Digitalization to scale up energy operations in Africa

In our last installment of AIS Answers – the series which sees our experts answer the most pressing questions within the industry – we spoke with Mercy Ahabue, our Client Success Manager, on how our industry can overcome digital disillusionment to unlock its fullest potential.

This time we hear again from Chinenye Amorha, Business Development Manager (Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa) about the role of digitalization to scale up energy operations in Africa.

Using digitalization or digital technologies to scale up energy operations is an interesting concept in Africa, where energy insecurity is a problem. Can you share with me how this works?

Africa has a substantial and exciting pipeline of new energy projects, from Algeria to Mozambique slated to come on stream this decade. Those projects, coupled with an extensive existing brownfield asset base, have the potential to radically transform the financial landscape for the continent, as well as enhance energy security.

A mix of assets, however, creates a complex asset information management challenge for operators and stakeholders (such as government officials and contractors). Older assets typically have incomplete and offline documentation such as isometrics, piping and instrumentation diagrams, and general arrangement drawings. Newer facilities by contrast are more likely to have 3D design models and associated database systems to manage knowledge transferred through design to build and onto commissioning.

Understandably, operating procedures and maintenance regimes differ from one platform to the next which poses challenges for the scaling of operations, whether that’s in the holding of spare part inventories, personnel resources, or equipment utilization.

On the ground, AIS regularly works with leadership teams whose assets, maintenance and major project teams have those real challenges in accessing critical forms of asset information in a timely fashion. Delays typically result in impaired planning, inadequate preparation and costly execution when overruns delay production.

Digital technologies are a core component of an asset information management solution for companies scaling operations through digital transformation. These technologies provide the tools for decision makers to better understand asset condition and, when utilized optimally, operational efficiency and cost savings can range in the $2-3.5m bracket over an initial three-year period.

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Tell us about James Fisher AIS. How is James Fisher AIS driving digital adoption for oil and gas assets through technologies?

At AIS, we have been supporting oil and gas operators to digitalize their operations from 2012. Starting operations in the North Sea, our core application, R2S, has been adopted globally by national oil companies, well-known corporations, and marginal field operators. We take a hands-on approach by deploying our in-house teams to site and when training local talent.

Whilst many well-known technology companies have successfully sold a digital solution, we believe that for operators to truly benefit from digitalization, a software program needs to be embedded in workflows. Selling software is not just about purchasing numbers; we believe that in order for it to be a success, it needs to accompany a shift in organizational culture that often needs to challenge and re-frame the “how we’ve always done it” mentality.

James Fisher AIS is making Africa, and West Africa in particular, a key area of operation. Can you share with us your operations in Africa? Do you work with African partners?

Africa is very much a focus for AIS, and it’s why we’ve invested in hiring key positions based in territory. As many of our existing clients are in West Africa, we’ve located our regional office in Lagos staffed with exceptional local talent covering business development, client success, and marketing specialists. In Nigeria, we work with professional local partners to develop deep working partnerships with operators, truly understanding the objectives of digitalization and delivering a comprehensive and supportive program of works.

That’s the first part. The second part is developing knowledge transfer opportunities. For example, we’re supporting the launch of a dedicated training facility in Angola, supporting the next generation of industry professionals to enhance their digital skills, which are only set to increase in demand in the future.

Infrastructure deficit is a reality in Africa. What particular challenges do you face across the continent? How do you aim to tackle these?

We certainly see the need for sustained investment in infrastructure in Africa which further powers the continent’s economic growth and prosperity. As a digital-first organization, our R2S software application is naturally dependent on a reliable and consistent power supply, whether that’s for users of the software itself or servers, should a client opt to maintain data in-country.

In a similar way, reliable and ideally high-speed internet provision provides for a seamless user experience with many digital tools. Taking account of global variations in internet speeds has meant that our application has been specifically designed to work in areas of low-bandwidth internet. But ultimately, to help long term growth across the industry and region, a boost in infrastructure will be necessary.

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What role will digitalisation play in Africa's energy security and transition pathway?

By adopting digital technologies, Africa’s oil and gas industry can supercharge its production levels, maximise efficiency of maintenance schedules, and bolster its decision making. All of these play a crucial role in unlocking energy security in the continent and reducing unnecessary emissions in the value chain. With greater digital monitoring, issues like emissions leaks can be caught early and stopped in their tracks, decarbonising production and ensuring maximum efficiency.

And beyond energy security, lot of the benefits to Africa’s oil and gas industry can be replayed as the continent shifts to renewable energies, such as integrating data siloes, improved predictive maintenance, and more streamlined workflows for better operational and financial performance.

Starting new energy projects with a digitally focussed mindset will mean we can bypass some of the learning phases and include the latest innovations right from the planning stages, with a workforce that are brought in on the process from the get-go. This is where we see some of the most exciting break throughs happening in Africa’s energy industry.

And lastly, what are you most excited about in the African energy industry in the coming years?

The African energy industry is poised for significant growth in the coming years. While awareness for efficiency and digitalisation of processes and workflows is already growing, I am excited to develop local content policies and initiatives in-region, to increase investment in the downstream sector and the opportunities presented by renewables.

Overall, while there are challenges such as regulatory uncertainty, all this, driven by digitalisation, will provide significant opportunities for investment and development.

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