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BP's Ahmed Hashmi at ENGenious

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Ahmed Hashmi, global head of upstream technology with BP, talked about how the industry is moving to a 'margin business', how it needs people who feel 'comfortable being uncomfortable', and the need for more time to think.

Ahmed Hashmi, global head of upstream technology with BP, shared his thoughts at the Aberdeen ENGenious event about how the industry is moving to a 'margin business', how it needs people who feel 'comfortable being uncomfortable'.

As the industry comes out of the downturn, 'this is time for us to find the next production gear, and digital has a lot to offer in that space,' he said.

The industry is trying from focussing on increasing resources to improving productivity. 'Upstream is a margin business, we just don't see it that way,' he said. If oil and gas had improved its costs on the same trajectory as the automotive sector, it could have reduced its costs by 50 per cent by today, he said.

On the day of the conference, BP issued a press release about its 'Plant Operations Advisor' being active on its Gulf of Mexico operations, analysing 150m equations every day, and providing data to help staff make decisions. The project was deployed just 3 years after the initial idea.

Staff can use it to develop their own applications for monitoring equipment health, including adding in their own code.

'This is about doing something with the data,' he said. Nothing like this in the industry has existed before. 'We want to know the status of our plant at any time, and not just for greenfield, we are going to deploy on all assets.'

It is part of BP's efforts to develop a 'connected upstream', including thousands of kilometres of subsea fibre optic cables, high performance computing, and digital twins.

To illustrate BP's idea of what a digital twin is, Mr Hashmi presented a 3min video, which you can see at (or Google APEX - BP's digital twin).

The video explains digital twin by showing a digital twin of a human, and explaining how the model or data could be used to help it perform a task better, with the example of hitting a ball.

One illustration of the benefits of data analytics are that BP discovered that its H2S 'Scavanger' processes, which add chemicals to produced hydrocarbons which react with H2S and help remove it, resulted in higher costs in the refinery, so it was just moving the costs downstream.

One big challenge is finding ways to make IT development a continuous development process, not setting requirements and seeing a finished product 5 years later, as the company has worked in the past.

BP's current projects build on its 'Field of the Future' project, which ran from around 2000 to 2017, achieving its target of improving production by 100,000 bopd.

It took a long time to get there, and leaves behind some 'legacy' systems which still need to be supported, he said.

Human transformation

Mr Hashmi stressed that 'digital transformation is not about technology. It is a human transformation.'

For people to change how they work will involve feeling uncomfortable at times. 'We need to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable,' he said. 'If you are uncomfortable you change and adjust. If you are comfortable you reject.'

One important personal characteristic requires is humility. 'Being in a state of transformation requires us acknowledge we don't know what we are doing, and we have to learn.'

Many people attracted to work at BP are people who like the stability of a large organisation, and who like clear performance evaluation targets. But a culture which is ruthless in evaluating people can also inhibit innovation, if people are worried about being poorly evaluated for a new idea they are not yet confident in.

BP likes to partner with companies with a different way of doing things. In one example, BP was talking about discussing a point with a workshop in 4-6 weeks' time, and the partner company said, 'why don't you Skype on it right now.' 'We realise - our practises and ways of working are unacceptable to partners.

BP tries to head off people's fears about automating their jobs by rewarding people who manage to do it. 'When people come to me with tools they have created - 'I have automated my job on the back of tools you gave me,' I say, 'good on you, what are you doing next.''

One of the biggest missing elements, 'for most of us, me included', is having time to think, he said.

Learning from shale

The Aberdeen oil and gas industry might have something to learn from the USA which has transformed efficiency in its onshore / shale operations, including with companies being forced to share large amounts of data with others, including their frac designs, and learning from each other.

The US onshore industry also has a 'every day has to be better than yesterday' mindset, he said. This could also be described as a growth mindset. In Mr Hashmi's definition, a fixed mindset person says, 'I'm going to draw on my experience'. A growth mindset person says, 'I will draw on experience but look to the future with a wider aperture.' When recruiting, BP looks for a learning mindset, he said.

Domain expertise

There may have been a notion at some point in the past that data science was the future and would be able to run the business, but now 'we have killed the notion,' he said.

'It is leadership, particularly first line leadership, who have to embrace the change,' he said.

BP is looking to help its domain experts - engineers and geologists - develop new digital skills, including providing data science 'boot camps', and investing in leadership training for how to be a leader in this new era, which involves 'being uncomfortable with the status quo.'

When it comes to analysing data, 'some petroleum engineers are the best data scientists,' he said. 'Give them the tools and they will surprise you.'

BP is putting its top 2000 leaders through a data science re-training, covering topics like Power BI and Python.

In 2017 BP held a 'digital energy' day in London, which was attended by the CEO, and where staff worked on some business problems together. 'Several people said they were shocked at seeing this side of BP,' he said. 'They did not think we were a modern company or technology centric company.
We have to change that view, or we will not be able to hire the kind of people.'


Mr Hashmi was asked why oil companies don't release more data publicly, so other people can have a try at analysing it. 'We do this all the time,' he replied. 'People think we don't do it, we've been doing it for eons. For example, give cores to research institutions.'

When asked whether digital technologies threaten jobs, Mr Hashmi said that the ups and downs with the oil price have been 'much more disruptive.' He is now hoping for more stability. 'If we get on a rhythm of improvement these shocks can be minimised.'

Associated Companies
» BP
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