Digitalization and Sustainability Perspectives from 2023 ARC Forum

February 09, 2023

The 27th Annual ARC Industry Leadership Forum, “Driving Sustainability, Energy Transition, and Performance through Digitalization”, concludes today, and the four-day conference wasted no time digging into hot topics with industry-leading speakers. The conversations were broad and engaging and ranged from how to ensure digitalization continues to progress as it enters “mid-life,” to how to reduce the failure rate of Asset Predictive Maintenance, to how to make sustainability sustainable. While there are too many great sessions for one person to fully cover, here are a few highlights from the few I was able to attend.

Avoiding the Digitalization Doldrums

Greg Gorbach, Vice President and Manager of ARC’s Digitalization and IoT Group, had one of the opening sessions titled “Digital Transformation Growing Pains.” Digital transformation is key to customers successfully meeting the very real challenges of today. He noted that it is critically important for a number of reasons, including for the sustainability imperative – including decarbonization, GHG tracking, ESG reporting, the circular economy, energy management and more – as well as supply chain volatility, workforce transformations, and the importance of operational efficiency.

According to recent ARC research, however, while most manufacturers have made some progress along their journeys, only about one-third have reported that they are well underway. Fifteen percent reported they have not yet started. Pushback is emerging about the resource requirements, the limited scope of initial success, payback and prioritization vs other sustainability programs.  However, as Allen Pertuit, Vice President, Downstream Projects at Shell summed up during his keynote address, “Be patient. Transformation is good, but it is a marathon.  Some initiatives introduced at Shell four years ago are only now getting broad implementation.”

At the end of the session, Gorbach’s advice covered how to speed adoption and address challenges. This included aligning with the organization’s overarching goals, emphasizing innovation and transformation as a strategic measure, prioritizing transformation targets, developing the skillsets to effectively execute strategies and properly resourcing each digital transformation building block

Don’t Fail with your APM Implementation

My colleagues Pratibha Pillalamarri, John Campbell and Nithiya Parameswaran had the pleasure of hosting a workshop entitled “Improving Plant Productivity and Advancing Sustainability with APM Solutions.” Joining them on stage were Eric Casto, Manager of Industrial Digital Programs at Braskem and Shaun Johnston, VP of Applied Intelligence at Wood. More than 60 attendees were present and actively engaged in the discussion as well.

One of the keys to ensuring APM efforts find success, Casto said, was “start small and grow with your APM initiatives.” No matter how big or small the project, it is critical to get alignment with senior leadership upfront about what you will do if it is successful and needs to grow. Participants also heard that while data is a critical part of APM, if it is to be useful it must be effectively harnessed. As one audience member commented, “data is everywhere at sites and machines, but there are different means of collecting it. It is often difficult to look at collectively.”

He also noted some of the drivers that can motivate people to take on these projects. “People get into engineering because they like to solve problems,” Casto said. “A major benefit of APM technology is that it gives people back the time to solve problems that aren’t associated with equipment downtime.”  On to the topic of AI, Johnson commented, “AI can help provide clever answers while also speeding the time it takes to reach an answer.” Ultimately, panel members said, one of the biggest APM advantages is its impact on people. It results in better work/life balance for employees by reducing the need for manual work and frees up time for the technical team time to focus on critical things like innovation.

Finally, a clear linkage between APM and Sustainability exists, Casto said.  “The most waste we have is during startups and shutdowns,” he pointed out.  “APM ensures that there are fewer of these.” Which leads me to the final topic.

Make Sustainability Sustainable

Tuesday’s kickoff session featured five executives from across industries, including AspenTech’s President and CEO Antonio Pietri, taking part in a panel led by Andy Chatha, President and CEO of ARC. Audience members were highly engaged as well and asked a range of questions.

Among the key points that Pietri raised was an acknowledgment of the dual challenge companies face today, in meeting the growing demand for resources from a growing population with increasing standards of living, while also addressing sustainability goals. He also noted that the same chemistry and physics that underpins today’s hydrocarbon fuels can also be applied to renewables like hydrogen, biofuels and other alternative energies. Companies with deep expertise in that chemistry will play an important role in the shift.


As new technologies emerge, it will be critical that they are relevant to the newer generation of users, both in terms of their sustainability and ease of use. While training will be critical to ensure the next generation can apply technologies, so too is the recognition that many younger workers have an expectation of “two clicks and the task is done.” As Pertuit noted, some new interfaces are actually modeled after Xbox controllers, because that’s what the next generation of users are most familiar with.

Until Next Year

Many thanks to ARC for hosting yet another very informative and engaging event. While my sampling of sessions was by no means comprehensive, a focus on operational excellence, digitalization and sustainability were common threads in sessions, over lunch, and throughout the halls. The conversations raised many insightful challenges and opportunities as the industry continues to push digital transformation forward and works to achieve critical sustainability objectives.

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