying that standards facilitate communication, commerce, and manufacturing initiatives.

“We know that in the digital oil field we have different players: suppliers, vendors, operators, regulators, all different players. The need for industrialized standardization is obvious. It facilitates business interaction and sometimes speeds up production of new product to the market,” she said.

“It’s a good way of having a discussion with asset managers and so on about why we’re having to do this stuff,” said Stephen Ashley, Digital Solution Centre manager at the Oil and Gas Technology Center. “It’s about putting barriers in place, it’s about being able to detect something’s happening, then reacting and recovering from that situation. Drawing that cybersecurity element into the way we work with process safety management, change processes, is very critical to making a well-controlled operation.”

Ashley expects most assets on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) to be remotely controlled and highly automated in the future, with people on the assets mostly serving in maintenance roles. The convergence of the intelligent control systems running these “smart” facilities will be driven by the need for integration and the remote monitoring of integrated processes, as well as the drive to automate and deliver closed-loop systems. Smart facilities will also be a main driver of increased network complexity, along with the industrial internet of things and workflow automation protocols.

Information security will be a significant challenge for industry as smart facilities become more prevalent, Ashley said. Companies will have to collaborate to make smart facilities a reality, and this will necessitate trust in the quality and accuracy of data they receive from other sources.

SPE ENGenious Symposium Spotlights the Role of Digital Tech in Industry

01 November 2018

Volume: 70 | Issue: 11

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