Recently, many folks at ARC, including myself, attended one of the biggest technology show in the United states, the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston. A major conference for the oil and gas industry, the show brings together many of the industry’s forward-looking organization to discuss the latest developments and ideas as well as showcase breakthrough technologies in the industry.
Digital Transformation Comes with its Own Challenges
A key theme highlighted throughout the conference was the rising adoption of digital technologies, i.e. digital transformation. An upcoming ARC Insight by my colleagues Tim Shea and David Clayton will discuss in detail how digitalization is taking the next step and helping solve real problems of the industry. With this blog, I want to focus on one of the challenges that comes along with the digital transformation and that is change management. This is coming out to be such a huge challenge that it was a part of nearly all discussions and presentations around digital transformation at the OTC.
Digital Transformation: A Blessing or a Curse for Skills Gap
Clearly, industrial sector has been facing a skills gap for many years now, with majority of experienced workers retired or set to retire in next few years and fewer young individuals willing to join the industrial world. Digital technologies can play a major role in filling this skills gap by helping the industry capture the knowledge of subject matter experts. Technologies such as analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence can help better operate and maintain industrial assets even when we have fewer workers in the plant. However, introducing these newer technologies to the experienced staff, that is used to of doing the work their own way, is not easy.
During one of the technical session, Digitalization: A Vision Forward, one of the presenter, Bruce Bailie, Digital Officer for Siemens’ Oil & Gas Americas division, highlighted that just bringing these technologies to the plant floor is not going to help, if the staff does not use these. An organization may spend hundreds and thousands of dollars to bring in the latest technology but that will not benefit the organization unless the staff is properly trained as well as motivated to use it the right way. Mr. Bailie emphasized, “When you look at any change, it’s going to be people first, then processes and then technology. An investment in change management is an area that’s nearly usually ignored or highly underestimated.”
Staffed to Change?
Emerson Automation Solutions’ Chief Technology Officer, Peter Zornio’s presentation at the session focused on remote connectivity brought in by the digital technologies. He highlighted, how in todays’ digital age, we can basically have the control room anywhere. He also emphasized the critical role change management can play in implementing a successful digital transformation strategy. During conversation, Mr. Zornio pointed out that one major inhibitor to successful technology adoption is that most organization are staffed to operate, not staffed to change.
Clearly, having a proper change management program along with the digital transformation is crucial for success. Workers need to clearly understand what is changing, how it is changing, and how it is going to affect their job function. As workers may be threatened by the implementation of these digital technologies, they need to clearly see, how these technologies make their work easier and realize that these are here to help them and not replace them.