How can the global oil & gas sector become ‘match-fit’ for the digital challenges of the 21st century?

An article by Mark Slinger, Group Head of Digital at Alderley

3 November 2021

We recently caught up with Mark Slinger, recently-appointed Group Head of Digital at Alderley to discuss the digital trends impacting today’s energy sector and how digitalisation will be at the heart of driving efficiencies across the industry for many decades to come. 

Mark has previously worked in several head of product roles at leading technology firms and joined Alderley earlier this summer.

Q:  Mark you recently joined Alderley after a long and successful career in technology and telecoms – why?

I’ve always been fascinated by the energy industry.  Its vast size and the fact that it provides the power that enables modern societies to function and prosper were the main factors.  The opportunity to take the digital learnings from the telecoms industry and apply them in the energy sector for such a recognised industry name such as Alderley, was too good to miss.

It’s clear that in such a huge industry like energy, incremental improvements driven by digital can have a massive impact in maintaining assets, improving efficiency particularly for low carbon considerations and decreasing unplanned downtime.  I jumped at the opportunity to be part of this.

Q:  What have been your main areas of focus during your first six months at Alderley?

My first six months at Alderley have been spent getting to know the market and understanding the key digital challenges in the sector.

I’ve taken the opportunity to speak to clients directly to understand where they most need support.  I’ve spoken to them about their current digital strategies including how they integrate technology and use cloud-based technologies.

The first task that I did at Alderley was to identify the main industry risks related to digital.  They are:

  • Cyber Security
  • Safety
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Financial Exposure

In a nutshell, I help clients to save costs and maximise efficiencies while ensuring that firms adhere to the toughest safety measures and are cyber-secure.

Q:  You mentioned key industry challenges in digital – what are the kind of things that you’re seeing?

There are several areas that I’d highlight. 

First, there are many legacy systems in the oil and gas industry that are out-of-date and not fit for the challenges of the 21st century energy system.  These hard-to-change legacy systems are costing companies millions. 

Many companies in the sector have disparate systems that hinder efficiency and make operations more siloed than they need to be.  Unfortunately, this makes the transfer of operational data tricky.

Second, this digital issue becomes more acute when you realise that the whole oil and gas sector is aiming at greater efficiency not just in terms of cost savings but also for environmental and safety reasons.  This desire to drive efficiencies in the whole industry was a key point that Saudi Aramco’s CEO, Amin Nasser, made recently in an interview.

At Alderley, we’re trying to help clients move more quickly to address current and future market needs.  Investing in digital is an obvious way for companies to future-proof their businesses.

Third, digital is a vector for balancing maintenance costs.  We work with clients to give them real-time readings of their assets.  By doing this we can cut down the need for onsite inspections considerably.  Facilitating remote access for difficult and hazardous sites reduces costs and supports a greener approach with less travel to awkward global locations.

These are just but a few of the challenges facing the industry.  Indeed, other challenges exist such as:

  • Increased business complexity
  • Departments not connected and lacking a common view on data
  • Opex challenges

Helping companies to connect their physical assets and data for combined real time understanding enables companies to gain a strong competitive advantage over their competition especially for early adopters in the oil and gas sector.

Q:  So, are you saying that the oil and gas industry is behind others?

Every business in the 21st century needs data to run effectively.  The oil and gas industry has been asset and people intensive for over a century – it needs to reform and embrace digital technologies. 

What it needs most of all is to adopt best practices from other industries to drive efficiencies.  Indeed, telecoms had a head-start as it was front and centre of the boom in digital services based around internet connectivity.  But the challenge remains the same regardless of industry – do more with the same resources.

The oil and gas sector is currently playing catch up.  But digitalisation is here and is happening at different speeds across the industry.  This opens potential for automation and decision making based on the new availability of data. 

However, digitalisation is not the saviour of the industry.  There’s not going to be one system from one vendor that will be able to solve all these problems.  Instead, there are going to be a combination of solutions to address different problems.  This is where Alderley fits in!

Q:  An obvious question then – where does Alderley fit into this agenda of digital change?

We deliver solutions with real potential to automate different areas of the energy sector.  These areas include:

  • Data-driven decision making with live performance analytics
  • Connected devices
  • Cloud
  • Security
  • Remote monitoring

With many decades of specialisation in produced water treatment (PWT) and metering, our vision is to provide digital solutions in these areas focusing on specific activities within the whole value-chain of operations, maintenance, and reliability. 

We cover the whole process and therefore see great potential to become the leading digitalisation partner for the industry overseeing: Calibration / Proving, Metering, Produced Water, Hydraulics, Electrical, Audit, Inspection, Supervisory, Real Time Monitoring, Problem identification Maintenance and spares management.

Furthermore, as an independent company focused on specialist areas, we develop solutions capable of fully integrating with other digital solutions.  This gives our clients a better-integrated and seamless digital experience to further benefit their operations.

Q:  Can you give an example of where Alderley has delivered a best-in-class digital solution to a client?

Cyber security is a major focus of Alderley’s work in Qatar and provides an excellent example of how we have designed digital solutions to match local needs. 

The country has some of the most rigorous global requirements on cyber security and we have recently coordinated a major project with a leading global energy player that integrated cyber security and metering system performance into a single solution.  It involved as many as 24 systems in-country as part of that campaign and had never been done previously.  Indeed, it became the first independent domain control cyber security network to be installed by a metering system integrator in Qatar.

Another good example is developing a data acquisition and transfer solution using edge devices and secure cloud technologies for a leading oil and gas major in North Africa. 

Through this, we were able to monitor remotely real-time performance of the measurement systems.  This meant that the company could react promptly to any drift in performance or faults that require immediate attention.  This is beneficial to both the onsite teams who can track live data from their office (rather than periodic manual checking).  It also meant that the systems are visible to global measurement teams in the UK and USA.

Q:  To sum up, how would you describe what you do at Alderley?

I help the energy industry to unlock value and become more efficient and agile through digital solutions.

Mark Slinger would very much like to hear your thoughts on the Question & Answer interview above.  He can be contacted on mark.slinger@alderley.com.

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