Digital transformation was not the focus at the Downstream 2019 Conference & Exhibition but it emerged as a dominant topic at the event in Houston earlier this month. Increasingly competitive and volatile markets formed the backdrop as chemicals, energy, and engineering and construction companies discussed the value of digital solutions.
The event’s location certainly aided good engagement – in downtown Houston near many company offices so participants could easily join the dialog. Nearly 7,000 attendees attended the workshop and exhibition during the two-day show.
“We are on a digital path,” an audience member acknowledged during a session where companies discussed best practices for project planning. Participants in this session and many others were fully engaged in sharing ideas and experiences with digital solutions for capital projects and supply chain management.
One particularly active moment came when a project planner asked why he would apply digital tools for small or medium projects. Several participants eagerly shared their importance for any sized project. Without them, “you just push extra CAPEX and OPEX costs to the future,” was one warning. Another participant noted that his rule of thumb for any size project is that 2% cost upfront saves 10% at the end. “Digital is just part of the toolbox now,” he added.
The digital enabling messages resounded in supply chain sessions as well, as panel members highlighted changing customer expectations. One supply chain leader noted that the ‘Amazon effect’ has been a big factor. “My customer says, ‘I know where my toothpaste is that I ordered yesterday’,” now expecting that information from all supply chains.
At the same time, the trend to minimize inventory throughout the value chain means that supplier systems must be more responsive to changes in demand. Data management is at the center of the challenge. One conference participant stated, “We need to get the data where we can use it,” a task that is particularly challenging in older legacy systems that are common at many sites.
The chemicals panel highlighted complexity in particular as an ongoing challenge as product lines diversify and customers are often scattered across the globe. One company representative said automation is an important tool, but the complexity will always demand “the human element.”
These themes are top of mind for us at Aspen Technology as we work closely with customers to resolve their immediate needs and build new solutions to address future challenges. The latest examples launched this spring, delivering enhanced productivity across the business, including solutions that produce bids and estimates faster with less risk with Aspen Capital Cost Estimator, and integrated collaboration tools in Aspen Schedule Explorer.
Keynote speaker Michael Coyle, president of manufacturing at Chevron, captured the growing importance of digital solutions in the evolving energy and chemicals industries. “Leaders have the expectation that to be competitive you must stay on top of technologies . . . Machine learning, artificial intelligence, we need these things in order to compete.”
For additional insight on digital transformation, watch some of the interviews with AspenTech executives and industry experts from OPTIMIZE 2019.