CIO Talk News

Digital solutions for the oil and gas sector

Sandeep Gupta

Developing the most advanced technologies is a key business imperative today as India doubles down on its goal of reducing import dependence and achieving energy aatmanirbhart

we are aggressively pursuing a cloud-first strategy where we prioritize deploying new solutions on the cloud completely and are migrating existing on-premise computing onto the public cloud with a plan to migrate around 80% of workloads onto the cloud.

Sandeep Gupta, Chief Digital and Information Officer at Cairn Oil & Gas

Briefly introduce Cairn Oil & Gas and its operations in India 

Cairn Oil & Gas, a vertical of Vedanta Ltd., is the largest independent oil and gas exploration and production company in India. We have expanded our operations steadily over the past two decades and established a pan-India presence across the states of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Gujarat. Now, we have set a firm goal to double our domestic crude oil production, increase our contribution to 50% and reduce our country’s dependence on imports. For this, we have established clear objectives for operations that can increase efficiency and aid the country’s transition towards achieving energy Aatmanirbharta. Here, especially, digital tools are playing a critical role in streamlining processes and increasing efficiency. Exploration and production have traditionally been rooted in man-machine proximity, and today, Cairn Oil & Gas is leading digital transformation in the sector.  

Briefly tell us about the IT infrastructure and resources you are handling.  

Currently, we are spread across three data centres. The first one is a co-location service that acts as the primary data centre, the second one is for DR purposes, and the third is a captive data centre located at our office premises.  

Going forward, we are aggressively pursuing a cloud-first strategy where we prioritize deploying new solutions on the cloud completely and are migrating existing on-premise computing onto the public cloud with a plan to migrate around 80% of workloads onto the cloud. We follow both multi-cloud and hybrid-cloud strategies. From a multi-cloud perspective, we have deployed our workloads on both Azure and AWS. From a hybrid cloud perspective, we plan to move >80% of our workload to the cloud.  

The core IT & Innovation team comprises 25 full-time equivalents with a dedicated team focusing on IT operations and ensuring the daily operations are running smoothly. In the Innovation vertical, we are delivering new solutions through digital solutions across the entire value chain. Apart from this, we have outsourced our IT development and maintenance to a technology partner. 

What are your learnings from the digital transformation journey? 

The key learning for me from the Digital transformation journey is that the benefits come not from implementing new technologies but from transforming your organization to take advantage of the possibilities that new technologies provide. Major digital transformation initiatives are centered on re-envisioning customer experience, operational processes, and business models. 

It is equally important that before initiating a digital project, one needs to be clear about the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) impacted and the mechanism to track those KPIs post-implementation. Many times, questions are asked about the benefits post-implementation and, hence, this should be clearly defined before a project is initiated 

Finally, digital is an evolving area where you need the agility and innovation that a start-up brings. Ensure, you have created an eco-system of start-ups that can quickly help you pilot emerging areas and help you take that product to market early. 

What were the challenges for Cairn? 

Cairn had always believed in Digital and was one of the early adopters of Digital across global Oil and Gas organizations. However, as we pursued our Digital agenda, we faced certain challenges and I want to highlight the top three which we faced.  

The first challenge was to reimagine the entire spectrum of activities with innovation in digitalization. Different business units sometimes brought in the same challenges and there was no defined mechanism for capturing the challenges and acting upon them. 

The second challenge was to develop the necessary competencies in business, digital, and IT work streams. People who have business knowledge may not understand technology, and vice-versa. Importantly, Digital adoption is only successful when one sees and feels the impact of this technology on their productivity. For that, we needed a program to educate and enable every person in the organization on key Digital tools. 

The third challenge was how do we leverage the start-up ecosystem as they had many innovative solutions and were quick to implement them. Unfortunately, our entire procurement process was long and geared to select big vendors. With a start-up, one needs to alter their historical procurement process to facilitate quick selection and onboarding. 

As a CDIO, how did you mitigate those challenges?  

First, we accessed Cairn’s current level of digital maturity through a global partner and formulated a digital strategy and vision for standardization of solutions across business units by creating a centre of excellence team to address the gaps. Working closely with all the business teams we identified the business problems by conducting periodic ideation workshops and accessing the business process for improvement. We are benchmarking our parameters with industry leaders against KPI in terms of production uptime and optimization, cost of operation, time to first oil, and productivity increase. New projects are then initiated to improve these KPIs. At Cairn, we carry out quick proof of concepts and later on the scale these PoC across all business units. 

Second, to bridge the gap between the business function and technology we are conducting various technology empowerment sessions via our m-power session. These sessions are open to all employees and give an overview of different technologies that have already been deployed in Cairn also giving a glimpse of current trends in industries. We are carrying out Disha Digital Hackathons encouraging young leaders to develop and adopt these new technologies to solve their daily issues. We elevated our young and aspirational talent through management act-up programs. Also, we have been actively pursuing digital education through the group’s Project Pratham which is enabling digital literacy and motivating transformation across levels of the organization.  

