April 06, 2017
Cognitive computing: A game-changer for oil and gas
By: Rich Holsman & Colin Sloman

Cognitive computing is disrupting many industries, and we believe it will have a profound impact in oil and gas. According to a report by the Accenture Institute for High Performance and Accenture Strategy, cognitive computing is defined as information systems and applications that can sense, comprehend and act.1 Examples include virtual robotics, expert systems, and speech, gesture and even facial and material recognition.

Rather than leading to a dystopian battle between machine and man, we believe the result will be super-charged teamwork. Virtual assistants and “cobots”—robots collaborating with humans—can help the industry move ahead. The expected benefits include enabling:

  • Better, faster and more informed business decisions by leveraging vast stores of historical and real-time data

  • Greater workforce focus on high-value activities

  • Improved outcomes in terms of higher profit, high quality and safer operations.

Rather than jarring, the transition might be gradual, gratifying and become commonplace. The ways many of us work, after all, involves human-machine interactions. For example, some people already take for granted the convenience of ride-sharing apps and talking to smartphones for reliable directions.

Bring in more intelligence and connectivity and envision the future workplace. An oil and gas organization could use ambient analytics (information gathering in the background via text analysis, facial expressions and tone of voice) to pick up on stress levels or fatigue, and respond with interventions to prevent costly mistakes. In addition, if greater use of wearables and sensors could make employees safer and better able to do their jobs, the question switches from why to why not? 2

Barriers to implementation

Across industries, however, skepticism lingers. Accenture’s first-of-its-kind study of the impact of cognitive computing in management reports that nearly half of senior executives (46 percent) perceive potential value from cognitive computing. But only 14 percent of first-line managers and 24 percent of middle managers agree strongly they would trust the advice of intelligent systems in making future business decisions.

Energy has considerable opportunity to develop (see Figure 1). Persistently low prices for oil and gas, however, have necessitated cost cutting, although investment plans, as of early 2017, seem more positive.

Figure 1: Energy has the opportunity to adopt digital business models and realize the value other sectors are achieving.

Figure 1: Energy has the opportunity to adopt digital business models and realize the value other sectors are achieving

Continuous learning is key to thriving

As artificial intelligence takes on an increasing number of tasks, managers will likely need to strengthen innately human skills—such as collaboration and social networking. Curiosity and continuous learning will be key features for executives to thrive.

The survey asked about skills needed to succeed in five years. The global average across industries was 21 percent citing social networking and 20 percent for collaboration. In the energy industry, however, the levels were lower: an average of 14 percent for both capabilities.

Ninety-one percent of managers surveyed in the energy industry either strongly or somewhat agree their current skills are sufficient to succeed in five years. There is no room for complacency, however, because tasks such as coordinating processes, monitoring performance, and scheduling resources and activities are prime candidates for automation.

Uncertainty of the skill mix needed to succeed casts a spotlight on continuous learning. Managers will need strong interpersonal skills to build teams, foster innovation and encourage new ways of working. In addition, senior business leaders in oil and gas will need to tap interpersonal and communication skills to deliver a vision of how these advances could improve the workplace.

1 "We are the cobots: the rise of the connected, digital worker," by Colin Sloman, July 14, 2016, weblog.

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