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How digitalisation drives growth in challenging environments

1 Dec 2020

David Greenwood, CEO at ISN Solutions, a leading UK IT managed service provider (MSP) with nearly three decades’ experience of partnering with energy companies operating in remote and challenging environments, elaborates on how digitalisation and emerging technologies can drive the energy sector towards greater profitability.

The energy industry has been at the fore of embracing digital transformation and new technologies. The capabilities of the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) has enabled complex, interconnected networks and devices - from image-recognition software to myriad sensors - to leverage valuable insights from gathered data to increase operational and financial efficiencies.

These insights are proving the worth of investment in digital solutions. Equinor, for example, upscaled production with technology at the Johan Sverdrup field, 140 kilometres west of Stavanger, Norway, and benefitted from increased earnings of more than NOK two billion after only one year of implementation. 

Today, Johan Sverdrup operators use tablets in their daily work and the ‘digital twin’ (which is a virtual copy of the platform). Using the power of IIoT, it’s possible for personnel remotely to operate, analyse and optimise how entire platforms are run on portable, handheld devices, vastly improving health and safety as well as decreasing any risk of downtime.

As the energy industry becomes more exposed to competition and unpredictability, emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), are being implemented to boost production output and reduce risks of costly human error or machine failure.

How is AI and machine learning driving change in the energy industry?

Where AI is making major impact in challenging environments in particular is the use of machine learning algorithms. This enables computer systems to gather and interpret data autonomously, allowing companies to monitor internal operations and immediately respond to any concerns that may have been overlooked by human operators.

The algorithms’ additional usefulness to the energy industry, and to oil and gas and exploration companies in particular, lies in its ability to learn about the environment it operates in and detect patterns, which companies can then use to test potential impacts of new projects and make quicker, better informed decisions.

As an example, Shell has used precision drilling, which has allowed personnel to better understand the environment they operate in and has led to faster results and reduction in damage to machinery and plant.

Applying digital solutions and new technologies to the reduction of the environmental impact of oil and gas operations will be of particular importance for the industry’s long-term sustainability.

Perhaps the most innovate example is ExxonMobil’s partnership with the Massachusetts’s Institute of Technology (MIT) to design AI robots for ocean exploration in order to detect oil seepages on the ocean floor.

Another example of the power of AI is Aker BP’s use of an AI-powered predictive maintenance solution to reduce unplanned downtime, which can cost companies within the region of $2-3 million in a single day for catastrophic asset failures.

But accelerating growth with technology makes companies’ IT infrastructure a critical asset

Widespread deployment of IIoT affords energy companies opportunities for personnel to work more flexibly, access data from anywhere in the world and increase collaboration. However, each additional device accessing a company’s IT system, whether a mobile phone or networked camera, provides another opportunity for hackers to find a way in to the system and cause damage, and this needs to be factored into the resilience planning and implementation of the systems and their WAN (wide area network).

Additionally, as energy companies increasingly deploy and rely on the performance of a plethora of devices and equipment all connected to a single network, it makes critical operations more vulnerable and increases the likelihood of breaches resulting in serious and costly company-wide consequences.

A robust and resilient IT infrastructure is often the forgotten ‘weak link’ in the digital landscape, but critical data and operations must be protected. As evidenced by Thales’ cyberthreat report (February 2020) that the energy industry is one of the most at risk sectors of cyberattacks, it could be argued that the efficacy and security of a company’s network should evolve at an even faster rate than the implementation of new technologies and digitalisation.

If needs be, energy companies can partner with an IT MSP specialising in network resilience and security in challenging environments to help them protect their critical data and avoid the risk of their IT systems becoming obsolete and presenting a serious security threat to a company’s operations. Leading IT MSPs use the best technologies and equipment on the market, so company directors can trust that any software, applications or IT equipment used is safe, reliable and benefitting from the latest security updates and patches, remaining protected as new technologies and digital solutions are implemented.

At ISN Solutions, our team of remote experts deliver round-the-clock support, so business leaders can rest assured that their IT infrastructure is in safe hands while they focus on driving their business forwards, increasing growth and opportunity.