How AI Helps Organizations Digitize Worker Knowledge and Optimize Operations In Real-Time

Author photo: Jim Frazer
By Jim Frazer

At the recent ARC Forum, Jim Frazer, ARC VP,  interviewed Leslie Rittenberg, Vice President of Product Management at Beyond Limits AI, where we discussed the role of AI in helping organizations digitize worker knowledge and optimize operations in real-time.

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Beyond Limits AI started in the oil and gas industry and expanded into other industries that require digitization of knowledge to address the risk of losing important work or knowledge. The company helps organizations develop resiliency to workforce retirements, role changes, and capability gaps.

Ms. Rittenberg explained that Beyond Limits AI captures worker knowledge by allowing organizations to digitize it in a systematic way to optimize operations in real-time. To explain the capture of worker knowledge, Rittenberg used an example from Beyond Limits AI’s founder, who developed cognitive reasoning that went into the Mars rover. The technology allowed the rover to evaluate the situation around it and make human-like reasoning in the moment. Similarly, in a plant, an operator is managing multiple real-time sensors with dynamic plant constraints and changes in feedstock, requiring them to balance multiple tradeoffs at once. Beyond Limits AI helps operators make important decisions faster by presenting them with digitized knowledge in a readable format.

Another important factor is the quickly declining number of workers in the energy sector. Decades of proficiency and essential knowledge are at threat of getting lost as more and more professionals approach retirement, taking with them decades-worth of knowledge too valuable to simply disappear with its stewards. As Ms Rittenberg stated “The Beyond Limits solution works to bridge the knowledge-loss gap by capturing and encoding veteran operator knowledge and then distributing essential expertise, best practices, and business logic across an entire organization so that it’s immortalized, documented and easily transferrable to the upcoming generation of workers”. 

Rittenberg continued, when it comes to implementation, Beyond Limits AI typically starts with a system to show how the organization can deliver better decisions in the moment across the entire system. Even in a plant, there are silos—and different operating units, maintenance, planners, and schedulers. There are so many decisions being made that depend on access to the right data and a swift, thorough interpretation of that data. Beyond Limits’ cognitive reasoning technology helps support decision-making where data might be difficult to interpret – and where it can be daunting to choose from many recommendations. Beyond Limits homes in on the place that impacts fuels production—right at the interface between engineers and operators in the plants. In the campaign plan execution workflow, operators are given objectives to satisfy, and they are also asked to choose from among a set of options. Given what they know, and the sea of data presented at them, they must decide what actions will best achieve their objectives at that moment in time. Varying individuals will make choices differently, and success will depend on many factors, including familiarity with the equipment, response time, understanding of priorities, and individual style/approach to problem-solving, just to name a few. By digitizing knowledge, the organizations can have one source of truth, allowing them to focus on the most important thing for the frontline worker to deliver.

The system brings operators the most relevant data and recommends the most effective set of actions, considering various trade-offs. It also tracks how effective those actions were in achieving their objectives, highlighting the situations where the action was not taken so that barriers to execution or conflicting objectives can be resolved. This transparency is very valuable for finding instances where performance can be improved. Ultimately, the solution digitally clones best operators, codifies engineering best practices, and optimizes real-time performance to increase profitability.

Rittenberg stated that implementation is an iterative process, and she emphasized the importance of citizen development. The people working at the plant, such as the best operator or engineer, can collaborate and build on the knowledge, which helps capture opportunities on the back end and iterate on them. While it is unlikely to get the digitized knowledge 100% right the first time, the iterative process allows for improvement over time. Rittenberg provided an example of how Beyond Limits AI helped a major refinery that was complex and making a lot of changes. By concentrating on a particular system and iterating over a few months, the refinery consistently hit its commercial plan and improved by over 17% in the first two months.

Rittenberg acknowledged that some people get overwhelmed when implementing large software products like AI, but the iterative process allows organizations to capture opportunities and improve over time.

Frazer added that trust builds over time as the organization goes down the incremental approach, which is important in building a relationship between the technology and the workers. Trust is particularly a conundrum in AI, as professionals in the energy and industrial fields are apprehensive to rely on results generated by a machine that operates as a black box—lacks transparency on how it arrived at these results. The risks are far too significant.

Rittenberg responded, “This is where Cognitive AI—a key tenet of Beyond Limits’ offering—adds value, by providing explainable AI solutions with clear audit trails for humans to easily understand and consistently adopt. This also means that highly regulated industries such as energy, which operate within the most demanding environments and work with highly sensitive data, will be able to trust Cognitive AI to optimize their current operations”.

In conclusion, Beyond Limits AI helps organizations digitize knowledge and optimize operations in real-time. The company’s approach involves an iterative process, collaboration, and citizen development, allowing organizations to capture opportunities and improve over time. By digitizing knowledge, organizations can have one source of truth and focus on the most important thing for the frontline worker to deliver. The incremental approach builds trust between technology and workers, making it an essential aspect of implementation.

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