Thirdly, to reduce the lead time for onboarding business partners for deploying solutions, we have launched the Spark program where we encourage startups to take the business challenges and come up with innovative solutions. We have in the first phase of implementation we have an ecosystem of hundred-plus startups and solutions such as drone-based inspections were an outcome of this program. 

What projects you have executed and what are there in pipeline? 

Cairn has carried out multiple projects impacting the key KPI such as increasing production volumes, reducing cost and time to first oil, and productivity enhancement by improving ways of working. 

Some of the projects for production volumes include Digital Twin for the optimization of plant parameters based on a virtual model of the plant. The digital twin is helping us to simulate real-time plant parameters in an optimized way. Projects like Advanced Process Controls (APCs) where the equipment can be operated in an optimized range following all the real-time constraints. Currently, we have deployed APCs that helped to increase ~500 bopd. 

For lowering the cost of operations and increasing the availability of the plant, we are currently using a Drone-based inspection of the overhead electric transmission line for carrying out predictive maintenance and reducing breakdown. At Cairn, we have scaled projects like predictive control across multiple locations across various business units which are helping us to reduce operation costs by avoiding production losses and increasing our throughput. 

We are having a healthy pipeline where we are working on improving ways of working by transforming the traditional way of working. With solutions like robotic process automation, we are automating daily routine work increasing overall productivity, and delivering soft value to employees. Solutions like e-Permit to work will help increase the visibility to managers and execute work orders in a faster and safer way. With, AI-based safety surveillance capturing the hazardous environment and practices can is increased thus reducing the HSE risk and increasing compliance for reducing lost time in injury. 

We are also exploring the technologies like Metaverse for remote operations that can help reduce the cost of operations. We are also parallelly exploring advanced use cases of robotics for navigating confined spaces to detect anomalies in equipment. 

Cybersecurity has been a critical challenge for the oil & gas sector, how have you ensured safe digital at Cairn? 

A strong cybersecurity approach is imperative today as we make the digital transformation and work towards combatting undesirable vulnerabilities. The insurance that the connected world depends on is the development of cyber resilience. Cairn is equipped with world class security operation centre to detect suspicious activities and generate alerts when detected. A Security Operations Centre (SOC) analyst in collaboration with the Operations team can analyze the problem and take the necessary steps to eliminate the threat. Cairn also brings specialized security services partners with proven expertise in GRC and SOC management – to manage the overall governance procedures, enterprise risk management, and regulatory compliance. 

How have you ensured the safety of OT devices? 

Operational technology (OT) security is designed to meet the unique security needs of OT environments. This includes protecting system availability, understanding OT-specific protocols, and blocking attacks targeting the legacy systems commonly used in OT environments. 

We have a set of procedures and best practices designed to mitigate and prevent the exploitation of cyber-physical systems and industrial control systems (ICS). 

We also carry out periodic risk assessments of these devices via professional service partners to ensure that all controls are in place to mitigate the risks. 

These days all the Oil & Gas companies are utilizing all these technologies globally. How have you utilized technologies including RPA, Automation, AR & VR, 3D and AI? 

We are currently scaling multiple Robotic Process Automation (RPA) use cases for automating daily mundane tasks for our enabling functions like finance and procurement. In our procure to pay cycle, manual interventions involving multiple stakeholders increase the turnaround time for the entire procurement process. Automation and reinventing the processes is key to increasing agility and reducing the TAT for procure to pay cycle. 

We have also deployed Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for health and safety training with this solution the personnel can be trained virtually without exposing them to a hazardous environment. There has been significantly higher retention of best practices and training are carried out in a much safer environment remotely. 

What is your advice to your peer group in the Oil & Gas sector? 

Based on our learning during our Digital journey, I will have three pieces of advice for my peer group in the oil and gas sector.  

First, as you embark on your digital transformation journey, always do a value-chain analysis to understand the current situation, and the future situation after digital interventions and communicate the same to the business along with targeted KPIs. This helps to buy in the sponsorship from businesses as well as gives them a clear picture of what digital will accomplish 

Second, define your data strategy as the starting point of your future digital architecture. Digital projects heavily rely on clean and consolidated data and if that does not happen, it is highly likely that most of the projects will not give the desired results 

Third, create the culture of digital adoption up-front in the organization. From an internal perspective, alter your rewards, recognition, and goals of employees to align with digital priorities. Ensure the digital communication is coming from the top management and sufficient training is given to employees to equip them with relevant digital tools. Finally, create a start-up ecosystem with whom you can reach out to pilot and scale out ideas and ideally create an innovation lab where you can pilot some of the key ideas internally as well. 

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