ExxonMobil digital leader on accelerating performance in the oil and gas industry with technology

June 24, 2021 | 6 minute read
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For our latest Trailblazers feature highlighting innovation leaders, we sat down with Jane Petty, digital innovation manager for ExxonMobil.

Petty reviews her 30+ years at ExxonMobil, the challenges of implementing change management across an organization, and how leadership sets the tone for creating an innovative culture.

She also discusses how machine learning can help remove biases in decision making as well as how computers can help drive standardization.

Dr. Burcin Kaplanoglu, vice president, Oracle Industries Innovation Lab, led the discussion.

BK: Can you explain your current role and how your career has evolved since you started in the industry?

JP: I'm the digital innovation manager at ExxonMobil in the Global Projects organization. I've been doing this role for a couple of years now. I started 30+ years ago in the downstream operations part of the business.

I worked my way into midstream, which was our pipeline affiliate, and into upstream before the upstream projects group ultimately rolled into the Global Projects organization.

I’ve had a lot of different experiences. Most recently, I was the ExxonMobil business venture manager for the offshore development that we had in Newfoundland, Hebron. I've been part of some very exciting projects over my career.

One of the things I love about this job is that nothing ever stays the same. You're always thinking about what's going to work today to solve problems, how to get that integrated, and how to implement change management across an organization.

How do we really change the way we work and make those changes meaningful and sustainable?

BK: What’s your view on the state of innovation in the industry?

JP: Well, in parts of our oil and gas industry that are steady-state, meaning the same people, facilities, and processes—like manufacturing and operations—innovation is continuing to accelerate. It’s easier to digitalize things and change the way we work, although change management is still a huge challenge.

You've got a longer time horizon by which to deploy, receive the feedback, sustain it, and get the value.

On capital projects, which is what I'm part of, it's a very different environment. The ecosystem is never the same. It changes with every project, so you may have multiple EPC contractors in different locations. The supply chain is always different.

As you look at the capabilities that exist, digital or otherwise, the systems with every single project differ—including the people, processes, and technology—making digital deployment and sustainment more difficult in the capital project environment. As an industry, we must think about what's going to make the most sense.

How do we promote and drive that type of digital adoption to get the value? There’s value, but if you can't scale or take full advantage of the efficiencies out there and repeat it, it's going be very difficult to see a step change in the capital projects environment. But it's doable.

BK: What are the biggest challenges to innovation?

JP: At the end of the day, every one of us is grappling with data. I feel for the EPC partners where each owner/operator has a different standard. The EPC must continue to vary whatever they do within their systems to meet that owner’s demands or expectations, which is not efficient.

For example, we’ve been focused on engineering equipment data standards as an industry, CFIHOS (Capital Facilities Information Handover Specification). Some of the other industries that have matured in digital are largely due to common taxonomies.

If you look at automotive or aerospace, while they're different, one of the things that helps in those ecosystems is a common language.

We've been promoting engineering standardization because we believe standardization has significant efficiencies over the lifecycle of an asset. With the engineering equipment taxonomy, you're starting to create a common language all the way through to handover and operations.

The power of that data taxonomy will only grow with time.

BK: How can an organization foster a culture of innovation?

JP: It's one thing when you're a new company. It's a different question when you're established with an existing culture like we have within ExxonMobil.

We sometimes forget that the oil and gas industry is quite innovative. We solve problems that no one else can solve. We do it every day, and we think about innovation in its broadest sense.

Oil and gas is seen as lagging when we think about how digital has been applied in that innovation space. This doesn’t make sense, because we’ve developed resources in some of the toughest environments, and we do so with phenomenal technology and innovation.

"If a company can embrace what they're already good at and start thinking about how to accelerate performance using some of the digital tools out there, there's a lot of upside."

-Jane Petty, Digital Innovation Manager, ExxonMobil

The risk/reward trade-off, or the risk relative to some of the other things that we make decisions around, is quite small when it comes to digital. Changing how we frame risk around digital and how we reward people is important.

Ultimately, it's reward and recognition, too. That plays a big piece into how you can shape a culture.

It’s leadership who puts that vision out there of where they want to go and how they want to work differently. That puts the tailwind into fanning the fires of innovation across all elements, including digital, that can make a step change within an organization.

BK: What emerging technologies you see presenting the best opportunities in the industry?

JP: There are a lot of slick, cool digital technologies popping up everywhere. However, it is not going to generate the value unless you've got your data set up right.

That's the barrier we always end up running into. If you don't care about that issue, you're not going to realize the fruits of some technologies out there.

Machine learning, generative design - things focused on letting the computer do more for us - can be really be powerful.

Standardization is another one. We could use computers to help us become more standard in how we design assets. Computers can help remove the waste from some of the things we've done that drive up cost over the long term.

"In terms of data analytics, anything we can do to take advantage of the data we already have at our fingertips, including getting that data into shape to be a powerful decision engine, is where you're going to see the needle move. That's what's going to be a differentiator in the future."

-Jane Petty, Digital Innovation Manager, ExxonMobil

BK: Where do you think AI and machine learning would be helpful?

Machine learning’s big data sets are great, too. When we think about geoscience and the operating environment, everyone is already applying those capabilities because these areas are ripe with data and are continuing to mature.

We have seen some interesting AI applications in safety, scheduling, welding, and even project performance.

Construction is a tough one, and we haven't really changed the way we construct. If you think about the health of our trades, we need to continue to grow them to ensure we have the skills for the future.

If not, what does that mean for us in the construction industry? It changes it. I'm not sure if AI is a piece of it, but clearly robotics is.

There are opportunities where there is data, but I don't have a silver bullet. AI and machine learning is a space that will only grow over time. 

Oracle Construction and Engineering, the global leader in construction management software and project portfolio management solutions, helps you connect your teams, processes, and data across the project and asset lifecycle. Drive efficiency and control in project delivery with proven solutions for project controls, construction scheduling, portfolio management, BIM/CDE, construction payment management, and more.

Read more Trailblazers here.


Corie Cheeseman

Corie Cheeseman is a senior content marketing manager for Oracle Construction and Engineering.

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