RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • Digital Refining Survey. In 2018, Accenture conducted a second annual survey to understand how refineries are using digital technologies.
  • Scope. We also sought to understand what the 170 respondents believe are the benefits and barriers to adopting digital technologies.
  • Five trends depict where companies are on their journey to becoming an Intelligent Refinery—and what they can do to speed it up.


The next evolution of value for refineries? The Intelligent Refinery, where human and technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) combine for the best results. This applied intelligence can fuel growth and value, but the industry is still trying to determine how to get there.

  • How many refiners are embracing digital? Not many. While nearly 50% of the oil refiners surveyed rank themselves as digital or semi-digital, there was little evidence of true digital maturity. Pilots and Proofs of Concept do not make for an intelligent refinery—full-scale digital adoption does.
  • How digital are they? Not very, as most refineries have not moved beyond basic digital technologies like cloud technologies or next generation advanced process control. More cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence, mixed reality and edge computing are not still not prevalent.
  • How to become more digital in less time? Cost and lack of a clear strategy are the two major inhibitors for the companies Accenture surveyed. Refiners are also increasingly concerned in 2018 about the digital skills their workforce has. By failing to grow their digital operations, there is still significant potential value which refiners are not realizing.

Explore our trends

Five trends depict where companies are on their journey to becoming an Intelligent Refinery—and what they can do to speed it.

  1. Convergence is a reality: Refining executives are addressing the convergence of information technology operational systems by, for example, creating new organizational models, changing the role of IT, setting up steering committees and creating new C-level roles. Digital is a key enabler to help refiners accelerate to their goal of IT/OT convergence by facilitating seamless collaboration to more effectively achieve business goals. But, there is still some way to go.
  2. Digital is as digital does: Nearly 50% of executives rate themselves as mature or semi-mature with regard to digital technology deployment compared to 44% in 2017. Refineries rate themselves mature with the deployment of advanced process control (APC), cybersecurity tools and updated IT systems. It is no surprise that APC is ranked as most mature, as it is long established. However, we see digital as a game changer for improving process control through the use of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and more robust data science modelling.
  3. Most refiners are yet to realize potential value: By implementing only a small portion of the digital spectrum, refineries are missing value opportunities. The Internet of Things (IoT), AI, blockchain, robotics process automation and other cutting-edge digital technologies have yet to be tapped at scale. The next step will be for refineries to apply digital to the heart of their refining operations to enable new levels of productivity and efficiency, services, experiences and ultimately, value.

40%

of gains in market capitalization by adopting a more systematic combination of digital technologies – what we call “Industry X.O” approaches.1

80%

of refiners are realizing $50 million or less in value from digital technologies.*

  1. Lack of digital investment increases risk: Change and disruption from digital is accelerating and might outpace a refiner’s ability to compete. Lack of investment can impede their ability to realize the cost savings and margin improvements that digital technologies can bring. This is augmented with the lack of a digital focal point within the organization. More investment in digital can increase the ability of refiners to predict and react to change, and ultimately will be key to their cost competitiveness.
  2. Workforce skills are increasingly important: Our survey showed a sharp increase over last year in the number of companies citing a lack of workforce skills and subject matter expertise as barriers to success. While companies can hire digital talent, it is scarce and expensive. However, reskilling current employees, particularly those whose jobs will be impacted by automation, could be a cost-effective move.

Ready for digitization?

Digital is key to oil companies optimizing cross-value-chain decisions to grow margins. Digital commercial optimization needs to happen at scale and speed to create competitive advantage. Oil companies also need to combine digital technologies to improve their impact. Reskilling and redeploying the refining workforce is crucial for future competitiveness and achieving transformational value.

Companies should be aiming for a digital reinvention of their businesses where they use advanced digital technologies to transform their core operations, their worker and customer experiences and ultimately their business models. It involves making sure the right technology combination is being harnessed by industry to both lower costs and drive top-line growth.



Tracey Countryman

Managing Director – Global Refining and Industry X.0 Lead


Andy Coward

Managing Director – Europe
Refining Digital Plant Lead​


Elfije Lemaitre

Managing Director – USA Downstream Energy Lead

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