Embarking on a Mission to Explore Emerging Technology

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Exploring ET post

Guest post by Gerard Verweij, Global Data and Analytics Leader at PwC and Manas Pattanaik, Managing Director, Energy Operations Technology, PwC

Why are some companies fearless when it comes to exploring and experimenting with emerging technology while other companies need a proverbial push? For example, a scant 8% of companies in our Digital IQ survey said disruption is the main drive of digital. Companies that expect and embrace disruption don’t wait for a particular business problem to solve before they begin experimenting with emerging technology. They dive in.

But, the vast majority of companies need a specific challenge to make the mental shift from “the way it’s always been done” to “how it could be.” And, when that breakthrough happens, exploring emerging technology becomes a way of life. For an oil and gas client it took a system breakdown to gear up their exploration of emerging technology and to put them on a path towards disruption.

The organization’s real-time operational data platform—the information lifeline for them to provide oilfield services to their customers—was seriously non-performing. They realized it would be a waste of time and money to slap one more band-aid on the faltering system. In a moment of reckoning, they relented and admitted they needed an overhaul, a new integrated solution to reduce costs, improve client services and generate revenue.

Seizing the opportunity for big change, our client decided not to just fix their current problems but to leapfrog to a market leading, new kind of solution by exploring and exploiting strategic and next-generation emerging technologies. The immediate challenge however was, in this day and age, when you are looking at the vast and ever changing landscape of emerging technologies, where in the world do you begin? How do you decide between technologies, providers and platforms, especially since some of them are not proven yet?

Embarking on a mission to explore emerging technology begins by casting a wide net at first. We worked with the company to start with 60-70 emerging technologies. We scoured the marketplace of makers, venture capitalists, universities, etc. and zeroed in on the most relevant technologies based on the technology’s staying power, viability to the oil and gas industry and accessibility. We developed use cases for 12 technologies and selected three to evaluate further:

  • Data Scientist in a Box
    Under current market conditions, cost reduction is the name of the game in oil and gas. Identifying patterns of inefficiency in data can translate to saving millions of dollars in efficiency. With that end in mind, we suggested crowdsourcing analytics to develop improvements in operations. The client would make data available to trusted vendors, the vendors would look for patterns, and could sell back answers to the client. In the end, the importance of protecting trade secrets outweighed the potential benefits. As a result, this “data scientist in a box” morphed into in-house data scientists.
  • Next Generation Code Deployment
    Time is money in this industry. Pushing improvements to the frontlines faster pays off. We suggested and tested an open-source code deployment framework in the client’s lab facility. The framework provides a faster means to package, deliver and deploy code to remote locations around the world, which speeds deployments and increases the flow of information.
  • High Altitude Networks
    Connectivity in remote locations is a perpetual challenge in this industry. We validated the technical feasibility of balloon drones to transmit large amounts of data, but the costs of these networks outweighed the benefits. The client plans to monitor the technology over the next few years to see if/when it would become financially feasible.

This initial exploratory process was about more than investigating and filtering emerging technology. It was about embracing the unknown. It was about understanding that you can’t apply traditional business processes to explore emerging technology. And, most importantly, it was about igniting a continuous process to evaluate emerging technology. Because, sifting through emerging technology should never stop.

While not every technology proved viable, the company made leaps and bounds in their innovation efforts nonetheless. Not only did they open their minds to the realization that exploring emerging technology means taking chances and accepting failures, but their doors as well to data scientists and design experts that have made drastic improvements to their operations. Through creating a process to explore emerging technology, they advanced their organization and positioned themselves to take great advantage of the next wave of the “essential eight” emerging technologies.

Image shared by Stephen Brace

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