Improving productivity through Digitization

Access to information boosts productivity and reduces risk. There is no doubt that businesses make more money and have fewer accidents if their employees have the right information, when they need it. Digital solutions enable easy access to critical information: they are faster than paper-based systems and ensure standardization across business units.

Increasingly digital solutions, including mobile ones, are being used for a growing number of operational applications in the process industries. Field operators input readings, access documentation and technical drawings, track assets and inventory, and don’t need to spend time pen-pushing. Mobile devices offer greater speed, accuracy and efficiency in operational areas, which has a real impact on business performance and safety.

Table 1: Value levers and potential gains from optimizing plant operations

Accenture, a leading consultancy, detailed the key value levers and potential gains from optimizing plant operations (in a refinery), outlined in Table 1. These levers increase structural cost advantages and improve margins for the long term. Accenture’s work with leading downstream companies reveals that investment in key value levers can improve margins by $1 to $1.5 per barrel of oil. Mobility and digital infrastructure investments influence these levers, and importantly, these investments can be standalone (site specific), as well as corporate.

 Execution excellence is underpinned by giving employees the right information, in a standardized manner, when they need it. Making life easier for field operators in training, planning and executing tasks can have a dramatic impact on these levers. Consider two examples: The corporate HSE management of a large oil and gas company might be concerned over the lack of standardized practical information on isolation procedures for their operators, or a large Middle Eastern petrochemical facility may wish to provide digital training and planning tools for identifying and entering confined spaces.

 Both examples infer how standardization and immediate access to critical information, made possible by digital solutions for field operators, can reduce errors, improve workforce utilization, reduce operations and maintenance costs, speed up turnarounds and drive savings across the business.

 Not long ago, a maintenance manager at a major refinery in Europe described how he spent 1.5 days searching for a valve that had never been labeled and only referenced in old documentation. Recently, a senior operations specialist (for a delayed coker unit in a Texas refinery) explained how some of his unit’s components are not documented anywhere: “you just get to know where they are and you tell new hires how to find them” he said. Capturing site information in a digital (preferably visual) format can provide immediate productivity gains and ensure knowledge transfer within the organization.

Table 2: Productivity losses in operations and maintenance workflow

In the context of improving value-added work (wrench time) for maintenance teams, Booz & Company, analyzed where productivity losses are most common in the process industries. Booz devised the workflow (above), which shows the areas that should be analyzed to identify the pain points and solutions to improve productivity. A well-thought out digital strategy will address these points and alleviate productivity losses in operations maintenance tasks.

It should come as no surprise to conclude that ‘access to information’ and ‘standardization’ are two important drivers in making humans more productive and reliable. Countless studies, some of which we have mentioned in this article, support this conclusion. Digital solutions for field operators will continue to improve productivity substantially in industrial operations and we should all embrace innovation in this area.

  • Accenture, “A Focus on Execution Excellence. Pursuing high performance in downstream energy”, 2013.
  • ClickSoftware, “Employee Productivity Improvement Strategies In Oil Refinery Environments.”
  • BCG, “The Future of Oil Refining Profit Margins”, December 2012.
  • Booz & Company, “Beat the Clock Increasing Workforce Productivity in Process Industries”, 2009.
  • McKinsey & Co, “Capturing margin opportunities in oil and gas refining”, October 2015.
  • Voovio Business Intelligence