Recently I had the good fortune (and rare free time) to attend the SAP Oil & Gas Best Practices Conference in New Orleans. The theme was “it starts with visibility across the value chain.. but it’s all about Situational Awareness.” Many speakers and presenters conveyed the meaning of this phrase as having the right information at the right time to make the right decisions. Their was heavy emphasis placed upon:

– Needs of knowledge sharing between businesses and work streams
– Performance indicator tracking
– Process Safety Management
– Shutdown/Turnaround Management

Several of these presentations and speakers effectively conveyed the need to bring convergence of ideas and personnel to unify data and information for optimized decision making. Listening to the presentations and having multiple conversations with other attendees a few things struck me as poignant in these dialogues:

1.A significant divide remains between business orchestrators (primarily central office support) and those that actually do the work in the field. Most of the information that we as maintenance, reliability, and operations professionals review and utilize are based upon the men and women that perform the wrenching, inspecting, and reporting of their activities. What I did not see was the voice of the end-user that serves as the backbone of these systems. That being said, a tight integration between your personnel, business processes, and the technology you deploy must be in complete alignment. Failure to do so can result in a gulf between the perception and reality of business performance.

2. A lot of new technology was presented, yet several operational level managers brought up themes of getting back to the basics. In other words, they saw all the bells and whistles available with their software packages and vendor solutions, but their organizations still struggle with the fundamental tenets of effective asset management. For them automation just sped up existing poor performance and information errors.

3. With all of the information being presented to managers there still is a question of: how much of that information is key and what do we do to instill the ability to cultivate good decision makers? Having worked in many industries and projects, it is pretty common place for the front line supervisors, managers, technicians and operators to be compelled to do more with less. In addition, they are bombarded with graph, upon KPI, upon trending information. We as an industry spend a great deal of time on creating these tools, technology and benchmark numbers, but often leave the ones that do the work with a lack of the functional skill-sets to make effective decisions that can have a meaningful impact on the business.

Conferences like these serve as great opportunities to not only serve the purpose of bringing the user community together for learnings, but also to serve as a catalyst for change. It is vital that your organization comes away with documented, actionable initiatives for continuous improvement based upon these best practices observed and put them to use within your company’s framework.