By Andrew Hobbs

INVESTMENT in digital technologies is on the rise among companies working in the oil and gas industry as more seek a competitive advantage.

Speaking at the 18th International Conference & Exhibition on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG18), GE Oil & Gas chief executive Lorenzo Simonelli said the industry currently had an opportunity to better equip itself to meet growing demand.

“It really comes down to how to we harness the aspect of reliability cost reduction, risk mitigation and profitable growth, and at GE we’ve got technologies that really approach each of these,” he said.

While it was important for industry to become more flexible, with the rise of modularisation of equipment, it was also important for industry to try to find a way to cut downtime – which Mr Simonelli said was worse in the oil and gas industry than average.

Today, the various pieces of equipment installed at oil and gas projects acted in a disparate way, he said, but digital industrial software presented an opportunity to bring what he called an “ecosystem” together.

“That is the game changer that we’re going to be able to achieve, by starting to focus on developing the industrial intranet,” he said.

“But to achieve that you really need a change in culture… to be able to bring everybody together,” he said.

“It is only by working together as partners from operators to the engineering, procurement and construction firms, to the equipment manufacturers and service providers that we are able to achieve this and truly bring to light the power of digital.”

For Accenture Asia Pacific energy lead Bernardette Cullinane, this represented an opportunity for service providers despite current challenging circumstances, citing data from the firm’s 2016 Upstream Oil and Gas Digital Trends Survey.

Prepared in collaboration with Microsoft and released in March, the report found 80 per cent of survey respondents planned to invest either more or the same amount in digital technologies over the next three to five years.

“Operators now, because of the challenging price environment, are more willing to listen and are more willing to admit – we don’t have all of the ideas, we need to listen to the supply chain and the services companies and allow them to bring their ideas to us,” she told Oil & Gas Australia.

“Furthermore we need to collaborate with them in a way that will allow us to both have business benefits and a positive outcome. That dialogue has increased.”

Increased investment in digital was believed by 56% of respondents to lead to faster and better decisions being made, while 59% said increased employee productivity had been a result of such an investment.

“We see with the workforce if they are enabled and savvy enough to use the technologies they can increase the productivity of the work that they do by making it more efficient,” she said.

With Australia’s recent surge in LNG investment, Ms Cullinane said many Australian assets were new, and thus more likely to be digitally enabled.

“For example here in some of the newer assets that have been commissioned and are now starting to operate, they have already built in a whole bunch of analysers and sensors and machines that can speak to other machines – this is what we call the internet of things – machines that can talk to other machines to create information and then that information is able to be analysed and decisions can be taken,” she said.

“Now with the advent of the cloud, the ability to analyse the data, the cost of that analysis of all that information has come down and the tools to enable analysis of that data are much more readily available.”

Ms Cullinane said investment in cloud computing and mobile technologies was likely to fall in the next three to five years as its use became business as usual.

“Many other areas, such as robotics, drones and wearable technologies will be areas of significant additional investment, as will artificial intelligence,” she said.

Wearable technologies were already being used to track maintenance workers during intensive work periods for safety purposes.

“[But] they can use it to understand – there is significant downtime in going back and forth for tools or equipment – that information can become quite visible through the use of wearable technologies,” she said.

She said companies would continue digital investment to become more competitive.