The volatility of the current global industry has created an opportunity for companies to produce innovative digital technologies that help them remain competitive, and the oil and gas sector is an area primed for transformational development of its operations through new digital infrastructures, GE’s chief executive officer (CEO) said in an address to technological developers and company partners.
Speaking at the GE Minds + Machines conference, GE CEO Jeff Immelt and Ahmed Hashmi, vice president of upstream technology at BP, discussed the importance of investing in digital operational infrastructures, drawing on lessons learned in their ongoing digital development partnership that began in January.
Hashmi said the industry needs a transformation in productivity and efficiency to remain competitive in the future. Digital infrastructures, he said, are one of the best ways for companies to accelerate that transformation in part because of their flexibility—they allow the opportunity to better customize workflows for a given asset. However, in order to see noticeable progress in this area, Hashmi said companies must be willing to invest heavily in software, physical technologies, and training.
“Digital offers you the opportunity to improve the top line, it offers you the opportunity to drive efficiency, and it obviously improves reliability and safety at the same time; you can have your cake and eat it too with digital,” Hashmi said. “But, you have to go big, and you have to invest, and you have to train your workflows. You have to change mindsets. It’s a complete transformation.”
Immelt also spoke about the need for complete transformation when adopting a digital infrastructure, citing nearly USD 2 billion in acquisitions over the past year as evidence of the company’s commitment. In 2015, the company introduced Predix, its software program developed for the collection and analysis of data from industrial machines. The program is a cloud-based platform that Immelt said will allow companies to perform industrial-scale analytics for asset performance management (APM) and create a digital business unit that operates in parallel with other assets in a company’s portfolio.
One of the primary goals for GE’s digital strategy is to build out Predix’s capabilities, thus scaling up its digital infrastructure. This includes upgrading the software architecture, the edge computing and industrial Internet control systems, and advancing product lines. To this end, the company acquired Meridium, an APM software and services provider whose products are already integrated into the Predix platform, in September.
GE also acquired ServiceMax, a cloud-based field service management company, in November. The company plans to integrate the applications in the ServiceMax platform, which include inventory and parts logistics as well as scheduling and workforce optimization, into Predix.
Immelt said Meridium and ServiceMax will help companies such as BP to better coordinate their operations on an enterprise level.
“Really, the context is not just for individual assets, but how do you stitch together a suite of applications for a big global customer like BP to get all of their assets, track their health, their productivity, their safety, how they have to do their maintenance cycles, and how they can operate most productively with the most efficiency. So, we’re advancing quickly on the ability to drive APM from single units into the enterprise,” Immelt said.
On 15 November, BP and GE announced the startup of Plant Operations Advisor (POA), an operating system that uses Predix and GE’s APM applications to integrate operational data from producing oil and gas facilities to deliver notifications and analytical reports to engineers, allowing them the chance to identify performance issues before they become significantly problematic. The system provides access to live data feeds and includes visualization capabilities, including a real-time threat display.
BP is testing the POA system on its Atlantis platform in the US Gulf of Mexico. If that pilot is successful, the company will deploy it to some of its other platforms next year. Hashmi said BP has “great hopes” for the system, and that it is looking to scale it rapidly throughout its global asset base. POA is one example, he said, of the type of significant investment the company wishes to add to its digital portfolio moving forward.
“Most of my investment is now going into digital,” Hashmi said. “You know, the mindset of senior leadership is that we have to get comfortable embracing digital investments. We are an oil and gas company—we look for oil and produce oil, we look for gas and produce gas. Now we have to also assess digital alongside that, and that’s a change.”