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How the industry is becoming more expert centric - Emerson and CERA

Sunday, August 27, 2017

We discussed with Peter Zornio, chief strategic officer at Emerson Automation Solutions, and Judson Jacobs, director of oil and gas technology with CERA, how the industry is becoming more expert and human centric.

When Peter Zornio of Emerson and Judson Jacobs,Managing Director of IHS Markit's Upstream Group, were in London recently, we had a discussion with them about how they see the oil and gas industry becoming more expert centric and human centric.

Automation companies like Emerson are taking much more effort to make their products 'user friendly', in particular by having a certain customer in mind who will use them, to the point of giving the customer a name in the product development process.

And Judson Jacobs, one of the world's top oil and gas digital technology consultants, is observing that companies are making much more effort to make more value out of their most valuable experts, including having experts on specialist areas giving support to a range of different projects.

This is similar to how a heart surgeon might look after hundreds of patients at once, giving each of them a few minutes of her time, looking through the various data (which has been gathered by other professionals) and making a judgement.

Also automation and service companies such as Emerson are increasingly being trusted by large oil companies to provide outsource services to monitor large plant infrastructure, as Emerson does for Shell's 'Prelude' floating LNG vessel.

Mr Jacobs and Mr Zornio were in London in January 2017 to run an afternoon event as mini-version of CERA's 'CERAWeek' conference.

Emerson is one of the main sponsors of CERAWeek.

This year CERAWeek is being held in Houston on March 6-10, and speakers include CEOs, presidents and chairmen of BP, Petrobras, Statoil, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, Hess Corporation, Pioneer Natural Resources, Occidental Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, ENI, PETRONAS, Gazprom, Shell, TOTAL. Also the VP of the European Commission Energy Union, the Saudi Arabia minister of energy, secretary general of OPEC will be present.

CERA is keen that the oil and gas industry is able to learn from some of the leaders in the consumer sector through its CERAWeek event. The keynote talk will be from Peter Thiel, one of the key figures and 'disrupters' of Silicon Valley, one of the founders of PayPal and the first outside investor in Facebook. Last year, the CTO of Tesla, JB Straubel was a keynote speaker. One of his key messages, Mr Jacobs said, was that "innovation is painful".

Emerson and human centric design

In terms of how systems are designed, Emerson got interested in "human centric design" 8 years ago, Mr Zornio says, when the company was trying to work out what the 'next big thing' would be. It decided to place a big emphasis on making technology which is "usable and human,' he says.

The business benefit for Emerson is that it can differentiate its products from competitors in the market through ease of use.

Emerson will often have a clear person in mind who they are building the systems for, and think about what this person might need to do, perhaps what level of education of technical competence they might have.

It might consider what proportion of their working day they will spend with the product, and how the product fits with their working day, so what inclination they might have to work out how to use it in depth.

Sometimes Emerson will give this person a name, so they can 'include' the person in their product development discussions, he said.

Achieving user friendliness can be much easier if the system is being used by someone to achieve a specific goal or task, Mr Zornio says. The broader the scope of what the product might be used to do, the harder achieving user friendliness is.

An important factor is to minimise the amount of functionality. When building the products, engineers can be tempted to add in more features, and it can be hard to stop them, he says.

Often the people building the products have much more attachment to them than the people using them ever will, and that gives them a different perspective. One person's useful extra function is clutter to someone else.

At Emerson's annual users' conference, there is always a big section dedicated to human-centered design, and it is often one of the most popular sessions, he says.

Emerson also invites customers to try out the tools in its facility, and they can be observed doing it.

Sometimes Emerson gives customers a product with no instructions, to see if they can work out how to use it.

In industry in general, there is increasing awareness of the need for human-centricity - another example is the many times people are asked to give feedback, he says. Consider how much effort manufacturers of home routers, a complex piece of engineering, have gone through to make their products easier to set up over the past 15 years.

Of course, every customer is different, so from the perspective of an automation manufacturer, you can't custom build everything, you have to 'hit where the main bulk of people think', he says.

Judson Jacobs - corporate expertise management

Judson Jacobs says that in his work understanding technology trends in the oil and gas industry, he has observed that many large companies are making big re-organisations to try to make the most out of their expertise.

Mr Jacobs spends much of his time interviewing senior oil and gas people around the world about how they are using or implementing digital technology, and the results are compiled into CERA's specialist publications.

He observes that companies are making a shift away from developing digital technology in house to working with third parties.

Some of the 'digital oilfield' platforms developed within international oil companies have quietly fallen by the wayside, he says.

However, oil companies recognise that they usually have much better domain experts (such as water flood engineers) than the oil service companies do. So if the digital technology requires specialist algorithms for this domain, the oil company will be better off developing these with its in-house experts.

That way, the oil company is differentiating itself among other oil companies through the capability of its algorithms, he says. It is also a way for experts to 'work' on multiple projects at once, if they are providing their algorithms rather than their personal work.

Moving stuff to the experts

One trend which both Mr Zornio and Mr Jacobs observe is for companies to be getting far more comfortable with the idea of letting another company's experts run something for them.

The set-up is a little like in hospitals, where you might have several people collecting different kinds of data about patients, which is all collated, for an expert specialist who will spend a few minutes looking at it and making a decision.

As an example, Emerson serves as main automation contractor on Shell's "Prelude" floating liquefied natural gas facility. On an ongoing basis it will provide equipment monitoring, diagnostic services, spares support, and maintenance for the facility's control and safety systems, as well as thousands of instruments and valves.

Two expert Emerson engineers will work with Shell staff, remotely monitoring the facility's automation from Shell's operations centre in Perth, Australia.

This centre will have a 'Collaborative Work Environment' where the Emerson team, working together with Shell specialists, will detect potential concerns leveraging the sensor network throughout the facility, and identify corrective actions, to manage maintenance proactively. They will also arrange for delivery of any required equipment to the facility.

Another commonly quoted example is GE, which runs centres where it monitors subsea equipment and turbines on behalf of its customers.

'That's a business change, trusting an outside partner,' Mr Jacobs says.

Oil companies are also re-organising internally, so they can have lighter asset teams dedicated to work on each project, and then the company's top specialists can spread their work around different projects, Mr Jacobs says.

Data integration

In order to make these systems work, companies need to be able to integrate different software systems together, and this can be very difficult.

There are various security concerns if you are connecting together systems from different companies - although the level of concern depends on what data is being shared. For example, companies are usually more concerned about sharing production data than maintenance data, Mr Jacobs says.

The systems can often involve many different experts working together, both data scientists and domain experts.

Some companies put together big data integration projects a decade ago, but then did not put anyone in charge of maintaining the data integrations - it was assumed that the various business units would do that. This can mean that the quality of the data integration gradually declines.

Sometimes people often end up 'cobbling something together that works', rather than developing a robust long term solution, Mr Zornio says.

Another challenge is that people sometimes expect their oil and gas technology to be as good and fast as the apps on their mobile phone, where it can seem that you can get an app to do whatever you want straightaway for a few pence.

However there are some examples of areas in the industry which have very good data integrations. Mr Jacobs cites some companies in Australia, particularly in stream assisted gravity drainage heavy oil projects (SAGD).

In unconventional operations there is often more of a factory atmosphere which drives these sorts of integrated systems. 'This evolution is a bit more practical - develop rapidly and sustainably,' he says.

Associated Companies
» Emerson
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