Digital Operating Strategies

A conversation with Shaun Johnston from Wood

May 09, 2023

PP: Thanks for joining me today, Shaun. To start with, talk to us about your role at Wood. 

SJ: Thanks, Pratibha. I am a Vice President on Wood’s Digital Consulting team. We help clients with digital operating strategies all the way through to implementation of holistic solutions; enabling improvement of quality, efficiency, sustainability and overall operating costs.  

We do this by transforming data into actionable insights, leveraging this effectively to assess and advise on system transformation, resolving operational issues and helping our clients achieve efficiencies and sustainability targets in energy and materials markets.  

PP: And how was it the partnership with AspenTech came about? 

Wood has a long history with AspenTech, extensively using its solutions to deliver projects whilst also deploying them into operating assets that operationalize data and drive efficiencies. Given the synergies and great working relationship between the companies, five years ago, when Amec Foster Wheeler merged with Wood, we decided it was the right time to migrate from a vendor to partner relationship. Since the market had matured and evolved, increasing synergy and strengthening the combined AspenTech-Wood go-to-market strategy made sense. AspenTech’s continued innovation, together with Wood’s leading integration capabilities, can hopefully make our partnership go from strength to strength. 

Lessons Learned from Challenging Implementations and Best Practices 

PP: What are some of the client problems you are solving right now, do you see a trend emerging?  

SJ: One of the main challenges for our clients right now is digital transition to autonomous operations and applying data to the edge. This means either bringing intelligence down from the cloud and applying it at the edge (which is not always done by humans) or garnering intelligence locally so it can be acted on. 

The primary trend we see is the move away from point solutions to shared architectures and integrated solutions. There have been talks around digital twins and assets for a long time, but, recently, we have been more and more involved in actual execution. What’s interesting now is how Asset Performance Management (APM) solutions can be incorporated inside these larger integrated methodologies, blurring the lines between APM, supply chain, process optimization, etc., and also leading to more transformational benefits like individual solutions that optimize individual workflows. 

PP: Speak more about a particular implementation that was challenging, what lessons were learned or best practices that you can share? 

SJ: In the past, we were dependent on certain expertise, like those found when an experienced data scientist and a chemical engineer work together, but this was difficult to facilitate and scale across projects and geographies. Today, the focus on workflow and use of data science either to wrangle data or deliver the use case has had a huge effect on the cost and timeline of delivering solutions to clients. Overall, workflows have been simplified. You can now deploy easily and widely and scale your capabilities, making deployments more standardized.  

As an example, when we first delivered automated control of offshore wells in the North Sea back in the late '90s, we rolled it out using four to five industry-recognized subject matter experts. Today although change management is still required, we are moving to a place where we could complete the technical aspects with half the engineers in a quarter of the time.  

The Benefits of Digitalization 

PP: What are the benefits of digitalization, both qualitative & quantitative?  

SJ: As a bit of a soundbite, one client claimed that by having Wood install a real-time system looking at emissions for an operator, periods of excessive emissions (i.e., flaring) were reduced by up to 40% solely by having the early warning system. 

Sounds obvious, but the key is getting the right data, or insight, to the right person at the right time – in a way they can understand and act upon. This is where unique domain expertise plays an important role. You can only achieve success when you truly understand the fundamentals of the problems you are mitigating. 

PP: How do AspenTech's APM solutions integrate with Wood's toolset, and how have they optimized efficiency across a refinery? 

SJ: AspenTech is a key part of the tool kit Wood offers. To deliver continued efficiency, we need to adopt APM solutions within a wider toolset to provide more opportunities – from prescriptive maintenance into maintenance planning and aspects like reduction in spares. There will be a reduction in unplanned shutdowns, but not through ultra-cautious operations or reducing chemicals, etc. 

A single solution would optimize individual workflows. Now we are moving on to wider holistic architecture that can pass data between solutions, thereby transforming the value chain. This doesn’t just apply to a single process – it transforms efficiencies across the value chain. As an example, Advanced Process Control affects a unit, but applying AspenTech GDOTTM will optimize efficiency across a refinery.  

The Importance of Engaging All Stakeholders in Implementing New Systems and Processes 

PP: Implementing a new solution or changing the way you work is never easy. Talk to us about systems and processes that make this transition palatable for your clients? 

SJ: Training and imparting ownership to the client is an opportunity for Wood. First, we engage all stakeholders. Every stakeholder must be involved or else the whole transformation could be jeopardized. We have to attain buy-in early on and then adopt solutions to make them a part of the change management processes. Regular touch points are vital to ensure these processes become part of the day-to-day workflow. Ultimately, clients must also own their procedures and governance to ensure success.  

Working as a services provider focused on the energy transition and its digital drivers, Wood understands the changing and constantly evolving landscape of solutions. We embrace it. We’ve seen a marked difference in the on-focus workflow as well as use cases, especially related to artificial intelligence. This standardization and/or simplification workflow allows us to set up global centers of excellence so we can quickly scale capability while sharing key lessons learned, all while evolving and templating the way we work.  

PP: Thank you for your time, Shaun, what piece of advice do you have for those seeking to implement these technologies? 

SJ: Plan out a strategy first. This will ensure you build on previous use cases rather than reinvent the wheel. It will also help you identify all the stakeholders you need to engage throughout the project. 

Lastly, commit. Too often we see people treat a proof of concept/MVP as a science project rather than a full deployment to test a new technology. Early engagement and road mapping how the product or solution is going to work, from cradle through to maintenance, will lead to a much higher success rate. 

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