Parsloe – CEO, Doris Engineering – France
Nicolas Parsloe is the newly appointed CEO of Doris Engineering, one of the world’s leaders in the domain of engineering services to oil and gas industry. He discusses the company’s reliance and uninterrupted commitment to innovation and R&D. He also offers insight into Doris‘ recent achievements and promising prospects for further international expansion.
How did Doris Engineering succeed to grow from a very specialized company to an innovative international player?
During our first years, we specialized in the conception and construction of concrete platforms. We were very much in advance of what had been done before. In regards to concrete platforms, there were no codes and standards at the time. We worked tirelessly to establish what the design criteria would be. Building a tank in the middle of the North Sea to store oil was also a remarkable achievement back then! In the 1970’s in Scotland, Doris participated in moving the largest ever man-made object to move across the surface of the earth, the Ninian Central platform.
Our aim has consistently been to propose to our clients to improve on the resources at their disposal. Once we had developed our market in the concrete platforms in the North Sea, we elected to diversify our portfolio to related areas. Our activity now comprises areas such as steel jackets, process, topsides, subsea equipment, pipelines and risers, and floating platforms. We also conducted several studies for innovative structures in advance of their time, which unfortunately were not built by us, but have recently been proposed and built by others. Our philosophy has always consisted in pushing the limits forward. One of Doris’ fundamental characteristics is that people who work here are passionate and so we are able to take on new challenges when we believe we can address an issue that remains unsolved, just like in the case of deep water riser towers which we developed for Girassol.
How much do you rely on innovation to help Doris develop?
R&D has always been at the heart of our philosophy. France is always innovative as French people are very keen on mathematics and physics and take pride in developing cutting-edge solutions. Doris boasts very bright and competent young professionals. When we decided to expand beyond existing frontiers, there was no way of calculating the structures required for those projects. We thus had to develop our own programs and software. For instance, we conceived dynamic analyses of very slender steel structures over 30 years ago. Our R&D department enabled us not just to find new ideas but also to be able to address the problem, analyze it and come up with a solution.
In 2006, Doris earned the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) Award. What specific achievements did it reward?
It is called the Distinguished Achievement Award. The Offshore Technology Conference in Houston presents this award every year, and we were the first SME to be awarded such a prestigious distinction for our lasting contribution to the offshore oil and gas industry. We created a brochure, that we now show to our customers, that outlines the contributions we made to the industry in areas like compliant towers, the Ekofisk protective barrier and concrete platforms in order to deserve such a recognition. Our Oil & Gas clients endorsed our nomination for this award.
Who are your main clients?
We have a wide range of clients. Which one depends on the stage of the project we undertake. For instance, we are qualified to help oil companies find the best paths to develop an offshore field from the earliest stage. We then propose various alternatives and produce a technical economic review of each to allow the client to make his decision. Our core business is actually the next step, Front End Engineering Design (FEED), which consists in applying the solutions emanating from our studies, taking them to a detail required to be able to launch a call for tender. We have the capability of looking at every single technical aspect and providing a solution. We can also assist the EPC contractor in the engineering of the final product that will be delivered to the oil company. On the Usan project in n Nigeria for instance, we produced the conceptual and FEED work for Total before defining the topsides for HHI in the EPC phase. In that project, the topside weight increase between FEED and final design, which usually constitutes the biggest source of cost increase, was virtually zero. Overall, we enjoy being able to overcome the challenges of every aspect of a project.
Is your ability to provide services across the value chain essential to your company’s success?
Doris definitely subscribes to that idea. Engineering is the key to success, while not constituting the most expensive part of the project. In the early phases of a project the engineer can review all possible alternatives allowing decisions to be made at little cost. Towards the end of a project decisions, good or bad, inevitably have higher cost impacts. We will therefore continue to emphasize to our clients that engineering is the key to maximizing value in their developments, and that we can assist them through all phases of the project with emphasis on the early phases. We all know that our clients are looking for cost reductions, but in light of France’s rigid labor laws, there is no room for cost-cutting wage wise. In order to remain competitive we must maintain and improve our core competencies of innovation, efficiency, quality and flexibility.
