By Nicholas Heyes, Accenture

THE recent downturn in the oil and gas industry has fundamentally changed those organisations. Tens of thousands of people, possessing hundreds of thousands of years of experience, have left those companies and sought work in other industries.

So, with this seismic change and with research and practical examples already indicating that tomorrow’s best decision-makers will be machines, now is the time to envision, plan and create the workforce of the future. Digital is breaking down established work boundaries and change is inevitable.

Making exploration and production “boundaryless”

Consider how digital technologies have reshaped other industries in recent years.

People can hail taxis using smartphones, order their food standing at a kiosk in a restaurant and companies no longer have to bear the fixed costs of asset ownership to deliver services.

The oil and gas industry cycles through boom and bust and the successive waves of downsizing have put them in a difficult position when it comes to talent. An innovative approach is to think how digital technologies can be leveraged to make talent more efficient, overcome the continual loss of corporate memory and do more with less while still achieving desired business outcomes.

Rather than employing more full-time geoscientists, engineers and support staff, and trying to find ways to keep all of them busy, companies can look to fee-based arrangements linked to specific projects, analysis and reports. Responsibilities traditionally assigned to full-time employees could be broken into discrete chunks and assigned, often to experts operating remotely and independently, linked by digital technologies that enable collaboration among participants working on multiple continents.

Rather than hiring more “doers,” companies need to attract employees who are good at procuring talent on a project-by-project basis and managing teams across traditional departmental boundaries and outside of the enterprise.

Tomorrow’s best decision-makers could be machines

dawn-of-digital-1Tasks that might have taken employees months to do can now be done by intelligent machines in a fraction of the time.

Machines can crunch massive amounts of data on well sites and geological formations to make recommendations, and do the work objectively without fear of providing an answer that may fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

Cognitive assistants can deliver visual analysis of sites and provide recommendations, which is especially helpful for less experienced talent, whether full-time or being paid through fee arrangements. By using machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of data, digital platforms are a smart way to deal with the “crew change”—the immediate and impending wave of retirements in oil and gas.

What can CIOs do to orchestrate this transformation? People First.

Perhaps first and foremost, Upstream CIOs must remember that whilst it may be tempting to just drive the technological investment alone, it remains critical to get the workforce equation right.

Nicholas Heyes leads Accenture’s Oil and Gas practice in Australia and New Zealand.

Nicholas Heyes leads Accenture’s Oil and Gas practice in Australia and New Zealand.

All too often, organisations excited by reduced costs and short-term gains, move to automate too aggressively and miss out on harnessing the thought leadership, judgement calls and experience that humans can bring to the table. Accenture’s Technology Vision 2016 recently revealed that in 8 out of 10 companies bracing for digital change, those organisations that equip employees, partners and consumers with new skills and think through new workflows, can fully capitalise on technology innovations with greater success than their counterparts who do not put people first.

As such, to optimise digital transformation for their businesses, Upstream CIOs should:

  1. Start by finding a persuasive sponsor to push the envelope. Begin with creative proof-of-concept projects. Move fast and don’t be afraid to fail.
  2. Examine current pools of employees, contractors and service suppliers, and envision how digital advances could enable higher-quality outcomes with different business and operating models and more flexible networks.
  3. Define and provide the IT architecture needed to enable an agile, well-connected business.
  4. Work with the business and human resources to consider, plan and manage the breadth and depth of impact and get the right talent.
  5. Measure performance on these new projects, try different approaches and build on your successes.

To compete in this highly volatile economy and “lower for longer” price environment, oil and gas companies will need to push talent management beyond the boundaries of their enterprise to partner with a new extended workforce – the workforce of the future. By maximising the potential of both machines and man, companies can gain critical advantages, sustain market differentiation and leave a meaningful and lasting impact on the industry.