Design thinking helps realize the full potential of the digital revolution

Aug. 11, 2016
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a relatively well-known concept by now - it's the network of physical devices embedded with technology that enables those devices to collect and transmit data.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a relatively well-known concept by now - it’s the network of physical devices embedded with technology that enables those devices to collect and transmit data. However, while IoT devices are now common in mainstream consumer markets, industries like oil and gas have only scratched the surface, and the opportunity is huge. Analysts have predicted that worldwide spending on the Industrial Internet - industrial-sized data and analytics - will be $500 billion by 2020. Some forecasts suggest spending could make up as much as $15 trillion of global GDP by 2030.

For the oil and gas industry, the digital revolution is the next big opportunity to boost productivity and cost-efficiency while continuing to meet the world’s growing need for energy. Companies are starting to move beyond basic connectivity and monitoring. By introducing analytics for deeper insights that enable smarter decisions, operators can boost their productivity by as much as 30%.

However, the larger the opportunity, the more complex and challenging a new digital solution can seem. If oil and gas companies are to achieve the real potential of digital transformation, they will need to embrace the user-centered design practices that are more commonly seen in the mainstream tech communities. While “user experience” and “design thinking” may be common vernacular in Silicon Valley, how often do we hear these terms in the oil and gas industry? As the oil and gas industry continues its digital journey, we should expect to hear these phrases a lot more. And those who embrace these user-centered practices quickly will hold an advantage over those who do not.

As the complexity of oil and gas operations runs deep and wide, the first significant issue is the volume of data involved. In oil and gas, there are more than 100,000 pieces of turbomachinery, about 2 million miles of pipeline, and more than 1 million pieces of artificial lift equipment in the world, generating exorbitant amounts of data around the clock. Not only does this data have to be captured and stored, but it also has to be effectively and efficiently analyzed in order to attain the sought-after operational improvements. This takes very robust, industrial strength infrastructure.

Then, the applications built on top of that infrastructure need to simplify all that complex data into useful information for operators. They need to be able to deliver relevant insights to help users do their jobs more effectively and make faster, smarter decisions. This may sound obvious, but many times, product concepts are born out of the boardroom without being optimized for use in the field. Contextual understanding of how a product will be used is becoming more important as products and services are expected to address increasingly complex interactions between users, products, services and infrastructure. Different stakeholders will have different experiences of a product, and all of these perspectives need to be taken into account in the earliest stages of development. Not communicating at all stages of the process could lead to the development of “blind spot” errors.

Collaborative-driven development may be met with cultural resistance, as it means more people from different areas and at different levels having a role in the decision-making. But it is critical for taking on complex challenges to achieve big outcomes. Only in this way will new products address both understood and hidden user needs while also considering the needs of future users.

When helping customers find step-change improvements through new digital solutions, GE Oil & Gas takes a collaborative, user-centric approach. With a strong emphasis on user experience (UX), a design thinking practice, users are involved early in the design process to help inform the solution characteristics and how that solution can best provide value in the real world. In this way, users are transformed into change agents that radically increase engagement, buy-in and stakeholder alignment.

User-centered design practices and partnerships across provider, customer and user are critical for the oil and gas industry’s digital revolution. Not only is the process more engaging for both parties, it also aligns stakeholders’ objectives, increases trust and leads to new technologies that can develop the industry’s future digital capability through optimized efficiency and productivity.

The consumer world has benefited from the Internet for decades; now is the time for industry - particularly the oil and gas industry, given the current of volatility and uncertainty. Digital solutions can help oil and gas companies boost uptime, productivity, cost-efficiency and operational flexibility through data and analytics. And while many understand the potential, the idea of actually implementing new digital solutions can seem overwhelming. Design thinking, and practices that center around the user, can increase time to value, ensure the most effective solutions, and provide a smoother process for all involved. By adopting these practices, oil and gas operators can position themselves strongly for digital transformation to capture the next wave of industrial productivity.

Amita Tomkoria

Director-Digital Innovation Services

GE Oil & Gas