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23 Aug 2022

The challenge is communicating a vision for the future

The energy, utilities, chemicals, and natural-resources sectors are in the midst of massive transformation through the application of technologies that are unlocking new insights and providing opportunities for companies that were unimaginable only a decade ago. These new tools have the potential to radically transform the ability of organizations to operate their assets safely, reliably, and efficiently. Extracting the maximum benefit from these technologies requires high-tech skillsets such as software engineers for artificial intelligence and machine learning, plus the capabilities of data scientists, engineers, and others that are in high demand across the economy.

Digital natives want to interact with the physical world via technology, and are increasingly attracted to, and recruited by, technology companies where their skillsets are utilized to create highly valued, highly visible products that are used by millions. Census data shows 60 percent of STEM graduates with degrees in energy, utilities, chemicals, and natural resources do not go into industry. Technology companies have changed the way engineers look at their careers. The challenge that must be met by industry is to communicate the vision for the future, the challenges that are being solved, and the opportunity to make a meaningful impact which creates purpose to attract these highly skill individuals to industries that, for most people, operate in the background of their daily lives until an issue arises.

Working at technology companies is attractive for in-demand people. These firms have created comfortable environments where employees can be themselves at work and make an impact while collaborating and overcoming the barriers holding back innovation. For industry to attract high-tech workers, companies must seek to create these same kind of environments, where opportunities for innovation and experimentation occur while safeguarding operational excellence and the preservation of health, safety, and the environment.

The energy transition opportunity

Another tool is corporate values. Companies across energy, utilities, chemicals, and natural resources have sustainability objectives. Corporate public pronouncements are not only for customers but for employees. Research shows millennials are twice as likely as boomers to live an eco-friendly life. Digital natives are saying energy transition is important and they are passionate about sustainability. That brings purpose to their jobs. Working with an employer committed to energy transition is both an attraction and retention mechanism.

New technologies and the skillsets that go with them are critical for companies to achieve their climate ambitions. Yet, when the industry thinks of capital investments, it is often equipment, plants, and operations that come to mind, not always technology. Add in historically risk-averse cultures, and companies are very cautious, especially when there is potential for business disruption.

But the industry is beginning to recognize that current technology needs to be on the priority list, and digital operations can take them into the future.

Powering a move to transformation

There is interesting work happening in the industry. For example, agritech companies are exploring precision farming, including the application of herbicides and pesticides to maximize crop yield while using the minimum required amount of chemicals, thereby improving efficiency for the farm and reducing the amount of unnecessary chemicals entering the environment. They have also built applications that monitor certain types of pests and insects to create predictive models for how they affect crops. For engineers, there is a wealth of data-driven, forward-looking opportunities that impact energy transition.

These are not initiatives for just a Chief Information Officer or Chief Digital Officer. Company boards need to recognize the need to advance their digital agenda. The level of attrition in the last year is sizable and no one is immune. Talent is at the top of most agendas, including individuals with experience in newer fields such as artificial intelligence and deep data analysis.

One tactic is to widen the talent pool available. There may be the opportunity to draw lines between what is core for the organization to perform and what skills can be delivered by a strategic partner.

Driving intelligent operations with talent

Energy, utilities, chemicals, and natural resources are capital-intensive industries and require many people onsite for operations. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies were forced into a trial-by-fire experiment with remote working, which largely succeed due to recent advancements in technologies such as remote video meetings and asynchronous collaboration tools, among others. Although office personnel may be able to work from home or set a hybrid schedule, this can create two segments of the workforce, and companies must be intentional and ensure field, office, and remote workers’ unique needs are accounted for and they feel equipped to succeed. The goal will be to strike a balance to continue to operate safely while ensuring employees in all areas feel valued.

Technology is weaving itself into daily activities. Energy, utilities, chemicals, and natural-resources companies operate physical assets that are usually critical for safety, health, and the environment. A connection between digital capabilities and physical assets can unlock efficiency. In addition, the underlying functional work processes supporting the assets needs to change, so non-value-added work is eliminated by automation.

These sectors are competing for people against the big names in technology. One way to do that is to acknowledge that companies which operate hyper-complex, critical infrastructures must be cautious with experimentation while still leaving room for innovation. Companies must continually evolve their mindset and be prepared to embrace new technologies to stay competitive in the 21st century.

The pathway is towards intelligent operations and Industry 4.0. This will be key to keeping people engaged through the process by providing pathways that center around technology.

Transformation management

Some companies are building out their own data infrastructure and then enabling the business to be self-sufficient and giving them access to data. Sixty years ago, the industry hired skilled craftsmen or millwrights for manufacturing and production. Now companies need individuals who can derive insights out of complex data and can automate low-value tasks. The growing level of sophistication means companies need more than a one-dimensional skillset.

Every company has data that can be focused on solving meaningful problems. Capgemini is helping energy, utilities, chemicals, and natural-resources companies navigate transformation management. It is more than rolling out a new piece of software or a different capability – that is only part of the equation. The last piece of the process is understanding the intersection between legacy systems and digital tools and the impact on the network and systems. It is not enough to think about change management but a view to the entire transformation.

Companies can have really cool tools that don’t scale, and culture is a key piece around transformation because, without change management, there will not be success. The best strategy is to address culture. Capgemini provides the end-to-end capabilities to see the entire value chain. We help companies maximize the value of extraction at each intersection.

For more information, please contact:

Michael Duffy

VP, Intelligent Operations, Energy & Utilities