Upstream firms expect digital investments to bring faster first oil

What do upstream oil and gas companies expect to gain from investing in digital initiatives? They expect faster first oil time, and better decision making, a research conducted by Accenture and Microsoft on 300 upstream leaders in 18 countries has shown.

According to the results of the study released on Thursday, some two-thirds of upstream firms see the value digital technologies deliver as low oil prices linger, and the top risk of a lack of digital investment is becoming uncompetitive.

In the research conducted for the sixth year in a row, the upstream oil and gas players were  asked to identify the top ways digital benefits their companies.

Faster and better decision-making (30 percent) remained foremost, as in the 2016 edition of the survey, the research showed. However, faster time to produce oil and gas rose to second place from fifth last year (19 percent). Also, reduced risk enabled by real-time decision support was the third most important (12 percent).

In its sixth edition, the global survey showed the upstream areas most expected to benefit today from digital are production (28 percent), geological and geophysical (27 percent), and drilling and completion (19 percent).

Most see value of digital, some still don’t

Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of the more than 300 professionals surveyed perceive business value from digital technologies, with 27 percent totaling it at $50 million to $100 million or more for their companies. However, 14 percent of upstream respondents don’t know how much monetary value digital is delivering, 20 percent don’t measure it, and 4 percent believe digital is adding no value to their businesses today.

Most of the respondents expect their companies to realize value from digital technologies and 73 percent said most of their oil and gas fields will become fully automated using these technologies in three to five years.

On the other hand, 39 percent of respondents said the greatest risk from a lack of digital investment is becoming uncompetitive; more than double the next group at 19 percent who cited the inability to transition to a new energy landscape. Surprisingly, despite the rise of connected devices on oilfields further exposing upstream companies to cybersecurity risks, the fear of increased cyberattacks came in at a distant third (18 percent).

“Upstream oil and gas companies are evolving from only using digital technologies in siloes to using these digital technologies and the related new ways of working to transform entire business areas,” said Rich Holsman, who leads Digital in Accenture’s Energy industry group.

“Our survey respondents see big data and analytics, cloud, the Internet of Things (IoT), mobility, high-performance computing (HPC) and cybersecurity as having the greatest potential to transform their businesses. In the next three to five years, 70 percent plan to spend more or significantly more on digital technologies, and the next wave includes HPC, wearables, robotics, artificial intelligence and blockchain.”

Digital technologies that upstream companies are investing in today include mobile devices (56 percent), cloud (45 percent), big data and analytics (43 percent) and IoT (42 percent). Priority investment areas for these technologies are asset management and maintenance, capital project management and production optimization.

Not always about huge amount of data and cost cutting

“It’s not always about petabytes of data. It’s about a set of solutions and technologies that could not have been achieved even five years ago,” said Egbert Schroeer, Worldwide Managing Director, Process Manufacturing, Microsoft Corp. “Digital is doing more than helping reduce operational costs through increased worker productivity with mobility.”

He said: “The cloud, better asset management and remote monitoring through analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) are driving operational excellence and subsurface data management for the oil and gas industry. However, it will be essential for upstream companies to quickly develop in-house capabilities and add external talent for data analytics and other leading technologies, to stay ahead in the digital revolution.”

According to the research, upstream companies are also now adding digital workforce challenges to their ongoing talent concerns. Recruitment is their biggest challenge in this regard, especially skill-building for contingent labor, freelancers and onboarding new hires. Most said it will take three to five years to build the necessary digital skill base.

For example, the research has shown that the great majority of respondents (85 percent) felt their companies lacked fully mature analytics capabilities.

While they plan to develop that area, the expected three-to-five-year time frame in which they aim to do that might be too extended – competitively speaking – as technologies advance rapidly. This is especially relevant, as an Accenture’s Strategy study, The Talent Well Has Run Dry, notes the oil and gas industry could experience a shortage of 10,000 to 40,000 petro-technical professionals by 2025.

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