Rob Stummer – Managing Director, IFS Australia
IFS Australia Managing Director, Rob Stummer shares how IFS brings innovative solutions to oil and gas customers, empowering them to remain at the forefront of technological changes in the market, and thereby stay more productive and cost-effective.
How did IFS begin to tap into the Australian region?
IFS’s entry into Australia initially began as a joint venture with a small SI company in Melbourne in 1999. In 2006, IFS bought them out totally with ambitious plans for growth. Joining the company in May 2008, I was brought on with a specific objective of turning around the company with a clear growth mandate. At the time we were a small office of only 12 people with an equally small handful of customers to leverage.
At IFS we strive to integrate our solutions into the latest technologies being utilized throughout the market.
Upon my arrival in the company, I immediately saw big opportunities for IFS in Western Australia where we had no presence at all, particularly those associated with the oil and gas, as well as the then booming mining industry. This was the catalyst to establish a company office for the first time in Perth. We first experienced success in the mining sector and later the oil and gas sector, particularly tapping into construction and contracting, and the project based companies servicing the resources sector. Our strengths lie around projects, service and assets and with the whole industry in the resource sector being very project-centric and asset-intensive, we have developed solutions ready to cater to these needs. IFS has come a long way as a brand, however we are still working towards improving our name and brand recognition both globally and throughout the local market. Our solutions have been met with a very positive reception, and we have been able to establish a growing number of loyal customers as well as a firm presence within the local market, including the oil and gas industry.
IFS offers a wide portfolio of services in its software repertoire. In what capacities are these services directly applicable to the oil and gas industry?
We leverage heavily on the mobile-device front, and mobility has been a very integral factor in our service offerings. When you work with enterprise systems, particularly in the oil and gas industry, real-time decision making capabilities are very important. In this capacity, the ability for industry professionals to complete regular tasks such as work orders and fault reports in real-time on software compatible mobile devices has proven to be a highly regarded service that we have been able to successfully deliver to our customers. The ability to complete tasks in real-time lends itself to the industry’s push for enhanced productivity while remaining conscious of cost-controls.
When you connect employees’ and contractors’ mobile devices with enterprise systems they can access and update data such as asset information in real time and share information throughout the enterprise to better utilize both assets and workforces. Mobile devices with inbuilt GPS can now run business apps for work orders, fault reports, confirmation of delivery routes, even work force scheduling and optimization. Being able to capture data and access information wherever you are, including remote sites, is absolutely key to managing operations in real time. Systems that can talk in real time to head office from any location improve decision making around when assets need to be repaired or replaced, for example, or whether there are too many people on site that could be redeployed elsewhere. Without access to real-time information, the bottom line impact of operational decisions often only becomes apparent sometime after the company compiles its end of month reports.
With many new technologies rapidly changing the dynamic of the market, IFS has remained determined to leverage these new technologies, capitalizing on the opportunities to integrate them just as rapidly into our own systems. These include things like 3D printing, drones, next-generation batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, wearable devices and the Internet of Things. In many ways, productivity equates to increased profitability for our customers. In the oil and gas industry, for example, companies are already springing up to offer unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) services for offshore and onshore inspections. GE Oil & Gas already uses 3D printers to manufacture control valve parts used in the energy industry. The industry has to embrace these changes – particularly now, when there is so much pressure coming from low commodity prices to lower the cost of production and maintain profitability over the long haul. As efficiency is the number one priority for our clients within the resources sector, especially those in oil and gas, at IFS we strive to integrate our solutions into the latest technologies being utilized throughout the market.
Digital transformation is a major driving force in the appeal for IFS products and services. What digital shifts will be disruptors in the oil and gas sectors?
The capturing of data and the dissemination of data in real-time will be a focal point in the industry for the coming years. Any technology that will be able to disseminate data in real-time from remote sites will serve as a major disruptor and change the industry as we know it. At IFS, we have a product called Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI) which is striving to achieve these very objectives, offering both increased visibility and control across the value chain. Increased visibility for executives of the oil and gas industry is something that is exceedingly important and cannot be ignored in today’s market.
