How the digital age is set to transform Atlantic Canada’s offshore oil sector

How the digital age is set to transform Atlantic Canada’s offshore oil sector

Digitalization will be an important driver for the future success of many industries, including Newfoundland and Labrador’s oil and gas industry. Without a doubt, the petroleum industry has entered a period of rapid transformation―a new digital age.

Earlier this year, I joined a small committee formed by the Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Oil and Gas Industry Association and the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries. This is the first major collaboration between the two as they have historically tended to operate in silos.

The diverse, volunteer, professionals on this committee include tier one contractors, digital, engineering and business consultants, an oil and gas research and development operator liaison, as well as a Memorial University academic and a talented MBA student.

Our job was to engage with companies involved in the local oil and gas and technology sectors to better understand the current business community and determine perceptions relating to the changing digital landscape. The consultation included oil and gas operators, large tier one contractors, small-to-medium sized service and supply companies as well as technology companies. Our mandate was to identify challenges as well as opportunities for both industries and to advise on a long-term strategy that supports the digital transformation of the province’s oil and gas industry.

While report delivery is scheduled for early 2019, preliminary results tell us that businesses understand that the petroleum sector is changing. They know they will be impacted by digital technology and what promises to be a significant shift in business practices. It’s not going to be business as usual. Despite this knowledge, they also admit there are gaps, and some are not prepared for the new digital age. Nevertheless, most are very interested in learning more, collaborating and innovating locally. They are optimistic about the future when they consider the province’s emerging technology sector, which is offering strong innovation capabilities.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s economic success will require a new type of collaboration between the oil and gas industry and technology innovators. Local companies will need direction from industry operators so they better understand industry priorities, challenges and opportunities. They want to know how they can fully engage and collaborate. Local industry is hungry for leadership, information and direction.

Ultimately, companies across the entire ecosystem are looking for ways to transform their business to keep pace with the rate of change. This will require an extensive review of operations, workforce, partnerships, regulations and business model economics. There is no one size fitting all: some will need to innovate, some will need to adapt to new technologies. They know they must be globally competitive.

One innovative idea that has been suggested to help the province’s petroleum industry advance its digital expertise is to host a “Digital Den” (a hybrid Hackathon/Dragons’ Den style competition). This would bring oil and gas and innovation communities together to ‘hack’ solutions to problems defined by the industry. I bet there is much to hack when you consider Newfoundland and Labrador’s harsh, remote, and cold environment. At the end of the competition, teams would present their solutions in a ‘Dragons Den’ style format to compete for cash prizes and a possible proof of concept trial. This sounds like a great way to bring smart people together, build relationships and strengthen our industry.

The consultations have identified numerous gaps, which could potentially translate into opportunities. No doubt, there is a mountain of work ahead of us. Some issues are bigger than any one company can tackle on its own. And what has been mentioned repeatedly during the consultation, and is essential in our digital transformation journey, is the power of focused collaboration.

Furthermore, can we learn from other jurisdictions and industries? What are best practices? What is our vision? We have all heard of Silicon Valley in California. There is also a Subsea Valley in Norway. Don’t you think Ocean Tech Valley in St. John’s has a nice ring to it?

Caron Hawco, ABC, PMP, is a communication and business strategy consultant and project manager, specializing in natural resources, public affairs, business development, trade missions, diversity, facilitation and media relations.

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