Catching a Breath, and Prepping for Energy’s Future

I was driving into the office and swerving to avoid potholes and large cracks on a popular highway here in California. “Why can’t they fix this road,” I thought, and this in fact led me to think about our own customers’ dilemma.

For as long as I can remember, oil companies and energy providers have been absorbed with large capital projects as they keep the world’s lights on and industries humming. How could they possibly stop to fix and improve archaic systems while running hydroelectric plants and LNG facilities? Just as our road transportation authorities can’t shut down a major thoroughfare during commuter hours to fix it, our customers can’t fully stop to build new plants while keeping existing ones running.

That said, with oil prices still low relative to historical highs, the pace of capital projects in the energy industry has slowed down enough for companies to take stock of their situation and make strategic moves. We discussed the possibility for these changes to happen when oil was less than $50 a barrel last July, and now the waters have parted, presenting an opportunity to act.

What we don’t know is how long the situation will last, and how quickly the window to do something impactful will remain open. If oil prices stay low another year, it will be a cumulative two years of this capital-light climate. That’s far too long for any energy company to sit still.

Finally, with less massive capital projects stacked out for the next five years, there is a moment’s breath for energy leaders to find margin salvation and build up competitive advantage. Priorities can finally shift to running the business better (efficiencies) and rolling out leapfrog improvements (technological innovations).

Sure enough, we are seeing related content management projects starting up in the energy sector. They represent smart use cases that will solve immediate needs while prepping for a future rebound. As a sampling of efforts our customers are undertaking:

  • Changing paper-based plants to digitized content, and content management systems. This digitization will have the side effect benefits of maximizing asset lifespan and avoiding regulatory fines. It also helps companies capture specialized knowledge before crew shifts complete or HR restructuring kicks in.
  • Shortening and digitizing workflows, to expedite regulatory administrative tasks. The same agility can eventually help enter new markets and leverage economies of scale across facilities and partners.
  • Switching out piecemeal technical solutions with comprehensive platforms that digitize capture, archive, storage – everything. This readies the organization to work easily with more partners, as well as lower the costs of new acquisition integration (M&A may happen more often in these types of markets).

If your organization has a rare moment to invest and improve your business for the long-term, there are several things you can do from a content management perspective:

1 – Identify Your Digital Transformation Strategy

Where is the most pain in your organization, and where is the most value? Pain points might include a retiring crew change or a complicated process leading to a major milestone. Value areas might include collaboration among dozens of disparate partners and employees on high value documents, or the ability to spin up new plants on the same IT infrastructure.

2 – Assess Your Current Information Management Maturity

Where is your organization today based on industry benchmarks and content management best practices? Do you still have file folders in the basement? Perhaps you have already captured content, but you have not yet rolled it out to mobile field workers. It could be you are early stage and need to put the fundamentals in place, or you are late stage and ready to integrate mobility and drones.

3 – Design Your Content Management Strategy to Achieve Operational Excellence

Are your changes driving on-going improvements? Develop KPIs as you invest and implement technical improvements, to find operational efficiencies that might give you an edge. Measure how long and how many people it took for your last round of regulatory filing. Can you expedite it this time, with new capabilities for simultaneous editing and mobile-enabled approval cycles?

Don’t be discouraged if your first few steps involve basic catch-up when it comes to content management infrastructure. With so many capital projects absorbing so much of your resources up to now, it sometimes happens that essential improvements get overlooked.

At the same time, don’t assume you have much time to act on strategic improvements. Just like your environment has changed, so has that of your competitors, and whoever institutes the new changes first might win.

Has your company made any improvements to operational efficiencies since oil prices dropped? Share your thoughts below.

Martin Richards

Martin Richards is a Senior Director for Energy Industry Solutions at OpenText. For over twenty years, he has worked with ECM technology, delivering professional services and solutions for the energy and engineering industry.

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