Current market trends, including the increased activity in the various domestic oil fields, are driving the need for change in the energy industry. In particular, midstream companies are looking for ways to operate efficiently and seeking new methods to maintain the highest degree of uptime for their major pieces of equipment.
The need for maximum efficiency in the midstream sector is driven by the demands to get hydrocarbons into the market as quickly as possible.
With the right outlook and vision, the need for midstream assets—such as pipelines—to work reliably can become opportunities for organizations to introduce the use of new technologies. In particular, midstream companies with extensive assets in the field have significant upside opportunities to improve efficiency levels through the introduction of the latest in field service technologies.
For example, augmented reality (AR) and Internet of Things (IoT) are tools capable of helping midstream engineers improve the uptime of more field assets, while spending less of an engineer’s valuable time. Specifically, AR and IoT can be leveraged to eliminate the need to dispatch a limited number of highly qualified subject-matter experts on-site to troubleshoot or update midstream equipment.
Experienced engineers can be more efficient with their time, by using AR with live video and guiding junior technicians to a resolution. Such technology can also capture how-to videos, with necessary instructions stored for future reference, thereby protecting against the dreaded “brain drain” in the era of an aging workforce.
However, what can midstream companies do to help their engineers understand the positive, bottom-line impact the adoption of digital technologies such as AR can have?
Companies that have many traditional hard assets in the field have a lot to learn about what we call digital transformation initiatives, the process by which old analog tasks can be integrated with digital technologies for greater efficiency. Organizations that embrace digital transformation in the field have the opportunity to become more technologically advanced and establish market leadership by massively reducing cost and increasing their productivity.
It should be noted the process of digital transformation is not solely about technology. Digital transformation initiatives can create value, whether they harness AR, smart glasses, IoT, cloud computing or even artificial intelligence. To truly benefit, the digital transformation process must focus on how to engage and encourage field technicians, engineers and experts on how to use these new technologies in their daily routines.
To put it in a real-life context, digital transformation in the midstream industry can be implemented in many different existing processes and routines. It can cover the dispatching of field personnel to a site, scheduling and prioritizing jobs, accessing real-time and IoT data or managing a spare parts inventory.
Fieldbit has devised a roadmap for making a digital transformation process work. A proper methodology for managing digital transformation includes a joint requirement analysis, feasibility testing, key performance indication (KPI) evaluation, roll out, and a scale-up.
Fieldbit is a leading developer of real-time augmented reality collaboration solutions. Its enterprise class, cloud-based technology enables on-site service engineers to collaborate seamlessly with experts at a service center, and to receive needed know-how and guidance to solve issues quickly, increase remote resolution and first-time fix rates, and minimize costly downtime.
Through a careful, managed process, digital transformation can be achieved quickly, and midstream companies can adapt to today’s challenges.
Today, new market trends in the energy industry should cause midstream organizations with field assets to reconsider their approach to existing structures, practices and business models. As we have seen how digital transformation already revolutionized field services in other sectors such as healthcare, industry trends are often the main driver for change.
Within midstream companies, executives and leaders know all too well the market value for speed and efficiency.
Possibly the most important trend driving the need for change in the industry is the aging workforce. While often dismissed, an aging workforce can be a death nail for an organization, as it can result in a knowledge drain. Field service organizations must retain knowledge even as good talent is being lost to competitors, age, or other factors that cause an employee to leave your workforce.
As experienced field personnel retire or leave the workforce, organizations must find ways to capture these experts’ practical and technical knowledge to prepare the next generation of service engineers and technicians. Moreover, in light of the increasing complexity of today’s equipment, organizations should take proactive steps, such as establishing technical competence and support centers, to improve the skills of their field engineering teams.
Without embarking on a digital transformation effort to document and systemize the vast knowledge that exists today primarily in the minds of experienced field personnel, many important skills and techniques could be lost.
