We’ve explored the topic of digital transformation in some depth already, focusing primarily on how today’s digitalization technologies are enabling companies in the process industries (and beyond) to achieve new levels of efficiency, reliability and safety.
But it’s important to remember, all this new technology will require new and complementary skills to best apply it to your business.
The 2018 Intelligent Refinery Survey conducted by Accenture found that “lack of workforce skills and subject matter expertise” is one of the key barriers to the wider adoption of digital technologies. And it’s a concern that’s on the rise, as up to 50 percent of the energy industry workforce in the U.S. is expected to retire in the next decade, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration’s 2017 Energy Industry Profile.
“Refining leaders need to address digital skills gaps and redeploy people whose roles are being replaced by automation, and technologies like artificial intelligence,” the Accenture report notes. Already, over 20 percent of survey respondents said they are working to address the organizational changes that will be required to become truly digital.
That’s a smart move, because AI and automation will require the workforce to develop new skills to match the needs of an increasingly digital industry.
We’ve Been Through This Before
Think back to the first wave of digitalization, when in the 1970s and 1980s it became a requirement that engineers would graduate from universities with computer programming skills. As computers became more heavily relied on in plants, software programming courses were introduced since there was an expectation that an engineer would know how to use a computer — and even program it. Today, software programming courses are an after-thought in any engineering curriculum.
Similarly, going forward, engineering schools will need to place an even greater focus on data science — because we are going to see a necessary upskilling of future engineers to scale the deployment of these solutions and benefit from them.
Just as the role of a panel operator in a control room changed with the introduction of multivariable process control 30 years ago, we would expect the role of the engineer to evolve in the coming years. It will include higher-value activities as new decision-support tools and applications get deployed and sophisticated data science technologies automate tasks that previously required the attention of engineers.
Companies that attract the right talent, develop that talent and sustain the organizational capabilities critical to leveraging these technologies will be the ones that capture the full value and sustain it over time. Organizational excellence will continue to differentiate leaders from laggards.
In addition, these organizational capabilities need to be enhanced by AI solutions that package these sophisticated algorithms with the workflows and software design to facilitate their ease-of-use. This is what will truly accelerate the mass adoption of these technologies.
The digital solutions we now have at our disposal are nothing short of incredible. But at the end of the day, it’s still about having the talent, skills and capabilities in your organization to implement them in a business-optimal way. Re-thinking your organization now will pay big dividends in the future!
Learn how you can apply these technologies to your business — and discover the three keys to digital success — in my new executive brief, Digital Acceleration Opens a New Frontier of Value Creation.