A Human-Machine Balance Critical in Oil and Gas
Digital technology is reshaping the oil and gas (O&G) landscape and creating extraordinary efficiencies—but will technological advances also lead to job elimination? According to PwC’s 20th CEO survey, while 64% of global O&G CEOs say they worry about key skills shortages, only 5% of respondents believe that automation and other technologies will play a large role in causing a decrease in headcount.
While losing jobs to machines isn’t a primary concern, striking the right mind + machine balance is essential to better utilizing existing resources and getting the most out of digital investments. There is no question that digitization can help O&G companies dramatically improve efficiencies, reduce costs, and boost safety. For instance, midstream companies can use drones to perform pipeline flyovers and distill mass volumes of data to create insights around safety, pipeline integrity, and asset management.
Key to success in this new digital world is fostering an environment where humans and machines work together collaboratively. A recent HBR article—Augmented Reality is Already Improving Worker Performance—illustrates the new ways in which humans and machines can interact to drive remarkable results. In the article, a field technician wearing Augmented Reality (AR) enabled smart glasses receives step-by-step repair instructions as she hovers over a part in a virtual world. What a great way to increase productivity, while eliminating time consuming ways to search for the right information.
Yet creating the right mind + machine balance is not easy. Below are guiding principles that can help.
Embed change management early in the journey: O&G companies that achieve strong mind + machine balance bake change management and cultural transformation into their digital strategies early on. Digitization requires new knowledge and skills and different ways of working. Digital investments are often underutilized—e.g., due to lack of training; fears of new ways of working; silos; or lack of engagement from leadership. Create a change management strategy and approach to foster a collaborative environment. Embed cross-training into the culture to create rich multifunctional domain knowledge that spans information and operational technology, and data management, process design, and cybersecurity.
Treat machines as co-workers, not order takers: Successful O&G companies create a culture where machines are not treated as servants – they are considered co-workers. Due to innovations like AI and machine learning, humans and machines can teach each other and drive increasingly powerful business outcomes. Humans teach their wire-brained co-workers to mimic human decision making around data-driven workflows—critical to scaling digitization across the enterprise. By building “smart machines” that can infer complex business rules based on past behaviors and outcomes, O&G companies can build a robust, scalable, and fault tolerant way to improve operations. Machines, in turn, teach their human counterparts—each augmenting the other.
Nurture data champions who balance human judgement with data-driven insights: Digitization is clearly reshaping the landscape from the reservoir to the refinery. Yet human judgement and new skills are essential to the process. Translating data insights from machines into meaningful outcomes requires a complex array of knowledge and skill. In fact, data-driven insights are often dismissed by C-suite executives, particularly if the data goes against their gut. Foster “data champions” who can tell compelling data stories and use advanced visualization techniques to convince C-suite executives to act.
Ensure machines support the digital strategy: While the right mind + machine balance can drive unprecedented business benefits, it’s essential that humans and machines work together as part of an over-arching digital strategy. For instance, O&G executives responsible for offshore operations should work with their technology teams to create a digital strategy to reduce unplanned downtime based on foundation of data and analytics. When silos take root and humans and machines go rogue – risk and costs increase while productivity diminishes.
As O&G companies look to speed growth, connecting people with innovative technology will have a positive impact on productivity, safety, and employee satisfaction—and ultimately, profitability.