One solution for knowledge maintenance and transfer we have found valuable is the use of video integrated with augmented reality annotations to capture on-site processes. By using augmented reality graphics within a video, useful knowledge can be maintained, categorized and ultimately shared across the organization.
Despite the trends driving the need for digital transformation across the sector, there remains resistance in the form of the status quo. We’re all guilty of going with what is most comfortable, which is usually what has worked for us in the past. For many, overcoming this resistance to change is the greatest challenge. For the most part, energy companies follow historically successful and thus comfortable practices, especially if oil prices are high enough to make everyone complacent.
This is especially true in field services, where implementations of new technologies often require changes to entrenched workflows, processes and practices.
In order to adapt and remain competitive in the market, digital transformation can be a competitive differentiator for your business. Yet it’s helpful to realize some technologies may be easier to adopt depending on the conditions of the industry. Due to the need for field engineers to connect with vital information and data, technologies that can connect with additional information would be a significant benefit for midstream engineers.
Whether data are accessed through augmented reality, smart glasses, IoT, or cloud computing, any of these technologies could help midstream engineers improve their work. While such technologies could benefit companies of all sizes, the real payoff is seen in oil and gas companies with multi-field assets across large geographies.
We have seen this first-hand. We worked with a major energy company to deploy a new technology to help manage more than 10,000 well sites. Before our engagement, field engineers were required to drive long distances between well sites to fix automation and control equipment. Additionally, many of these issues were not resolved on the first visit because of the technical nature of the problem.
By using a systematic digital transformation process, we were able to reorganize the old process by moving experts to regional support centers and then introducing revolutionary AR technologies to connect these experts to the personnel already in the field. As a result of the technology deployment, we were able to reduce problem backlogs. More importantly, we were able to take tasks that previously needed eight site visits and 15 days, and instead resolve these issues in only six minutes.
Thankfully, these technologies are not just part of a potential future, but are accessible and available today. Through our experience of introducing our enterprise platform for visual interactive collaboration, we have learned how to optimize the process for digital transformation.
In fact, Fieldbit has developed a unique methodology for digital transformations. The result is that we have learned how to help field service enterprises maximize their technological advantages and increase efficiencies.
Managing change through digital transformation requires a careful planning and preparation process. It also takes a certain level of commitment, and a thoughtful evaluation of the entire organization must be behind the desire to change. In addition, the process requires a buy-in across the entire organization and a collective understanding that may present changes to the current work processes.
Another important aspect of a digital transformation is close collaboration and open communications between technology experts and field implementation teams throughout the process. Open communication and collaboration creates synergies and buy-in that will ultimately drive significant value beyond the mere deployment of a new digital tool.
The most critical step for managing the implementation is the joint requirement analysis. During this phase, managers, experts, technicians and field engineers come together to analyze the existing procedures and requirements of implementing any new technology. This phase is important as it establishes realistic goals for an organization and defines the necessary requirement to reach the organization’s goals such as ROI and operational KPIs.
During the implementation process, information is collected and analyzed in order to prove ROI assumptions and KPIs that had been mutually set with the implementation team. At this time, requirements—which for our engagements include IT network, data protection and integration—are finalized and carefully planned for deployment.
As soon as relevant goals are achieved, the scaling-up process can begin. The scaling-up process defines a detailed operational plan for introducing the system to additional teams or business units across the organization, evolving organizational structure and work processes as needed, and integration with back office or other control systems.
Managing the implementation of a digital transformation is an essential part of success in today’s energy industry. An effectively managed digital transformation can help service organizations improve and define new workflows, capture and share practical knowledge, streamline communications within the organization and build new business models.
A responsible and well-prepared management team will create a system to align expectations and reduce uncertainty during a digital transformation. Ultimately, digital transformation of the oil field must happen, as it brings unprecedented efficiency, lower cost and, most importantly, preserves knowledge and skills for the future.
There should be no reason for large enterprises not to embrace this exciting and potentially more profitable future.
Evyatar Meiron is CEO and found of Fieldbit Ltd.
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