Operators increasingly reliant on connected services companies

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Hydrocarbon Processing.

The first week of October 2017 was quite a busy time for the Hydrocarbon Processing editorial team as we covered events across the US. At the AFPM Operations & Process Technology Summit, we produced the show dailies, a 16-to-20-page print publication for three days. Others covered the Schneider Electric Innovation Summit in San Antonio. For the first time, it brought together what had been separate annual events e.g. SimSci and Wonderware. The “Emerson Global Users Exchange” in Minneapolis was a week-long event with a large exhibition space. HP’s technical editor then went on from this event to Chicago for tours of GE Digital’s industrial performance and reliability center and UOP’s labs and pilot plants.

This week an impressive range of capability was presented and on display, showcasing their uses of hardware, models, software and secure infrastructure to support e.g. digital twins of operating assets with a wide range of mobile devices, augmented reality and field data collection that support real-time monitoring and smart analysis of operations and assets through connected service offerings.

We were struck by the increasing role played by customer support and subject matter experts (SMEs) from all the automation, modeling and control companies. This is well beyond call center support of all their tools, rather global offering of advice on imminent problems followed up by weekly or monthly account management reviews of issues and forward planning for turnarounds. But in so many cases, except for the largest gas processing, refining or petrochemical owners, the operating companies no longer have enough SMEs to cover all the technologies used in their use of the Industrial Internet of Things, never mind process, electrical, mechanical and materials engineering knowledge needed.

What often happens is that owner/operators will contract remote diagnostic support for a part of their asset portfolio, and then grow that over time to facilities at other locations, or more service offerings. And it still too often seems to not have a long-term budget commitment from the client, or is an item that may not survive M&A or CEO changes.

What do you think of the loss of expertise in operating companies without strong apprentice programs for the next generation? What will it take for them to be more willing to commit to long-term contracts for expertise services? We invite your comments on this column.

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