Sewing seeds

Elaine Maslin

December 1, 2015

We’re in tough times, but that also means there’s an opportunity to seek new solutions, according to Proserv’s David Lamont. Elaine Maslin went to hear the CEO’s views.

Lamont.

In 1982, a young(er) David Lamont left his home country, Australia, and travelled to Aberdeen to join an industry in the midst of a major boom. The idea was to stay for two years then go back to Australia.

Like many who come to the North Sea, his first visit wasn’t to be his last. After traveling the world with Schlumberger, the engineering graduate soon found his feet in business management, both in and out of Schlumberger. He was a partner at Omega Completion Technology, helped Schlumberger re-organize its well completions and productivity business in Russia, and rebuilt ABB Vetco Gray, as it was then, before helping oversee the sale of Vetco International to GE Oil & Gas in 2007.

A man unafraid of trying something different, he also spent just under a year out from the oil business as director of marketing & sales at Virgin Direct in Norwich, the city he now calls home.

Now, however, he is more than four years into helming Proserv – a relatively new brand with some strong oilfield heritage. After working for the big firms – Vetco, ABB, Schlumberger – he’s found a smaller firm with a niche, a niche which could come into its own in today’s low oil price environment.

“Coming from bigger companies with greater technology and capability, we saw and still see a need for companies providing fit for purpose solutions, at a lower cost and more reliable and faster,” he says. “It means taking a much more ‘service’ approach than a manufacturing approach.”

The approach matches today’s environment, one which is very different to the one Lamont first joined in Aberdeen. “It was boom time [then]. Every pub had kit bags stacked high outside as people came back onshore. They were wild days and too wild in many ways. It was extremely entrepreneurial, maybe a bit gung-ho sometimes, but we have gone through a period of the industry maturing.”

Safety and planning are better today, he says, but, after a period in the 1990s, where operators collaborated to help bring projects like high-pressure, high-temperature fields, complex geological fields, or smaller marginal fields on stream, with appropriate risk sharing, some of that appetite was lost, he says. While a move was made from bespoke design to standardization, this resulted in the highest standard products being chosen, often unnecessarily – i.e. gold-plating – says Lamont. While outsourcing engineers worked up to a point, when they were integrated into the operators, using day raters hasn’t help align goals or achieve the best, most efficient outcomes. “We lost that alignment from 2000-2013, and that’s why, in 2011 we brought together Proserv. We could see costs were escalating, particularly for marginal fields.”

Lamont joined Proserv in 2011, joining some ex-colleagues from Vetco, at which point the company had been more like a “federation of companies.” These outfits were consolidated and brought under one brand, Proserv, with “a common platform, common ownership, and a common direction with a global management structure and integrated product lines.”

Proserv is looking to do something a bit different, not competing for EPC contracts with the larger players. This means focusing on more modest, potentially marginal projects that need a lower cost solution, as well as brownfield projects, need alternatives to tearing out the old and replacing them with the new.

As an example, Proserv has worked to develop ways to retrofit multiphase monitoring, subsea electronics modules, sensors and even cameras, so ROVs don’t have to be deployed. It has developed a way to add communications through existing communications lines. And the firm continues to look for new solutions, evidenced by its recent purchase of through-water acoustic communications and control firm Nautronix.

Despite the environment the industry is in, Lamont is positive, seeing the opportunity for improvement and for marginal developments. “It is not a great period for anyone, but I liken it some seeds which will only germinate after going through a bush fire,” he says. “All companies need to think how to do things differently, we can’t just revert back to the way we were working.”

Creating better working partnerships with operators will also help the industry. As an example, Proserv was signed up as a subsea partner by MOL Group, which has no North Sea operating assets, but is keen to learn from and work with the supply chain.

Crucially, making sure the business is the right size for today’s market, while also recruiting talent, is a challenge, but it has to be done for the future of the business, he says. The wider industry should take note.