3 minute read 29 Aug 2018
engineer checking data computer gas plant

How oil and gas companies can create value with intelligent automation

By

Jeff Williams

EY Global Oil & Gas Advisory Leader

Global energy executive. Passionate technologist. People developer. Husband and father. Outdoors enthusiast.

3 minute read 29 Aug 2018
Related topics Oil and gas

To transform, oil and gas companies should start with the ‘who’ – not the ‘how’ – of technologies such as AI and RPA.

Intelligent automation is not simply the deployment of digital tools; it represents a new way of thinking that allows companies to constantly discover, learn, change and grow as they strive to meet business objectives.

Intelligent automation is the smart combination of skilled people and digital workers to capture the full benefits of emerging technologies. This is not a technology issue. It’s a critical business strategy, and it requires leaders to consider the big picture:

  • Where is the company headed?
  • How should it be structured to drive business results?
  • What skills, activities and processes are needed to achieve that vision?

Once those parameters have been identified, the digital strategy can benefit from thinking about the capabilities of intelligent automation, the value it can deliver and how it should be integrated for maximum benefit.

Four categories of the digital-human combination

A traditional IT program implementation might follow one process: choose a vendor, buy the tools and cascade the rollout. Intelligent automation requires a different way of thinking, because it is a business strategy, not a piece of software.

To better understand how intelligent automation can benefit the organization, it helps to humanize digital “employees” and categorize them by skillset. There are four main categories:

1. Digital Thinkers: mathematical validations, predictive analytics and big data

Artificial intelligence and neural networks produce vast amounts of data and make decisions faster and more accurately than humans. Digital Thinkers are constantly analyzing big data to find the answers to questions such as: what specific piece of equipment is showing signs of wear and should be replaced; what sort of predictive maintenance can be leveraged; and what is the most effective fracking approach for this well. Deploying these technologies will enable employees to anticipate issues and respond rapidly to changing conditions.

2. Digital Talkers: communication-based tools, such as chatbots

Today, a field worker checking on wells has to write down the location of leaks or other issues, drive back to the trailer, log into the system and enter the data properly. In a digital world, the worker will simply tell their smart device, which automatically knows the location and the type of equipment involved, and the chatbot will send the information to the robotic process automation (RPA) software to create a work order. The worker will never have to write anything on paper or put fingers on a keyboard, thus reducing the risk of incorrect data transfer and the time needed to manage issues.

3. Digital Readers: cognitive automation tools, such as machine learning, keyword-based recognition and variable format processing

The Digital Reader will be responsible for capturing and uploading data for use across the enterprise. Today, for example, a warehouse employee must write down and manually enter new shipments of parts and equipment that arrive. The Digital Reader will capture images of packing slips and automatically update the inventory.

4. Digital Workers: RPA tools that enter and process data, compare datasets, send automatic emails, and more

Digital Workers integrate with Thinkers, Readers and Talkers to execute tasks. They are the “digital labor” that create work orders, update inventory, implement price changes and much more.

These digital employees will support and inform their human counterparts while handling repetitive, high-volume tasks quickly and efficiently. Human employees will build relationships, provide subjective judgment, deliver low frequency tasks, and manage change and improvement.

Working side by side, digital assistants will enable humans, the “who” in intelligent automation, to do far more than they are capable of today, and their organizations will benefit.

The endgame is not automation for the sake of technology. Oil and gas companies should strive to find the ideal blend of human and machine capabilities in every function, and use the resulting productivity gains to redeploy employees to tasks that can improve business results. 

The impact on the human workforce

Intelligent automation will automate a wide range of routine tasks in the oil and gas industry, both in the field and in support functions such as finance, accounting and human resources. In general, employees will move from data collection and reporting duties to more value-added activities.

Because of this shift, some industry jobs may no longer be necessary. At the same time, new jobs, requiring different skill sets, will be created.

In the digital age, talent can be a differentiator and a competitive advantage. That’s a mind-set that oil and gas companies will need to adopt, and quickly, to attract workers who can maximize the value that digital offers.

Finding the right human “who”

In the digital transformation, the “who” is just as critical as the “how.”

Oil and gas companies must begin attracting and developing employees with the specific skills and work styles that make intelligent automation possible.

Individuals with analytical skills and the ability to utilize data mining and other digital tools to synthesize information are increasingly valuable. Additionally, innovation, agile thinking and hyper-collaboration are all skills that aren’t commonly recruited for today, but will be needed in the future.

Summary

The energy industry has historically focused on assets rather than people. But in the digital age, talent can be a differentiator and a competitive advantage. That’s a mind-set that oil and gas companies will need to adopt, and quickly, to attract workers who can maximize the value that digital offers.

About this article

By

Jeff Williams

EY Global Oil & Gas Advisory Leader

Global energy executive. Passionate technologist. People developer. Husband and father. Outdoors enthusiast.

Related topics Oil and gas