5 minute read 30 Sep 2019
Woman studying moving data computer screen

How oil and gas organizations can secure buy-in for AI transformation

By

Jeff Williams

EY Global Oil & Gas Advisory Leader

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

5 minute read 30 Sep 2019

A successful AI strategy requires a careful approach to gain stakeholder support, from leadership to frontline staff.

With artificial intelligence (AI) continuing to transform the oil and gas industry, workers on the frontline are increasingly concerned about the impact automation and smart technologies will have on their jobs. However, with the right strategy, AI and related technologies like machine learning will foster new and more rewarding career opportunities – and even create new jobs.

As the industry digitizes its upstream and downstream operations with AI, employees must learn to understand how these technologies work and the ways they could improve their work lives. To optimize the potential of combining those employees’ institutional and industry knowledge with the potential of AI, strategic reskilling should be high on the industry’s agenda as leadership looks for ways to introduce AI for maximum impact.

There are the three key ingredients for developing a successful AI strategy:

1) Develop a compelling use-case scenario

AI isn’t a one-size-fits-all technology. It includes things like rules-based programming, robotic process automation and machine learning. Therefore, it’s important that companies develop clear use-case scenarios outlining what technology they want to use and how it could improve their operations and benefit employees.

As well as helping employees better understand the technology, use-case scenarios also provide companies with a firm handle on what it actually takes to integrate these technologies into their operations.

AI is inherently a problem-solving technology. From maintenance to parts management, human resources to subsurface analysis, AI can drive value across multiple business units. The challenge is picking the right problems for AI to solve.

This is where the knowledge and experience of veteran oil and gas workers can come in handy. That industry expertise will help pinpoint problems and provide valuable insights that can inform the development of use-case scenarios for the technology. This isn’t about replacing existing talent – it’s about maximizing their impact through intelligent automation and analytical support.

Finally, putting together a winning use-case scenario for AI raises a fundamental question – where to begin? Companies should initially look for easy wins. For example, oil and gas organizations could begin by automating a back-office administrative task or even field inspections. The lessons learned from these low-hanging-fruit projects could be used on more ambitious projects – and could also foster greater understanding and buy-in from employees.

2) Secure C-suite support

AI will not only transform how oil and gas companies operate but, more importantly, how decisions are made. Those new organizational models can’t be built without buy-in from senior leadership.

Managing these types of changes takes a C-suite with a willingness to rethink upstream and downstream processes. It’s a long-term strategy that requires senior management approval and support.

The C-suite will have to agree on core business objectives. Some executives might want to tap the technology to rationalize costs, but others will want to embrace more ambitious journeys, requiring large upfront investments and extra staff. For instance, upgrading upstream activities or optimizing a refinery with AI is a much more ambitious project than using the technology to rationalize some administrative tasks.

Once business objectives are aligned, senior management will have a more cohesive message on the benefits of AI. Oil and gas companies are process-driven entities. Change does not happen fast and is often slowed by layers of approvals. It’s therefore important that the message coming from the top clearly highlights the benefits workers will receive.

3) Put people first

Involving employees at the inception of the AI journey will help align expectations with business objectives.

AI might intimidate some workers if they’re not aware of the way it could positively redesign their overall work experience. In the explorations and production space, machine learning could transform the data analysis underpinning things like valve positioning, pressure levels or even pump speeds. Replacing that time-consuming work with AI means workers get more time to focus on rewarding and value-added tasks.

Specifically, for upstream workers such as drillers, AI and the information it provides can give a greater understanding of the subsurface environment they operate in. This insight means quicker drilling campaigns that aren’t slowed down by wear and tear, and machine breakdown. It also means less aggravation or frustration when teams are working with tight schedules.

Safety is another issue that can unite workers around AI. From upstream to downstream, safety shapes every decision and process. The industry is already working on a number of technologies, including autonomous robots, to take over complex actions on offshore assets. These indirectly improve employee safety by reducing the need for human actions in challenging environments.

But that’s just a start. Machine learning and AI also has strong potential to support safety-critical systems. The challenge, though, is actually capturing the data, since major incidents in the oil and gas industry are rare. Still, that analytical gap could be filled with systems powered by a combination of data-driven models and the real-life insight and expertise of veteran safety workers.

Looking to the beyond

The oil and gas industry is still at the start of its digital journey. While it considers what’s needed to get up to speed now to deal with what’s next for the industry, leadership should bear in mind that AI is bound to transform how energy is produced, transported and refined. But looking beyond these immediate changes, AI could unlock new opportunities for the industry and its people.

Still, for the industry to fully realize the benefits of AI, it can’t turn its back on the concerns the technology raises. And that’s where clear business cases and strong senior management support have a vital role to play. They don’t have to be AI specialists or digital natives, but they do have to know enough to educate their workers on the benefits and opportunities AI will help tap into – for personal as well as business growth.

Summary

Even in technology-heavy industries like oil and gas, the introduction of new tools can often meet with opposition from stakeholders who are either unconvinced of its potential to help, or who are concerned about its possible negative impact. By developing clear use cases, securing C-suite support and putting people at the heart of your AI strategy, you will help maximize its potential to transform your organization for the better. 

About this article

By

Jeff Williams

EY Global Oil & Gas Advisory Leader

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