SPE ENGenious Symposium Spotlights the Role of Digital Tech in Industry

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.

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