• Perspectives

Digital frontline

Digital twin
Adam Forbes
September 20, 2021

Much of the focus of digital transformation is given to big data, clever systems and game-changing innovations, like robotics, AI and IoT. But what is often missing is the focus on people, who have been irrevocably transformed by digital.

Today’s new staff arrive at the workplace already pretty transformed, armed with digital skills acquired through education and through life. Even the experienced crew has upskilled, over the past decade, sometimes unconsciously, to embrace new digital tools and systems.

Life outside work has changed what people expect inside work: intolerance of poorly designed technologies, of manual, repetitive tasks, and paper-based “systems”. We are all tech gurus today, achieving complex tasks on our phones, in our cars, with our TVs and in our kitchens. We know what good looks like. And we increasingly trust technology; we know we can usually rely on it.

Our organisations have changed too. Digital transformation promises more from less. The number of UK offshore workers has fallen by more than 25% since 2014 , in part compensated by more digital. That trajectory is likely to persist – and may even accelerate – as investment in digital increases: 58% of global oil and gas operators said in a recent EY survey that they expect to increase digital investment post-pandemic.

Increasingly, how operators invest in technology and in people, especially at the intersection where they meet, will set apart those that attract and retain the very best talent – and those who do not.

Fortunately, by stepping into the shoes of our talent and understanding their needs, we can see that digital technologies deliver value for both operators and their digitally-enabled offshore workforce. But in order to gain these advantages, operators need to be thoughtful, inclusive and prepared to invest in people as well as technology.

With fewer staff it becomes a question of quality. Top talent in oil and gas is scarce and harder to attract and retain – especially as opportunities open up in cleaner energy fields.

Helping offshore workers become more empowered

Broader changes in society mean that workers in virtually every sector today prefer more autonomy – and some demand it. They expect to be trusted to deliver to standards both they and their employer set, pushing back on micro-management and control from above.

In the offshore world, with fewer staff on board, complex work is now distributed more widely than ever, owing to greater confidence that staff have access to the latest data and documents to make good decisions without recourse to managers.

Today’s offshore worker is more empowered but also has access to more support than a decade ago. Experts can be contacted in realtime from across the globe, even on-the-job via remote headsets and inherently safe mobile communications devices. We can now expect much more from our digital frontline because it is now no longer so isolated.

And it is equipped with better tools, every few years becoming orders of magnitude more sophisticated. Real-time simulation before realworld action is now possible, allowing staff to conduct experiments in the field on digital twins to pre-empt system-wide consequences before action is taken.

 The offshore frontline wants to be empowered – and with access to data, experts and tools – it now can be, making it more valuable for its operators.

Empowering the frontline

Providing access
Eigen helps operators connect up vast, complex data, documents and systems, bringing with them context, using knowledge graph technology. Using the Ingenuity platform, staff can search, retrieve and visualise data, run simulations and take action in minutes - what would have taken weeks if not months just a few years back.

Helping offshore workers become more involved

The days when a new system or a digital project landed unannounced on a desk with a mandate to use are (mostly) over. System developers and digital project leads recognise that without user engagement and a good understanding of human factors, new technology take-up tends to be slower.

Learning from consumer technology, business software and systems – and even very technical,
specialist technology solutions – are increasingly designed with users, not just for users.

Bringing users into the project early on helps understand their needs, how they solve problems, their
workflows and expected inputs and outputs. This has the dual advantage of building products that users will adopt – and recruiting champions who will evangelise when the system does land on desks.

Today’s offshore workers are highly skilled and demand flexible tools that can be tailored to their, often precise, needs. By engaging with these users in advance, system developers know where to lock down a design and where to allow customisation e.g. bespoke reporting and analysis.

Users increasingly want choice in how they access information digitally from work and will accept a blurring of home and work, via wearables and other mobile devices, to be kept informed and able to act. 

Eigen is made up of oil and gas experts bringing decades of experience to each client challenge, yet successful system design and deployment relies on the way we engage with each client team of users – each situation is different. Harnessing users’ desire for systems and tools that help them perform better increases the chance of successful business outcomes for our clients.

Involving the frontline

Co-developing solutions
Eigen uses an adapted Design Thinking approach, to engage users from day 1 to understand their needs and struggles, what progress would look like for them and, through journey mapping workshops, helps codevelop new solutions on paper. As system are coded, Eigen repeatedly engages user teams for feedback and direction.

