The Journey to Smart Operations – Where Should We Start?


How do the oil and chemical industries get to the destination of Smart Operations? We’ve got predictive analytics; big data, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Each one will claim that it’s the answer, but how do we know which option is right for us? How do we navigate the journey towards digitalisation?

What is the problem we are trying to solve? The ultimate destination for the digital journey is automated decisions, but given our legacy in the hydrocarbon industry – we will ever get there? Where should we start? …and is it even worth setting off?

The answer to the last question is an emphatic, “yes”! Those that do not take advantage of advanced technologies will get left behind – not only on the digital journey. They could become victims of the Industry 4.0 revolution. The good news is although the ultimate destination may seem elusive; every step of the journey can bring its own benefits.

The problem we are trying to solve is ensuring the right action (either automated or human) is taken in all circumstances. This requires the right decisions to be built on clear insights informed by valid data. The first step on this journey is use data in more meaningful ways.

As Eric Schaeffer from Accenture said,

“Data in itself has little value. It is how you clean, enrich and combine the data with other sources of data. It’s the algorithm, the intelligence that you put around this data which provides the insight to increase your operational efficiencies”.

Working with BASF as part of their Industry 4.0 initiative, Uwe Hinsen the executive heading up the initiative observed,

“As part of BASF 4.0, Smart Manufacturing needs relevant information on daily work through tight integration that stitches together the real world and the digital world.”

At the heart of Uwe’s request is the need to turn disparate sources of data into a common view of operational reality. In order to combine disparate data together in a way that provides useful, meaningful insight, organisations need a ‘common currency of data’.  This common currency allows us to combine disparate sources of data in a way that provides meaningful insights that enable the right decisions.

What does a common currency look like on a real operating plant?  One example is how our Proscient system utilises a common currency of risk to provide real-time picture of risk and the ability to predict increasing levels of risk.

It combines data from:

  • Inspection reports–indicating the an increased potential for leaks
  • Data historians –indicating a gas detector malfunction
  • Maintenance systems – indicating  the fire main  is down for maintenance
  • Permit systems – a new request for hot work in the area

We can quickly alert everyone of a potential leak that we simply could not have detect on our own, as well as a potential source of ignition and no way of putting the fire out.  Without a “common currency” we would not be able to combine this disparate data in way that provides this insight and enables operational personnel to make the right and safe decisions.

Conditioning data in this way enables humans to make better decisions and is that important first step in the journey to automated decisions.

What do you think?

Like this article? Read my latest whitepaper for more of my thoughts on the journey to smart operations.

In 1989, Phil Murray recognised the need to provide technology-based solutions to hazardous industries to reduce operational risk, and to help them move beyond compliance to optimise operational performance and drive continuous improvement. Founding Petrotechnics was the result.

Today, Phil is responsible for managing and driving global teams to support our customers in over 22 countries. For over 25 years, Phil has been instrumental in changing the way people work, giving them the tools to manage the relationship between operational performance and risk.

Prior to founding Petrotechnics, Phil spent ten years with BP in a variety of technical, operational and managerial roles. He’s won numerous business awards and has authored a number of articles, including ‘Bringing Frontline Workers into the 21st Century’ (‘Journal of Petroleum Technology’).

Read more Digital OE insights.

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Start typing and press Enter to search