2020: A Digital Odyssey?

Elaine Maslin

May 1, 2017

Operators have their sights set on digital, but it’s no walk in the park, from unravelling current operating systems to accessing the computing power needed. Elaine Maslin reports.

Greg Hickey. Photo from ITF.

Going digital isn’t just about adding digital technology to the same old plant. It’s far more than that and offers not just gains, but an entire paradigm shift in the way industry operates. However, new forms of computing, such as artificial intelligence or cognitive computing, may be needed to achieve this.

So says Greg Hickey, a project manager for BP, currently in the firm’s Upstream Technology group working as the business architect for the firm’s strategic technology program in Digital Operations.

It sounds like a mouthful. It’s also a significant challenge. Hickey told the ITF Technology Showcase in Aberdeen earlier this year that BP wants to digitize its business by 2020.

“This will mean having a common digital platform, standardizing ways of working, digitally empowering people, having organizational model alignment, and using new technology and innovation,” Hickey says. There will be a one-stop desktop for every engineer in the business within two years, he says. There they’ll be able to access facility data (in real-time) – relevant to their job function.

Hickey describes integrated knowledge management, which can help engineers take the right actions, using data from across whole operations business. Workflows will be standardized and unplanned downtime driven out, with 24/7 working across continents with centralized operating models will make use of scarce skills. All this will be underpinned by cloud computation and predictive analytics, Hickey says.

We can “convert unplanned into planned interventions and reduce costs,” he says. “If we add digital technology onto the same old plant, it adds a few percents of improvement and efficiency in the same geography, but has limited impact on the bottom line. Digitizing the whole business can add 2-4%, operating digitally, efficiently, and safer with less downtime and opening up the possibility of a paradigm shift in the way we operate.”

Part of the drive for this transformation is the current economic environment. “We are in a new operating environment with tight margins and lean operating organizations,” Hickey says. “We see oil prices at US$50-60 long-term. We need to be more efficient and transform our business to operate in this environment.”

But, the oil and gas industry has lagged in this area, and quite often this means it has a large complex puzzle to unravel, due to a plethora of “point solutions.” Indeed, the challenges include data and systems integration, Hickey says. “Replacing and integrating point solutions, creating and standardizing workflows,” he says, and managing the organization and structures.

BP is working with GE Oil & Gas as a strategic partner as part of its transformation, specifically, with GE’s Predix system. But it still faces challenges.

The first is enabling predictive analytics, which can be expensive and slow to develop. “There are not enough data scientists in the world to address what we want to address,” he says. The cost could be prohibitive. But, there could be solutions in the world of artificial intelligence and cognitive computing which could close the gap, Hickey says.

A second challenge is how to automate deployment and configuration of updates needed over the lifetime of a facility. “Currently it is very manual. How do we do these so that the cost and speed of delivery is such that we can keep up as industry changes?” These are questions Hickey would like answers to.

Saipem moves toward digital

Italian contractor Saipem has taken steps to adopt the 21st century digital world. Under an agreement, Saipem and Japan’s NTT DATA will collaborate on wearable devices, the Internet of Things, cyber security, and virtual and augmented reality. In 2016, NTT DATA and Saipem-Innovation Factory collaborated on the “Digital Site” project at Saipem’s Arbatax yard in Sardinia, where the use of innovative devices for the health and safety of workers, among which NTTS DATA’s Hitoe smart shirt, was experimented.

Meanwhile, Saipem is also working with Siemens on subsea controls systems. The two firms signed a joint development agreement aimed at qualifying and promoting an open standard subsea control systems for Saipem’s subsea bus architecture, based on Siemens Subsea DigiGrid. Saipem says this could create the first control system in the market promoting a modularized and standardized subsea system through open framework architecture. The combined system will be capable of controlling an all-electric configuration, ideally suited for long-distance subsea tiebacks, avoiding hydraulic umbilical cables and using distributed architectures with high performing control units to support technology applications including seawater treatment and separation.