ITF Aberdeen: Oil 2.5 vs. Industry 4.0

I was at the ITF Showcase in Aberdeen last week. It was an interesting event, if mildly concerning in some ways. Here is the link to the presentations [Link]. The encouraging notes were that there appeared to be some money being made available and that the industry had focussed on key themes around the MER UK forum [link]. Less encouragingly for me is the speed, energy and sense of urgency that was lacking.

I noted that the room consisted of 90% men (often in grey suits) and I reckon 75% were older than 50. So where are all the young people?

I have always been impressed with the approach of Colette Cohen [Link] from Centrica, a strong proponent of adopting technologies from other industries. Despite being a fully-fledged, dyed-in-the-wool oil and gas executive she retains an energy of purpose, nurturing of young people and a curiosity needed to drive innovation. She was on fine form and provided a welcome boost to the enthusiasm of the room while being the voice of reason when asked why wire-guided rockets couldn’t be tested on Centrica wells. Can we have more pioneers like her please?

I am based in London and the innovation and technology events I attend (and the informal networks I am part of here) feel very different. There is an energy and drive in the FinTech and internet sector that appears missing in Oil. Also when I go to events I find plenty of trendy young people brimming with ideas, and there are plenty of women there too (still not 50% but still way better than last week by a country mile). Diversity will be important for innovation. To be successful we must learn to harness the view-points that come from all sorts of diversity: racial, sexual, age, experience, industry, education – and find ways to encourage and shape ideas.

My next post is going to cover some thoughts on innovation, the fourth industrial revolution and what will drive productivity in the next 20 years. But suffice to say it will rely on data and automation, but many speakers [I’ll name no names] took great pleasure in informing the audience that they didn’t believe in the cloud and that they had piles of paper on their desk. When describing new tech there were plenty of references to “if you don’t understand this tech, then ask your kids”. It reminds me of ancient bankers who use fountain pens and a paper diary. It’s not cool it’s deliberately Luddite and crusty and an attitude that will kill our industry. Perhaps it’s time to get with the program or step aside.

One thing that stood out was the problem of accessing markets and testing new product. In my experience operators are generally not too interested in experimenting with new tech, and often their operating philosophy revolves around large frame contracts which means that they don’t really control access to the supply chain. The consolidation of suppliers, the integrated nature of their offerings and the point-nature of new technology development does appear to lead lock-outs and stifle innovation.

The Graph above is from Colette’s presentation. It’s an SPE graph, it shows that Oil and Gas has been great on innovation in the past, and we haven’t had a breakthrough for a while. What strikes me is that since 1946 all the innovation has been in finding or developing fields. My money is on operations and maintenance to join the party. And that will be driven by what the cool kids call “Industry 4.0” [link].


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Entrepreneur, Management Consultant, Technologist - Interested in all things Upstream Oil and Gas, New Ventures and Projects.