Digital transformation experts discussed a variety of approaches to managing the technological and data transformation under way in the petroleum industry during a CEO panel at the 23rd World Petroleum Congress in Houston.

“The digital transformation has been high on the agenda for the last few years and many companies, including Equinor, where I work, are seeing real benefits", said Aashild Hanne Larsen, Vice President of Subsurface Excellence & Digital for the Norwegian company, adding that to truly succeed with digital will require more than technology.

“Its real potential is unlocked when we’re able to combine the tech with our data, our people and our capability to transform the way we work,” she said.

For Halliburton, the digital transformation is not viewed as a separate strategy, said Eric Carre, Executive Vice President, Global Business Lines.

“Digital permeates everything we do in the company. And we view it as a way to amplify and differentiate our business strategy,” Carre said.

For four years the energy services company has, according to Carre, “invested hundreds of millions of dollars and... completed hundreds of projects” through application of the company’s Halliburton 4.0 digital platform.

Carre identified automation and the reduction of human intervention in its work processes as one of the more impactful initiatives the company has worked on, with another being virtual remote operations and how they centralise and change the way operational decisions are made.

“For example, in Norway, we've taken an entire cementing operation that once took over 300 different actions by an offshore crew down to five clicks of a computer mouse by a team located onshore,” he said.

The evolution of technology will continue in the digitalisation space, said Patrice Laporte, Vice President of Sales Americas, Industrial for Siemens Energy.

“Digitalisation is the solution and the technologies exist, but we are not fully using them,” he said, explaining that there’s an element missing that is needed.

“I think there is one thing that we don't have within the oil and gas industry and that is the culture of failing," Laporte said.

“Failing is difficult in our projects because you have so much money involved. We have a real focus on reliability, and failing is not seen as something positive, but it is necessary.”

Kirill Tyurdenev, Chief Executive for NIS Gazprom Neft, Serbia, said the digital transformation has enabled its people to proceed with projects more quickly, but there are still obstacles along the way.

"In tackling these obstacles we need to think about efficiency, about flexibility and taking different approaches, and understanding that sometimes we have to fail and fail fast in order to move further," said Tyurdenev.

"But at the same time, we're working in an industry that requires a lot of capital investment, and we're working with hazardous elements and substances, so must always think about the safety of our employees and our clients."