IFS believes that EOI is key to this strategy. Full visibility and control across the value chain are crucial. Only by capturing its value chain can an oil and gas services organization have a holistic view of the entire operation and fleet of assets. By linking assets to performance, a single version of the truth is created. With this, you have a complete view of your asset base. When this is available in a collaborative, holistic management environment, executives can then make faster decisions based on reliable data from across the company. Leading contemporary oil and gas companies have cost structures for which they must exhibit near-instantaneous reactions given today’s commodities markets. Effectively linking assets to the performance of the operation is critical for companies, and the demand from clients today is a snapshot of their entire business. This is information that our EOI software is able to provide. In today’s market, those who can process and handle data in real-time will rise to the surface as the winners.
There is simply so much data available, and historically data was collated on site for projects, workforce optimization, and asset management, only later to be delivered to head offices. In this capacity it could take weeks until decisions were able to be made. In today’s market, there is no luxury to wait, and data must be delivered in real-time to be utilized for instantaneous decision making. With such data, companies in the oil and gas sector can determine with foresight when a piece of equipment requires maintenance or needs to be replaced. Companies are thereby able to act proactively rather than reactively to address their most pressing needs. This is the difference that can save companies hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars a year, and it is thanks to innovative solutions, such as that provided through our EOI software.
As market demands put increasing pressures on oil and gas services organizations to improve asset performance, the important differentiator in the industry is gaining end-to-end visibility of the value chain. Only with a complete view of business processes, performance and assets can oil and gas services companies improve and perform at the highest levels. Mapping your value chain in a collaborative environment is the first step to managing this.
How do you go about promoting your technology in a conservative industry such as oil and gas?
Companies are reluctant to try out, let alone implement new technologies into their proceedings. Everyone is waiting for someone else to take the risk and invest the capital and time to test-run these new innovations. The first movers – the innovative companies that are willing to implement and test-run these innovations – are the companies that kick up the dust for their competitors to swallow. Naturally it is a trial and error process, and not all new innovations are successes. However, it is those companies that embrace innovation and new technologies who will be the winners in the end.
To convince companies to take an initiative and implement new technologies, we maintain the approach with our customers that it must be treated as a return on investment. As companies are making investments into a technology or a system, it is crucial to convey the returns that are possible, as well as the speed at which these returns can be received. Other integral aspects include how the technology or system will add efficiency to their business, or how it will make them more productive and profitable.
The downturn in resources means that new projects are scarce. But the maintenance projects are still there, and companies now want to sweat their existing sites, rigs and plants for longer, and that means making investments in long term maintenance programs. If suppliers want to win that work they have to demonstrate something that gives them a competitive edge. If you can increase efficiency you can make everything more profitable. If I am doing maintenance work at height along an LNG train, for example, I would need to erect scaffolding and I need the work to follow across the line of the plant. Technology that allows you to optimize that sequence of work could allow you to more accurately predict the manpower required, and do it with fewer people.
These are enhancements of existing technologies that are being used in new and innovative ways.
With new technology like the Internet of Things, we will also have all that measurement information coming into systems and giving you the ability to move to predictive maintenance. You won’t be relying on people to go out and physically read meters – that information will flow through automatically into your systems and trigger appropriate actions. There is also the concept of the commoditization of specialist labor. If I have systems which provide detailed and specific video instructions to a remote fitter onsite, they can do more sophisticated work. More people will be able to do the work required without as much detailed knowledge – they can be mentored with technology to assist them. You will also have access to expert help if required. An expert technician back at base could take advantage of wearable technology to see exactly what the on-site worker is seeing, and walk them through what needs to be done.
How does IFS keep at the cusp of the evolution of the industry?
