Energy companies and utilities can reduce risks, eliminate costly inefficiencies and create better working environments by automating processes and making information more accessible and actionable.
The process of digital transformation can drive change throughout the organization to reduce vulnerabilities, such as exposure to compliance issues, risks of outages, recruitment and retention challenges, and operational inefficiencies.
As the organization upgrades technology, benefits accrue in multiple areas.
- Decision-making improves at all levels, because data is accessible for ready analysis.
- Operations are more secure, because assets and processes are documented.
- Instances of non-compliance decrease, because compliance officers can readily find and deliver information.
- Talent recruitment and retention improve, because the workplace is more functional, efficient and attractive.
- Wasteful processes are streamlined.
Digital transformation unfolds differently from one sector and organization to the next. Cost pressure is intense everywhere, and it helps to gain a solid understanding of relevant solutions and then focus on the organization’s most critical areas of need and opportunity. Successful digital transformations require multi-year commitments, with implementation occurring at a brisk but reasonable pace.
Here are some of the essential considerations.
Documentation: A fundamental aspect of digital transformation is documentation of assets, facilities and procedures. A successful transformation ensures continuity and improves security by creating searchable repositories that make information readily accessible in familiar formats.
Data can be migrated from legacy systems to an enterprise content management system, and information silos can be eliminated. In a digitized organization, a single system can access data from diverse sources and combine it for holistic analysis.
Ease of Use: Transformation succeeds when the organization makes ease of use and searchability its core principles. All users from the executive suite to the field can easily find information and benefit from actionable intelligence. When companies invest the time to add strong metadata to stored files, they are easy to retrieve using simple search language.
Access Control: When systems enable access privileges and protect against cyber threats, information is available to the right people while remaining out of reach of unauthorized personnel and hackers. A modern system can also provide secure access from diverse device types and introduce processes for review, approval and version control.
Asset Management: One area where many energy companies can improve operations is the knowledge and management of assets in the field. For example, many utilities are in the dark about vast networks of buried infrastructure. When knowledge is lacking, risks are unnecessarily high, and there is an ever-present threat of compliance issues.
A digital asset management solution can demystify the infrastructure by creating current, accessible knowledge about asset conditions. Maintenance managers can plan more effectively, and the compliance team can satisfy regulators’ requests with thorough and timely answers.
Organizations can also leverage machine intelligence to transform their understanding of operations. Assets can self-report via the Internet of Things (IoT) to an asset management system that centralizes and collates vast streams of machine data to provide powerful operational insights.
Business Intelligence: Once assets are identified and tracked, organizations can implement business intelligence (BI) solutions that integrate informational technology (IT), operational technology (OT) and engineering technology (ET) to provide superior operational analytics. With better knowledge of asset performance, companies also can identify accurate performance criteria and baselines to support rapid, reliable decision-making, especially during times of change.
Reporting can include the use of alerts that notify key personnel when performance falls below threshold levels. Alerts can prompt corrective actions that improve performance, prevent outages and equipment failures, and simplify maintenance scheduling.
Field Support: Digital solutions can also help companies manage field workers more effectively. A cloud-based mobility management system provides visibility and control by integrating management dashboards with field apps hosted on mobile devices. Crews have essential asset data on hand, and they report their work efficiently to a system that automates data flow from end to end. Field workers are better informed, data from the field is captured and retained, and end-of-shift paperwork is virtually eliminated.
Recruitment: Digital transformation succeeds when companies train current employees thoroughly and hire new executives, programmers and other staff who are proficient in digital operations. Without adequate attention to employee proficiency, investments in digital transformation can produce disappointing results.
It makes sense to raise skill levels in the early stages of transformation, as it can be challenging to hire digitally savvy talent when the organization is behind the curve. On the flip side, an organization with an advanced digital infrastructure has an easier time recruiting and retaining talent across the board.
— By John MacKenna, Energy Writer