Do you differentiate yourself from your competitors by providing custom-made solution? How do you tailor your solutions to your clients’ needs and expectation?
When you sell services to customers, you are compelled to devote all your attention to their needs and deliver results that correspond to their expectations. Every field development is different, which requires adaptability. We evaluate a situation and strive to deliver the most appropriate solution. Sometimes the client is tempted to take the best, but more expensive, choice. Under these circumstances, Doris works alongside its client to ensure that he receives the product he needs, as efficient and cost effective as possible within the setting he defined. To ensure that the whole team is focused on providing the best overall solution we integrate all our professionals into a taskforce that reports to the project manager, not a discipline manager, during the project.
Can you tell us about Doris’ network of subsidiaries all over the world?
Our oldest subsidiary is in the UK, established in the 1970’s. Our policy is to establish subsidiaries only when necessary, such as to build a platform in the case of the UK or to perform a long-term detailed design project in the case of our Houston office. Sometimes it is a long process. In Brazil for example, we were asked by Petrobras to set up an office after they saw the FEED work that we performed on the Akpo project where they were a partner. After patiently working on small projects we finally won a very big project where we provided FEED and project management and technical assistance for the topsides of the 8 Replicante FPSOs. We still work on that project in Brazil, despite market difficulties. In Angola, we set up our office in Luanda to comply with local content requirements. We are now able to perform engineering in Angola with local engineers and draftsmen and in the case of projects that need to be performed in Paris or Houston we can provide up to 30 percent of Angolan content.
Doris’ ability to work in very harsh and remote environments constitutes one of your distinctive features? Could you please provide specific examples of the duties you perform in difficult conditions?
When the environment is very difficult you can be sure that at some point our clients will call us. This was the case on the Shtokman project, where we were hired to define the offshore part of the field, including the subsea infrastructure and the floating platform required far from land in the ice infested Barents sea. We also performed the Flow Assurance of the 600 kilometer export pipelines which was particularly challenging. We aligned with a Russian partner and developed documentation in English and Russian, the latter being required to obtain authorization of the development from Russian authorities. The challenge is sometimes not only technical!
How has the general international environment impacted your activity?
We are evidently less exposed than oil companies but geopolitics certainly influences our activity. Apart from affecting the countries where we can do business there is definitely a pressure to reduce prices. There are unfortunately only a few adjustments we can make to our cost structure, which consists mainly in staff wages, besides being more efficient and more flexible. Our competent staff that masters the technology to develop projects anywhere in the world remains our greatest asset.
What are Doris’ financial prospects for 2015?
In 2015, we are privileged to have won the Dalia debottlenecking project in Angola. This project will keep our Paris and Luanda offices very busy. We have recently been working on such brownfield projects, which offer very attractive prospects for engineering companies due to the abundant number of infrastructures in dire need of upgrading. Our UK and US subsidiaries are facing a more bleak outlook and so we will use their capabilities to assist other group companies.
Could you tell us more about the project you have been running offshore in Congo Brazzaville?
Our project in Congo was very innovative. Our client, Murphy, had a marginal field which would normally be developed using a drilling facility and an FPSO in relatively deep water. Maintaining two platforms would have been too expensive so they had the audacity to let us conceive and then install the first Floating Drilling Production, Storage and Offloading (FDPSO) platform. The development of this project was very fast-paced and we helped the oil company with design and project management services.
You have been a successful project manager. What were the major challenges you faced during your evolution from Project Manager to CEO of Doris Engineering that you became last January?
Working for Doris since 1983, I have worked on many different aspects of offshore development and enjoyed every minute of it. From my experience as the head of Doris Inc. in Houston, I discovered that the administrative side could be as interesting as the technical side of the business. I aspire to keep the passion flowing and to maintain the unique Doris team spirit which makes a significant contribution to our success.