Steven Plant, Plant Integrity Management, Aberdeen, UK
Steven Plant, from Plant Integrity Management, talks about why he started PIM in 2011 and the opportunities he saw in the market at that time. He further discusses the company’s unique services offered and what the future looks like for the North Sea area, as well as for the company.
On March 10th, 2014, a contract of over 3 million USD was announced between Dana Petroleum and PIM for work on the Triton FPSO. In what way does this contract represent new ground for PIM, in terms of the scope of the work required?
Until the Dana contract was awarded on December 17th, 2013, PIM was predominantly involved in consultancy work, albeit with an operational bias. The strategy of the business was to use our knowledge through consultancy to grow the business, grow confidence, and grow our reputation in the industry. If you look at how the business has evolved, we have grown through building trust and confidence with clients, which has ultimately led to the awarding of this latest contract. The Dana opportunity represents a step change, as it has allowed us to enhance our service offering from one of primarily consultancy services to a full-managed service provision. This has given us the chance to build our capability into other areas. The Dana project has thus become a key aspect of our growth strategy.
Another key part of our growth strategy is the use of our expertise to build intelligent software products. There are too many software products on the market that force individuals to change their behaviours to use them, rather than helping them to work more efficiently. In a business where you rely on your people, we need intelligent tools to help people work more competently. PIM already has a product on the market, “PIM Relief,” which manages relief valve testing and workflows, and optimises test intervals using a risk-based approach. PIM Relief 2.0, the second version of this software with increased functionality, is now undergoing final testing. The software increases efficiency and removes much of the paperwork and administrative work thus cutting costs and maximizing performance.
We also have a second software product in development for which we are now advertising for a full-time project manager. We recognize that the software will grow and necessitate specific expertise in the business.
How, operationally, does PIM approach Risk Based Inspection, and what added value does your company offer over competitors?
Risk Based Inspection is as much engineering judgment as it is technical calculation, which is where the added value comes in. In the industry, oftentimes integrity schemes are too biased towards technical theory due to a lack of real understanding, which leads to impractical inspection schemes. PIM’s added value comes from really understanding what the operator needs and providing a higher level of support. Only through understanding the objectives of our clients can we provide the correct level of support.
As a company, we are quite unusual in that we have a higher ratio of senior and lead people to junior staff than is typically the case. Currently, we have four senior staff per graduate because we are driving much higher value in service delivery. It is sometimes hard to demonstrate this value, especially in tenders, and this is why our client relationships and the trust we have built is so essential.
How do you select your staff, and what qualities do you look for in potential personnel?
We look for honesty, integrity, and a good work ethic. We value these qualities every bit as much as education and we strive to give people a chance. The business is more about wanting to do the right thing rather than making money, which we find to be quite rare in the industry. Our belief is that if we provide the right service, the money will look after itself; this has repeatedly been shown to be the case.
It is not necessarily qualifications that matter, but rather people’s attitudes.
How are you pushing forward innovation in your services, and are there any services you are particularly proud of?
As mentioned previously, we are very proud of the software we have developed and our future aspirations for it.
We also continue to concentrate on the service provision business, ensuring that we have the correct people for the roles and continue to provide them with the right coaching and mentoring. I am extremely proud of the team we have, and want to maintain this pride as we grow.
One of PIM’s core offerings is corrosion management systems. With many assets in the North Sea being pushed beyond their original planned working lifespan, what further opportunities are emerging for this service, and what is your strategy to ensure successful project delivery in this respect?
We have just written the new guidance for the Energy Institute for ageing life extension corrosion management, which will be a pivotal document when it is released later this year. I see steady growth in the area of corrosion management in Aberdeen. There are great opportunities in offering a service that adds value in late asset life and looks at optimisation, and we will be looking to export this expertise overseas too as it becomes more valued in other regions.
PIM is now operating abroad. What is your internationalization strategy?
We have been working with Maersk in Qatar on its corrosion management systems and we are currently completing a pilot that we expect to extend to more assets. However, international work is not our key focus as we want to fully develop our service offering in the UK before moving into overseas markets more heavily. The Dana work is a key part of our strategy, and we are now developing and optimising all of our systems so that they are scalable and ready to export on a large scale. Our overseas work to date in Oman, Qatar, and Denmark, has happened through organic growth based on the reputation we have built.
What is your evaluation of assets in the North Sea from an integrity perspective?
These assets have obviously aged, and the majority present many opportunities for improvement. We work with clients who recognize that there is a need for improvement and want to improve. Such clients take ownership and realise change is required.
HCLR Standards is perhaps a sensitive topic in the North Sea after the Elgin platform’s gas leak in 2012. I understand that at PIM you focus on what you consider to be the ‘important details’. What are these core considerations for you?
These standards were developed as one of our three cornerstones to ensure that we deliver quality, alongside software and people. We developed these standards to make it easier to assess the effectiveness of integrity management processes within an organisation. Integrity management is not like, for example, occupational safety where there are obvious metrics that you can easily measure, such as the number of falls or hand injuries. With integrity, you could go on for ten or fifteen years before everything starts failing all of a sudden. You thus have to work to set standards and by working towards those standards, you gain confidence that you are doing the right thing. We developed these standards originally for use internally to control our own performance and these will now be used for the Dana and other contracts so that as our business grows we will have confidence that we are continuing to benchmark against the same high standards.
The standards also have the added value of providing a more informed audit for clients. Rather than just following industry level audits, you can drill down to a very detailed analysis of people’s systems and benchmark their performance. We have already completed such work for several clients with further interest arising. For example, one client’s assets are approaching end of life and have four years of operations left. There is little point in completing a full upgrade across the management system, but by applying our standards PIM can inform them of any gaps that will hurt operations in the time left and thus optimize these four years. The standards allow us to inform the client of the value in making certain changes. From my experience, when aged assets get close to cessation of production, things begin deteriorating quickly. Through thorough checking and risk management, more revenue can be gained in those final years. The service offered by PIM is thus consistent with the reality of the North Sea as a mature basin with mature assets.
What was the opportunity you saw within the market in 2011, and why did you choose to start up this company? What is the key niche you thought could be addressed?
I had always wanted to do this; it was simply a question of timing. I have worked with quite a number of operators, and they all have the same processes. I could have progressed into a management role in an operator, but I could not see the point due to the lack of supply chain to work with. To me, unless someone fertilizes the contractor community with a higher level of competence, the situation is never going to improve.
As such, I managed to gather several people on board who shared my values to create PIM. We decided to forget about our day rates and do something that felt right. It has probably been the most enjoyable three years of my career.
Two years into this adventure, how would you rate the reception of your services by the market, and in future, how would you like to be perceived by clients?
The clients we work with value our services. Last week, we received a feedback survey from one client with exceptionally high praise for our services. For this client, we went from a little over 33,000 USD in contract last year to almost 1.2 million USD signed off for this year against ageing and life extension work. There will always be people that just want to check boxes; however, PIM is designed for those clients who do want the quality and understand the rewards of such investment.
What is your future plan for PIM?
PIM’s first three years were about establishing a solid base in the UK and getting to the point where everything is performed to our standards. Once we have the base controlled in the UK, we would then look to more focused export services. Towards the end of this year, we will look to revisit our international strategy. We will be looking to have the software in place first to further enhance the businesses image and credibility, showcasing the software at conventions and seminars overseas.