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Jennifer Hartsock, Chief Information Officer at Baker Hughes, says adoption of technology is high among the challenges to deploying digital capabilities, but that the COVID-19 pandemic has induced employees and customers to embrace digital tools.
”We have dramatically reduced the change barrier over the last few months,” she explains.
Hartsock cites instances of customers becoming willing and eager to use established remote monitoring and operations technologies that they might previously have bypassed. Remote drilling, for example, has seen an uptick in customer acceptance over the pandemic period when fly-in-fly-out workforces were grounded. Complex drilling challenges have been solved and executed remotely by domain experts.
“We’re seeing that competency can be provisioned from anywhere in the world, without losing the time of getting someone on a plane,” says Hartsock. “That’s a pretty phenomenal breakthrough in how we can leverage these capabilities to help our customers succeed.”
Post-pandemic success in the oil and gas sector means reducing costs, supporting energy transition and increasing productivity. Therefore, getting comfortable with remote application of skills has become critical. Baker Hughes is already advanced on the path of combining its domain knowledge with proven digital capabilities to assist its customers in these areas. As last year’s successful onshoring of directional drillers from Equinor’s Askepott rig off the coast of Norway demonstrated, the costs of transport and accommodation on offshore platforms can be slashed, CO2 emissions shaved, and working conditions enhanced by reliable automated, remote-controlled drilling technology.
Maintaining continuity in tumultuous times
A major concern for Baker Hughes as a technology company has been how to advance innovation and digital development while maintaining established capabilities in a challenging remote-working environment. “We can’t afford to put the brakes on productivity and transformation,” says Hartsock. “If anything, we’re trying to accelerate that transformation in the current period.” The CIO has had to challenge her own biases toward co-located development teams and pivot to remotely support her now dispersed innovators.
During COVID, while Baker Hughes scaled its Microsoft Teams deployment from a pilot group of 500 employees to more than 20,000 people globally to support continuity of business functions, other less obvious technologies have also been prioritized to maintain customer operations.
Test validations on multi-stage projects where progress depends on factory acceptance testing of each stage, for example, have been virtually progressed. Historically, Hartsock says, coordinating customer schedules to be present at such tests was “tough”, but during COVID-19, Baker Hughes demonstrated that customers can effectively view and assess the testing in real time online, through both cameras and sensor data. “It’s been a great win,” says Hartsock, “from a productivity standpoint and for customer satisfaction. Everybody gained time on that one.”
As the pandemic unfolded around its operations from East to West, through a number of actions underpinned by digital enablement, Baker Hughes was able to maintain business operations in a rapidly changing environment.
‘’We have to deal with the human and cultural change elements. For example, when you look at the adoption of video collaboration tools to minimize travel, the capabilities are not new and offer a rich experience. When the immediate need emerged, as air travel suddenly stopped, both employees and customers were adopting those capabilities faster and better.’’ Hartsock says.
‘’It’s interesting when we use the phrase ‘digital transformation’, because ultimately we are running a business, with a strategy enabled through digital capabilities’', she adds.
Monitoring the impact on net zero commitment
There are many areas affected by digital capabilities for energy operators; drone technology can now help monitor methane emissions, sensors on refinery stacks and on wind turbines can help optimize operations and reduce waste. ‘’Thanks to the long-term partnerships we have developed with our customers, it means we can adapt our digital products and services to meet their changing demands, as we have seen during the pandemic’ Hartsock says.
Ultimately, to deliver the dual imperatives for production efficiencies and emissions reduction in the COVID-slash-climate-change environment, data and digital solutions must be relevant, accessible and deliver competitive advantage. Digital solutions rise and fall on the perception of users that it’s worth changing their behavior to adopt them.
The COVID pandemic has hit oil and gas sectors hard, starting with the oil-price war and plummeting demand for fuels, but says Hartsock, “As more of the world becomes energy enabled, the demands on global energy production will increase, and we’re going to need really creative, smart, innovative ways to optimize the hydrocarbon consumption of the world, and to help enable continued growth in the renewables and alternative-energy spaces.” Her far-flung but connected and digitally enabled teams are working on all fronts.