Interview: Greater convergence

Iain MacKay, COO, Petrotechnics, discusses how digital technologies can empower organisations in the refining sector to drive convergence for integrated business processes that provide them with actionable insight about their businesses.

Iain MacKay, chief operating officer, Petrotechnics.
Iain MacKay, chief operating officer, Petrotechnics.

Iain MacKay, COO, Petrotechnics, discusses how digital technologies can empower organisations in the refining sector to drive convergence for integrated business processes that provide them with actionable insight about their businesses, in an interview given to RPME.

Please give us an overview of how digital technologies are chang-ing the refining industry around the world.

Traditionally, production planning and optimisation have not been connected to the asset state, operations or interventions being performed on the plant. Digital technologies are underpinning the transition from this siloed way of working with an emphasis on compliance to an end-to-end integrated business process. This provides companies with actionable insight that can be used to improve their daily operations.

How do you evaluate progress made by the refining companies in the Middle East region in the application of digital technologies?

Conversations around digital technologies are maturing. In fact, at ME Petrotech last September, two of the leading GCC operators laid out their vision for how they plan to enhance existing value chains across upstream, downstream and petrochemical assets through integrated business processes underpinned by digitisation. What is different now is that this ambition is becoming action and real progress is being made towards making that vision a reality.

Please elaborate on the benefits of using digital technologies in the oil and gas refining sector.

Digital technology provides the means to drive convergence by breaking down siloes. It enables smarter and more intelligent operations based on integrated business processes and actionable insight. It enhances compliance without being compliance-driven. And ultimately, digital technologies can make operational excellence a reality. This means everyone from the boardroom to the frontline can consistently make the most effective operational decisions, based on an integrated view of the operational reality in terms of risk, cost and productivity.

Can you explain how digital technologies transform a refinery in increasing productivity, improving quality of services and creating new business models?

Digital technologies are helping to close the gaps between engineering, maintenance, operations and other functions across the value chain. This convergence is providing the context from which big data can deliver actionable insights. This insight is starting to provide operators with an understanding of performance that was not previously accessible. As a result, it is unlocking powerful decision-making abilities which can impact the entire value chain. For example, by digitising shutdown turnarounds, which can be one of the biggest costs for oil and gas operators in the Middle East, companies could streamline processes to improve productivity, reduce risk and cost.

Can you give us details of how companies transform by using digital technologies?

There are clearly some visionary companies across the region. In the conversations I am having at the executive level, there is a real vision, supported by executable plans, to fundamentally change the way businesses operate. We are involved in some of the early stages of these efforts to turn corporate vision into operational reality in the areas of process safety and operational risk management.

What kind of resources are involved in transforming an organisation from the refining sector by using digital technologies?

The business case of using digital technologies to leverage operational excellence is clear and compelling. Transformation projects are not about incremental benefits in one department. The change is significant and the benefits exponential. This is where our operational excellence software platform, Proscient, shines. We believe in a ‘think big, start small, scale fast’ approach that allows operators to deploy Proscient in their organisation at their pace. Then on their timeline, operators can roll out additional capabilities while integrating with the rest of their technology ecosystem to deliver increasing benefits.

What are the advantages of the Middle Eastern refining companies while using digital technologies?

The Middle East has a highly educated and experienced workforce. The capture of corporate knowledge, especially with older assets, and the understanding of those assets is critical to their performance. Digital technologies can embed this knowledge and understanding into the company, rather than the individual.

What are the challenges faced in using digital technologies for the Middle Eastern oil and gas refining companies?

The biggest challenge is the management of change. There is a long history of standards and compliance with those standards as a measure of success in the oil and gas industry – that is not unique to the Middle East. Generational change, adoption of technology in the workplace and the difficulty faced by middle management to balance future vision with the ongoing day-to-day running of operations are critical realities to overcome. Leadership and management are key here to ensuring the organisation has the right commitment, support and drive at all levels.

What is the importance of the Middle East in the digital transformation of oil and gas refining industry?

The Middle East can be the fore-runner for the rest of the world. The ambition and market strategy of the leading NOCs across the region to integrate their value chains from exploration to refined chemicals is leading the way. If this momentum continues, the region will become a beacon for the rest of the world.

Can you elaborate on three key changes that digital technologies can bring in for the refining and petrochemical industries?

Firstly, digital technologies will drive convergence to more effective and integrated business processes that provide operators with actionable insight about their businesses. Secondly, these technologies create an end-to-end understanding of business processes focused on operational excellence and move away from the idea of siloed functions. And last but not least, organisations that implement the right technology platform today can ensure they are ready to take advantage of the potential value the adoption of IoT (Internet of Things) capabilities will have to offer in years to come.

Can you envision the digital status of the refineries in 2025?

There will be greater convergence across departments, a standardisation of technologies and a concerted effort to enhance the entire value chain from exploration to refined chemicals. Some leaders in the region already see digital transformation as essential, not a competitive differentiator.

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