IFS’s industry experts understand the key developments in their clients’ worlds, and so can ensure IFS’s solutions address their needs more exactly, both today and in the future. IFS brings customers into the R&D process, so they know our future software will be developed around them. IFS’s flexible and modular software solutions, and growing global partner network, allow our clients not only to deploy quickly today but also to go anywhere their future plans take them. We are proud to develop solutions that can be coupled with the latest technologies on the market. We believe that identified and utilized effectively, these technologies can supercharge business growth.
To keep up with these rapid evolutions in technologies, IFS maintains a tech research center called IFS Labs. And at IFS Labs we don’t look to reinvent the future, we look to apply it, by understanding what the next important innovations will mean for our customers and how IFS’s software needs to adapt. At IFS we thrive on this constant state of flux in the world of technology and innovation, and we work to convince our customers that new solutions can open up new opportunities, improving efficiency and productivity, rather than standing as a threat to business-as-usual.
A hot topic at the moment is The Internet of Things (IoT) which is actually very relevant to the Oil and Gas industry, particularly with regards to predictive maintenance. Assets from rigs to engines and pumps will send sensor readings back to service providers so they know precisely when they need to schedule visits to prevent breakdowns. Sensor data shared with equipment manufacturers not only supports future product innovation, it may enable them to better understand their clients’ needs and tailor solutions to their individual requirements. With the increased use of sensor technology, resources companies will capture massive amounts of information about their operations. Provided they also improve their data quality, integrate their business intelligence systems, and apply machine learning algorithms, then they can mine this Big Data to make better decisions in real time.
Considering the positive reception of your software options, what aspects continue to make IFS the partner of choice throughout the industry?
At IFS, we have a very strong global presence, with over 50 offices throughout the world. As we work to develop our company and improve, we are well underway with developing a much more robust partner ecosystem. Another point of strength at IFS is that we do not ignore and avoid the new technologies and innovations that are disrupting and changing the market, but rather we are striving to work directly with them and adapt ourselves to keep up with the industry as it evolves. Instead of waiting for others to step forward and adapt to innovations on the market, we at IFS are proactively looking at innovations that hit the market and making sure that our innovations can integrate into it.
Commodities and resources are going through tough times. Companies now have to leverage technology and move to lower cost operations. With innovation you can take advantage of new technologies like the Internet of Things and the convergence of existing technologies like enterprise software – but you have to be open to new ideas. The same old thing is not going to work anymore, you need to look to your best and your brightest people who, for some companies, are going to make the difference between surviving and not. You also have to decide what technologies and innovations are most important.
Without a system that can consolidate information across business units and projects, it will be difficult to measure the exact impact that new technologies are having.
In our experience, it’s the data that is going to have the biggest impact. With any innovation, you need to build that into your processes and support it in your enterprise systems so that it is efficient, repeatable and measurable. The current wave of technological innovation carries a real danger of further fragmentation with more standalones and the creation of more information silos. Without a flexible enterprise information system capable of quickly and cost-effectively integrating new technologies, only isolated efficiency improvements will be achieved. And without a system that can consolidate information across business units and projects, it will be difficult to measure the exact impact that new technologies are having. You can’t improve what you can’t measure, and it’s nearly impossible to calculate the return on investment.
What is to come in the next few years for IFS in Australia?
In the next few years, we are keen to have a much more mature and developed partner ecosystem here. As we continue to grow in this capacity, we foresee great potential in gaining further market share, as our growing network of partners is already affiliated, and works within the industry. These partners will be able to share new opportunities with IFS, as they will be able to identify and determine old systems that need to be upgraded or replaced
There will also be greater attention for IFS to be even more industry focused. We wish to be experts in the industries in which we are involved, rather than trying to be everything to everyone. The oil and gas sector is clearly one of the industries in which IFS is eagerly working to develop greater competencies, and more tailored solutions to meet this sector’s needs. We foresee getting a lot of new business prospects from the service providers to the oil and gas industry, and we are keen to work with them as our presence in the industry grows stronger. In this regard, in the next several years, IFS will have established itself as a very integral partner into the oil and gas industry, working alongside many players within the value chain and continuing to serve as a major thought leader in the field.
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