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Interview

Dominic Loke, Founder & CEO, Astoria Solutions, Singapore

02.07.2014 / Energyboardroom

Dominic Loke, Founder & CEO of Astoria Solutions, provides insight into its cloud-based solutions that are prime examples of disruptive innovation, as well as the growth of the company regionally and internationally that has been fostered by investment by the Boston based investment firm Rose Park Advisors, focused on Disruptive Innovation. Dominic explains how Astoria’s Solutions boost productivity, enhance safety and streamline costs, with the ultimate goal of making the technology part of the marine and oil and gas industries everyday life.

Starting a business from scratch is no easy feat. What motivated the establishment of Astoria Solutions?

Astoria Solutions (Astoria) has its roots as a generic IT consultancy firm established almost a decade ago. However, we quickly identified the opportunities in the vertical marine and oil and gas industries. This drove us to focus and tailor our services to those segments. In doing so, we developed our own software products for these sectors in close collaboration with Microsoft and their global oil and gas team based out of Dubai.

Despite the significant advances in marine and oil and gas capabilities, the scope of growth for automation is too significant to be overlooked any more. By applying the latest technologies and management concepts, the potential to boost productivity, enhance safety and streamline costs is tremendous. We feel that this is one market area that is relatively underdeveloped. Of course, there are some solutions out there provided by the industry heavy weights, however their solutions can be expensive and cumbersome to deploy and are typically impossible to justify in the absence of a large scale organization.

By leveraging cloud computing technologies, we seek to bring the benefits of process automation and IT productivity solution to everyone in the industry, regardless of size. The fundamental building blocks on which we are building our software products is centered on the management framework known as disruptive innovation, proposed by Prof. Clayton Christensen. At its core, his model predicts that every industry will experience a time when a certain technology will come along and dramatically and profoundly alter the status quo.

Astoria received a sizable investment in July of last year to fund its growth. Can you tell us more about that?

The source of this investment stems from a Disruptive Innovation Fund founded by Prof. Christensen that invests in companies that demonstrate a potential to upset the status quo. In fact, we were the first company working in the oil and gas industry to ever receive this funding, as we all the first South East Asian based company.

Today, we work closely with Prof. Clayton’s son, Matt Christensen, CEO of Rose Park, and have invited him to serve as our Chairman. The capital we obtained through the fund was primarily used to internationalize our operations. For instance, we established a new office in Dubai last year which is receiving an unexpectedly large number of inquiries already that we are eagerly working towards implementing as soon as possible. We are also seriously looking into the North American markets which hold vast potential in the Gulf of Mexico, especially on the underdeveloped Mexican side.

These are exciting times indeed. The broad challenges characterizing today’s oil and gas industry means that there is a wealth of opportunities. Technology can no longer be avoided in overcoming some of these challenges.

To illustrate, through a simple investment and our SafeSmart package, operators can access a wealth of information which can be used to better manage their workforce and operations in real time. By installing a simple RFID chip in their helmets the locations, movements and man hours of workers can be instantly tracked, providing a much safer and accountable environment. This data can also be used to examine and enhance many aspects of project management.

How comprehensive is your product and service offering?

We provide our clients with a complete set of solutions from data acquisition to analysis. Many IT companies start with the premise that data is already there, which is not always the case. From the get go, we wanted to automate the data collection process to avoid any errors that could result from human processes. This is why we make use of Radio-frequency identification (RFID) and biometric sensors and help clients design their workflows to maximize their returns on investments. Once the data is acquired, we can also provide them with analyses, reports and additional software modules to help them make sense of all the information. And capitalize on the results. Moreover, we can also provide Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) which can used by customers own IT team to mine for specific data and customize their analyses, perhaps even in combination with their own internal data sources. This inherent flexibility and compatibility of our solutions is a valuable proposition to our clients.

The marine and oil and gas industries are traditional in nature and are slow to take in new technologies. How is Astoria addressing that issue?

We believe that disruptive innovation, at least in our case, should ultimately fit in the background of business processes. In the same way that your typical photocopier revolutionized the office setting, our innovation should not be some that you are actively managing or operating. Our goal is therefore to make the technology part of the marine and oil and gas industries everyday life.

