Staffing plants with the right people can be challenging when you consider the four “D” attributes that plague plant locations: dangerous, dirty, distant, and dull. Couple that with a dwindling supply of new employees, an increasing number of retiring workers, and growing complexity of technology, and suddenly, placing the right staff members at each plant can become a game of Tetris.
But now we have a new “D” to add to the equation: distributed workforce. First pioneered among Silicon Valley companies, it can have an equally successful impact in natural resources industries when plants integrate the concept of “Integrated Operations (iOps).” This approach uses smart technology to connect the right people to the right processes—regardless of their physical location.
Integrated Business Operations use pervasive sensing and other forms of smart technology to gather real-time, validated data that gives crucial business insight knowledge that workers thousands of miles apart can put to good use. Advancements in control technologies, field devices, and robust networks now enable remote process monitoring and control, resulting in better and faster decision-making.
Teams operating in the iOps model boost performance because they are equipped to make strategic decisions that examine profitability in dollars per minute rather than the old focus on gallons per minute. Utilizing iOps enhances a company’s strategic ability to respond quickly to business events, safety incidents, raw material changes and weather before they affect profitability.
The key to a successful iOps implementation is an Integrated Operations Command Center. Companies that have taken advantage of this strategy are seeing benefits in many areas:
- Superior decision-making: iOps creates a nimble, more effective enterprise bolstered by more responsive decision-making. Today’s business environment values speed and efficiency, and this model allows organizations to confidently make decisions in minutes or hours rather than days or weeks. The team who staffs the iOps Command Center has a holistic view of their area of responsibility as they garner data from multiple information sources, which leads to better-informed decisions.
- Access to top talent: As processes have become increasingly complex, business needs have become more specialized. No longer hindered by geography, companies are free to leverage the expertise of the most-qualified professionals for a particular project, no matter where they are located. iOps allows leaders to tap the resources of multiple teams, as well as third-party experts, on an as-needed basis.
- Increased collaboration: Assembling the team is now as easy as calling up a screen. This improved access allows cross-functional teams to process and assess data in real-time, which encourages interchange, streamlines decision-making and prevents the siloed information that plagues divisions and hampers big-picture thinking.
- Improved data analysis: Companies today face an avalanche of data that makes it difficult to analyze underlying problems quickly. Operators and staff are challenged to handle this flood and turn it into actionable information that can be critical to business performance. As teams monitor data from sensors in real time, they can work collaboratively to sift through that data and determine what is relevant to the business at any given time, increasing up-time.
Improving Work Flows, Saving Money
In today’s cost-conscious environment, many companies balk at the prospect of developing a brand-new control room. The good news is that they can utilize their existing control room but make it “iOps-capable” by adding sensors to existing assets and using technology that tracks analytics.
Companies must also take steps to optimize work flows for efficiency. The goal is to remove people from their silos and reorganize to create a cross-functional team that consists of operators, maintenance, production and planning/scheduling to run the command center. Additionally, the virtual nature of the operation ensures that companies have access to experts as needed, without incurring prohibitive travel and logistical challenges and costs.
Success in the Field
One company that has seen the benefits of the Integrated Operations Command Center is Australian oil and gas leader Santos. The company is using process automation technology in its vast Gladstone Liquefied Natural Gas project, which is designed to convert coal seam gas to liquefied natural gas (LNG) for export to global markets.
At Santos’ remote operations center, management, engineers and planners use real-time information from the intelligent field equipment to anticipate issues, improve decisions and take actions to maximize key performance indicators. By integrating data from the gas fields, pipelines and plant 24/7, they can conduct real-time monitoring and collaboration with teams in the field.
“Our world-class remote operation center has made our gas fields more reliable, safe and efficient,” said Santos general manager of operations Rob Simpson.
For Santos and others implementing iOps technology, the old mantra of “location, location, location” no longer applies. Operators can start where the talent is found.
For more information, visit the Center for Integration Operations in the Petroleum Industry.