The last two years have been challenging for the oil and gas upstream market, to say the least. The radical drop in oil prices that started in the fall of 2014 produced an environment, as it usually does, of cost-cutting and eventually, re-thinking how we get things done. The industry had gotten used to oil prices around $80 -$120/bbl from June of 2009 until approximately October of 2014 (over 5 years) when it started its rapid descent. Oil hit a low of about $29/bbl in January of 2016. Since then, the price has slowly risen to about $54/bbl as of 2/1/2017. Thousands have been laid off and billions of dollars in assets have changed hands.
However, while the petroleum geo-political and geo-business climate was in flux, technology continued to evolve at a rapid pace, offering promise of improved performance and efficiencies. Increasing productivity and efficiencies are keys to success, especially in a tight market. Technological developments, automation, and streamlined work processes are keys to improvement. But how do we “fit” all of the “pieces” together effectively? How do we manage and execute new and existing initiatives that engage the right people at the right times so that they are sustainable and produce the desired result? I believe this is our greatest challenge (i.e., EFFECTIVE selection, alignment and integration of people, processes, and technology to realize our vision and goals).
Those who know me may be aware that I embarked on a 2 year “learning adventure” into the world of mobility software technology, which included linking with enterprise level business software, especially as related to asset management. I heard a lot about “solutions”, middle-ware, operational excellence, operational sustainability, etc. This “connected some dots” for me in my perceptions of the interconnectedness of operations and IT, specifically referring to operations related to fixed equipment reliability. Honestly, it was an eye-opener for me.
I learned more about the role of business process analysts that most corporations rely on to assist in the successful selection of software and to help design enterprise asset software architectures to improve efficiencies and performance of their businesses. These analysts sit, organizationally, between the various operating units in a corporation and IT. They are the bridge between operations, maintenance, reliability, inspection, HR, HS&E, etc. and IT. They typically come from an operating discipline, for example, Reliability (may also include maintenance, inspection, etc.), or Operations, Maintenance, Human Relations, etc. And these organizations lean on their expertise in the selection and design of integrated software architectures utilizing multiple software packages and modules that cross-communicate in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons.
In the September/October 2016 Issue of Inspectioneering Journal, I penned an article entitled, “The Importance of People, Processes & Risk Based Inspection,” which touched on the complexities of overlapping and interrelated work processes. This is a complex challenge and an important one. Designing integrated software architectures that are effective, that deliver on their individual promises, and that deliver on the leveraged value that should result from implementing them is immensely important to today’s operators. The results might include increased efficiencies, fewer incidents, fewer releases, increased up-time, better turnaround performance (on-time, on-budget), improved safety performance, optimal availability, better communications, fewer surprises, etc.
The industry has been working hard to develop technical methodologies to make us more effective as evidenced by the release of API’s suite of recommended practices, including operating envelopes (API RP 584), corrosion under insulation (API RP 583), API RP 581 on RBI (third edition), API RP 571 (damage mechanisms in the refining and petrochemical industry), just to name a few. These examples point to the fact that we work and live in a very interdependent world. In fact, it seems to me that robust integration is needed, especially for larger facilities, to make sure we comply with government mandates to assure safer operations as equipment failures/releases are typically due to interrelated causes in plants where risks are dynamic. Two challenges that must be wrestled with and be managed effectively are the massive amounts (BIG) data we have at our fingertips and how we reconcile, correlated, analyze, manage and “mine gold” (e.g., KPIs, trends, warning or alert triggers, leading indicators) from that data. This is clearly a collaborative process where IT is heavily dependent upon operations (all involved departments) to describe needs and working processes accurately. Then IT, with the help of reps form the various operating disciplines, provides the insight and options needed to develop effective, sustainable solutions that engage the organization. It is important to grasp the value in good data management and analysis. In a presentation entitled, Fixed Equipment MI Learnings from the API Process Safety Site Assessments, John Reynolds and Chad Patschke, at the recent API Inspection Summit, shared that experiences from numerous refinery and process plant assessments that many pressure equipment leaks are due to poor or no analysis of the data in-hand, that was clear.
Specialists, such as inspectors, corrosion/materials/metallurgical engineers, mechanical and chemical engineers were needed to develop these references and methodologies, which are considered by many to be industry best practices. This level of specific expertise is needed to produce “best practices” caliber products. In addition to theoretical knowledge, a tremendous amount of field experience was needed to build methodologies that are truly outstanding. The technologies must be credible, understandable, and practically implementable to stand a chance of engaging the proper audience, sustaining momentum and producing or enabling the expected value. We are succeeding at this as proved by the acceptance of the recommended practices. The most recent API Inspection Summit in Galveston drew over 1,300 fixed equipment reliability professionals from around the world; the largest attendance at this event to date. Thus proving the heightened level of interest and value of industry work, at organizations like API. There are other organizations producing quality practices and standards as well, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), AICHE, etc. It has been proven that industry specialists can work together to develop technical methodologies and practices to help the entire industry manage equipment more effectively, cradle to grave. Some of these methodologies force integrated work, as they should. For example, risk based inspection and integrity operating windows.
The next BIG step many companies are now in the throes of is designing IT architectures with accompanying work processes that do a robust, effective job of bringing together, in a well-thought out and designed way, the analytical tools, databases, enabling software (e.g., mobility, middle-wares, and analysis packages), real time instrument data, and work processes. This is no small feat and requires the ability for business process people to understand the best way to integrate technologies in order to to achieve company objectives and goals. This must be a team effort.
I cannot stress enough how important the proper design of business processes is to the success of your company. Those early adopters who achieve effectively run, integrated systems now will be the first to realize the benefits. To accomplish this at the level of integration needed and to make significant improvements in performance, you must have the right people providing input. It is not about protecting your “turf”, building silos or empires. It is about working together as a team to achieve a shared mission, all while recognizing each other’s strengths and drawing from them. It also requires admitting when you don’t know something, and supplementing with the needed expertise. It means knowing the company goals and objectives and working together to accomplish them in a safe and efficient manner.
It seems to me, the industry has wasted a lot of time and money being ineffective at this in the past. We are headed into an era of unprecedented challenges when it comes to software and work process integration. The stakes are high for those who wish to seize the opportunity, especially early adopters and the early majority. Engaging knowledgeable, experienced people at the right levels, times and work junctures, and aligning everyone with the business’ goals and objectives, makes accurate communications a priority. Make sure business process people have the right level of perspective for the project and that everyone is on the same page. Build “bridges” instead of “silos.” Make company objectives and goals clearly understood from top to bottom of the organization and keep them in front of the team. Leadership perception and organizational buy-in and engagement, at all levels, are keys to successful design, implementation, sustainability and success of your integrated environment.