As a newly emerging player in the market, we are not targeting the most complex or largest organizations in the industry just yet. Instead, we are targeting the ‘’non-users’ – those smaller organizations that have never experienced advanced cloud-based technology. We also target some of the larger companies that have not yet explored the benefits of work-flow automation. This strategy is in accordance with the predictions of the disruptive innovation theory; planting and nurturing that seed with the early adopters, and help it spread its roots with time. These are our targeted early adopters that will pave the way for the future expansion of the technology. Because our innovation can be perceived as highly conceptual, complex and sophisticated, our philosophy is to make the technology as simple and user-friendly as possible.

In addition to that, Singapore’s heavily intertwined marine and oil and gas ecosystems is the ideal place from where we can launch our innovations. As a leading global player in both sectors, Singapore hosts the complete marine and oil and gas value chain with a rich and diverse variety of players. This proximity to the heart of the global industry allows us to truly understand the dynamics of the industry and effectively spread our solutions throughout the ecosystem.

How far away are you from that tipping point of mass-adoption by the industry?

It is only early days for Astoria Solutions. Although we only received our investment last year in 2013, we have been active in marketing our efforts around the world in the Middle East, Houston and Mexico. I am pleased to say that our technology has been very well received there and we are anxiously looking forward to kick-starting a number of pilot programs throughout 2014.

What is the rationale behind your immediate international expansion as opposed to establishing the company in its home market first?

This is only made possible by the advances in technology. Cloud computing frees us from being tethered to any one location and allows you to connect to enormous computing resources from anywhere in the world. As part of our vision, we seek to design our equipment to be self-contained and connected directly to the cloud where all the processes and analyses are made and then transferred back to the client’s smart devices. People are therefore no longer constrained to a particular location and can view real time information and make decisions from anywhere in the world at the touch of a button. This is why we have opted for plug-and-play solutions; to eliminate any geographical constraints. In Qatar, for instance, we recently undertook a pilot test at a certain facility. Passing the equipment through customs took a much longer time than did the installation, all of which took no longer than two hours!

This is the new future. Technology has matured to such a degree that what was previously impossible, is very much possible today and it is my duty to spread that message to the oil and gas community around the world.

Success attracts investors and imitators. How will you stay ahead?

Technology and innovation is a never ending process of advancement; we always have to keep running to stay in the same spot. Having said that, some of our key technologies are being registered for patent protection.

Going beyond taking defensive position, we are keen to see how technology, combined with new ways of thinking on processes, can fundamentally change the status quo. This is an exciting concept we are eager to introduce to our customers. Of course, competitors will emerge but so far, we still enjoy the first mover’s advantage in the industry and so are in a prime position to leverage the wealth of opportunities.

Looking at your history, seems that strategic partnerships have been at the core of your success, from identification and design to launch. What alliances are you most excited about now / future?

Partnerships are an essential tool which can be used to one’s agenda forward. It is through partnerships that you can build up your own value chain and compete effectively.

Our technological partnership with Microsoft, which started a handful of years ago, was in fact made possible through the efforts of the Singaporean trade promoting institutions like International Enterprise (IE). The IE granted us with the incentives to attend Microsoft’s World Partner Conference. This was an exciting time for us having suddenly become exposed to in excess of 15,000 partners in one place from all over the world. This greatly expanded our horizons. It was there that we met with Microsoft’s oil and gas team and partnered with them to bring our solutions to market and help solve obstacles in the offshore & marine sector.

On the customers front, we are working closely with Singaporean agencies such as Spring, IE, among others, to broaden our presence. We also work in close collaboration with some of Singapore’s leading offshore and marine players including Keppel and Sembawang.

As Astoria Solutions continues to grow, how would you like the world to perceive your organization?

I would hope that people view Astoria as a ground breaking company that is a catalyst for innovation, particularly in cloud computing solutions for the marine and oil and gas sector. We are eager to revolutionize the way in which some of the processes are currently being done. This is no easy feat but we would like to do our part. Even the smallest seed can grow into the largest tree. The technology is now ready and available and we want to demonstrate to the industry the cost, time and safety benefits they can achieve.

To read more articles and interviews on Singapore, and to download the latest free report on the country, click here.

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