In addition, Eigen runs regular User Forums, where we actively engage users for feedback on our products, areas for optimisation and to surface new feature requests; we also give early sight of our product roadmap and forthcoming innovations.

Helping offshore workers become more collaborative

It wasn’t so long ago when there was a real divide between offshore teams (wrestling with stormy
North Sea conditions) and onshore teams (in nice cosy, warm offices).  

There will probably always be a degree of emotional separation – as in any frontline/head office
relationship – but things have certainly improved over the years as collaborative technology has
become a way of life. For some, ‘always-on comms’ is the default, with workspaces to designed to make morning calls feels more like one team.

This desire for collaboration has increased in line with the value both sides can access from the relationship: a call with a specialist that cuts short an overrunning turnaround, an impromptu discussion that surfaces a new idea to solve an old problem, learning what worked on a sister asset that might work here.

Technology underpins and extends collaboration – communication, knowledge management, centralised data. It can break down functional barriers when it is designed around business outcomes rather than organisational structures.

And it can widen the pool of potential collaborators and problem-solvers – from other assets teams,
central domain specialists, even experts from outside the operator’s organisation.

Trust is critical to collaboration, both between individuals and between an individual and the data they access; both in terms of sharing data confidently – without those organisational structures getting in the way – and in being confident in the data’s validity and its source. 

With offshore workforces becoming smaller, collaboration becomes critical, both within the offshore environment and outside with experts and other functional support. It lies precisely at the intersection between technology and people, where both work symbiotically to deliver safer, more efficient operations.

Frontline collaboration

Fostering one team
Eigen works on many projects to help clients collaborate better – whether that’s sharing and integrating data and documents or presenting robust, latest view data in reports or on screens on which multiple teams can rely. We build systems and tools that ‘glue’ an organisation together.

Helping offshore workers feel valued

The offshore worker is often characterised as overworked, with a mounting backlog, relying on multiple legacy systems; frustrated and unable to progress. Digital solutions delivered well, focused on solving problems and unblocking talent, can not only deliver great business outcomes, but also dramatically increase motivation.

Staff feel appreciated, valued and recognise the investment, when new technology is developed and
deployed to help them work more productively. Simple solutions, like automatically aggregating data from multiple sources into a common environment can save engineers hours. Low value, time-intensive, manual activities often cause most frustration and low morale among offshore workers, because of a perceived lack of attention and care by managers. Automation frees up staff for higher value adding activities and makes staff feel valued.

But digital investments need to include more than just technology development; training and support are key to unlock the real value from digital. Another EY report cites executives in oil and gas companies saying they need to reskill around 60% of their workforce to realise value from their digital investments – specifically in digital literacy, data science, cyber security and artificial intelligence. More than 90% said that their ability to reskill as a company will shape their success over the next three years. Indeed, many talk of needing complementary “adaptive” skills (historically known as “soft” skills), citing gaps in analytical and critical thinking, creativity, complex problem-solving and resilience). While these statistics are likely to have a bias to the onshore sector, investment in offshore workers, again at this intersection with technology, is vital to enrich talent for mutual value.

Investing in modern digital solutions is also likely to create a more flexible workforce that can move
around the asset or organisation – rather than trapping individuals in specific roles only they can perform. Not only does this contribute to improved morale for existing top talent, investing in digital is also likely to be attractive to incoming talent.

Valuing the frontline

Investing in development
We are soon to launch the Eigen Academy, building on our commitment and track record to support all transition to new systems and tools, but also to keep our clients, and their staff, up to date with the latest technologies and how they can help clients drive even higher levels of safety and productivity.

Done well unlocks the power of our people

Until such a day when offshore assets are remotely managed, we will only be able to judge our sector’s digital transformation through the safety, productivity and motivation of our offshore workforce. 

Both operator and offshore worker have much to gain from digital delivered well. Now we can get real value from our workforce, precisely because they are empowered to take the best decisions, armed with the best available data and expert support, and with the tools and systems to take action and
assure safe operations.

Operators need to really consider their teams out in the field, engage deeply with them, empathise and co-develop digital solutions to make their working lives easier. For therein lies the path to value for both the operator – and its digital workforce.

For more information on Eigen’s approach to get the best out of your people through digital technology, contact Joel Chacon at joel.chacon@eigen.co.

For more information on Digital Twin technologies and how Eigen can help, contact info@eigen.co

Written by
Adam Forbes
Posted on
September 20, 2021
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