Decentralization, decarbonization, digitalization, and now dampened demand are forcing industry players in the utilities and oil and gas sectors to strive for balance and resilience as they undergo the process of recovery in a post-COVID-19 reality.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, the oil and gas sector was already struggling with oversupply and low demand. With the pandemic further depressing demand and limiting the movement and usage of fuel, the oil and gas sector experienced an unprecedented drop as part of a wider context of structural decline driven by the need for decarbonization and renewable energy.
The electric utility and resources sector suffered a similar blow, with demand significantly dropping in many territories. Furthermore, activity in both utilities and oil and gas sectors was disrupted by a shrinking workforce. Alongside the large-scale layoffs that were driven by the virus and price shocks, heightened concerns regarding workplace safety contributed to the workforce crisis in the industry.
Considering the spike in technician turnover and increased difficulty in managing field services for the utility and gas and oil sectors, how can oilfield services (OFS) providers and field service organizations (FSOs) recover and strategize for the post-COVID-19 reality?
As you’ll discover below, the new normal for utilities FSOs and OFS providers is being shaped by automation, augmented reality (AR), better risk management, and energy transition.
Automating work processes will help FSOs and OFS companies limit the need for on-site technicians. This will not only help them expedite resolution and service delivery but also address the need of their workers for increased workplace safety.
For example, remote-controlled drilling rigs eliminate the need for manual drilling operations while also reducing health, safety, and environmental (HSE) risks, complying with regulations, reducing the possibility of occupational hazards, and ultimately having a more positive environmental and social impact.
Furthermore, robotic process automation (RPA) can eliminate human error by 60% while streamlining recurring, rule-based processes such as meter reading validation, correction of misreads, billing and statements, and account opening. Organizations around the world have been increasingly leveraging RPA for energy trading, compliance management, finance and accounting, procurement, and human resources, so this technology is becoming indispensable for innovation, adoption of new business models, and profitable growth.
Likewise, field management software (FMS) is an essential tool for ensuring safety and security, work order compliance, and effective resolution. With FSM, utilities and oilfield service companies can automate asset maintenance processes, leveraging dedicated modules for corrective, preventive, and predictive maintenance. It also helps companies optimize third-party workforce management, which is fundamental considering the industry’s current widespread adoption of outsourcing back-office activities, customer service, and field service tracking and queries.
2. Augmented reality
Before the pandemic accelerated technician turnover, the aging workforce already started to retire, causing great concern for companies looking to preserve the extensive and practical field service knowledge of older generations. But with the pandemic speeding up the “Great Retirement”, utility companies started looking for solutions to streamline training for their shrinking and more inexperienced talent pool.
One such solution is augmented reality. By leveraging augmented reality, companies in the utilities and oil and gas sectors can retain the knowledge of their retiring workforce and transfer it to a new generation of field technicians. Additionally, AR technology can enable complete knowledge capture of field service procedures and remote guidance by team leaders or experts for inexperienced field technicians.
AR technology doesn’t only provide interactive visual aid for on-site field technicians, but it can also function as a remote tool for customers to safely and securely collaborate with off-site technicians that can guide them in the resolution process in real-time.
3. Risk management
The imbalance between supply and demand, and the pandemic-induced decline in the consumption of energy and fuel, calls for better risk management on the part of process manufacturers. The journey toward pre-pandemic demand levels is already volatile, forcing utilities and oil and gas companies to deploy solutions for risk mitigation before it’s too late. Risk limit dashboards, advanced scenario modeling, and extensive stress-testing are just some of the solutions for risk management currently gaining traction within the industry.
Additionally, the weak commodity prices that are currently plaguing the market are forcing companies to conduct third-party business risk assessments.
According to research by Deloitte, one-third of the world’s publicly traded oil companies are at risk of bankruptcy, with a combined $150 billion in debt. This could severely imbalance customers and suppliers, and potentially cause supply chain volatility, disruption to capital projects, and lost cash flow and hedges.
To mitigate risk, companies struggling with liquidity issues are assessing credit risk and analyzing valuable financial and operational data for strategic foresight.
4. Energy transition
In the minds of conscientious consumers and business leaders, the post-pandemic world is being re-envisioned as a place where clean and renewable energy becomes the norm. To help this new vision come true, the EU directed 25% of its €850 billion COVID-19 recovery package into building a more efficient energy infrastructure for clean technology, carbon capture, EV charging points, and more.
This shift toward renewable energy and a more sustainable future is creating opportunities for OFS providers to reshape their technology stack and service portfolios in order to reduce carbon intensity and scale up clean energy development and deployment.
Many oil and gas service providers are rethinking emission management strategies to help their customers reduce their carbon footprint. Solutions such as remote drilling, automation, rotating equipment optimization and flaring, and methane monitoring and analytics are already being deployed by service providers to support their customers in the energy transition process.
FSOs and OFS providers in the utility industry have been hit hard by the pandemic. The pre-existent imbalance between supply and demand was only worsened by the pandemic, causing price shocks and reduced usage of energy and fuel. Additionally, the shrinking talent pool and limited on-site visits made it difficult to deliver field service excellence.
Despite this, industry players investing in automation, augmented reality, risk management, and energy transition have an opportunity to ensure business continuity in the new normal and futureproof their business in a highly volatile market.
While automation and augmented reality decrease the burden on field technicians and enable them to better focus on effective incident resolution and enhanced customer satisfaction, risk management and energy transition are driving changes at a corporate level, fundamentally impacting organizational culture, customer relationships, and future objectives.