Seasons Greetings from Digital Oil and Gas

Christmas ornament on a pine bow

Seasons Greetings from Digital Oil and Gas

As the thin Canadian winter sunlight lengthens the shadows of the north, it’s a fine time to settle down with a Dalwhinnie 15 year old single malt, reflect on the year just passed, and contemplate the year to come. For me and Digital Oil and Gas, 2019 has been a major year of product development.

Highlights of 2019

It began on January 9, when my book, ‘Bits, Bytes, and Barrels’, was soft released to the major on-line book platforms, followed by its launch party at the Calgary Petroleum Club on January 30. Since then, the book has sold (we think) around 4000 copies—the book platforms make it devilishly hard to count actual units—and has handily paid back the hard dollar costs of C$25k to bring it to market. It’s easily double our original target.

If the hard copy version was a success, then surely the audio version would also be a winner. We began work on it in April and published it in July, hoping to catch the summer listening market. Using the voice talents of Paul Boucher, and the technical chops of Jason Lawrence, we cranked out 10 individual audio recordings, tightly edited to meet Audible’s quite precise specifications. By the end of December, 275 copies had been sold, which is, quite frankly, well below where it should be considering how much windshield time there is in the US oil and gas industry. We live in hope.

The next big project was to design and deliver a one-day in-person training experience for Alberta Innovates. I’ve discovered that there is a fair amount of interest in digital awareness training, because of the huge gap in understanding about digital in general, and on the impacts of digital on oil and gas in particular. Many other companies have since purchased the training, as they have also recognized that unless (and until) their resources get across the basic digital concepts, they stand little chance to achieve the outcomes they want.

The success of this corporate course prompted a public course offering, and working with Michele Taylor, I attempted to stand up a comparable high quality and replicable course. This didn’t work at all. We tried several markets (including Calgary, Houston and Sarnia), but there is zero interest. I think it’s a case of poor timing.

The challenge of the in-person training experience is that it doesn’t scale. I’m the bottle neck as I am at present the sole instructor, and I can deliver at best 2 or 3 courses per week, with travel. In response, my final heavy lift of the year was to record the on-line course version of the in-person training. The entire Digital Oil and Gas team decamped on a retreat to develop 7.5 hours of recorded video lectures and companion visuals and quizzes that would become the new on-line offering, now available on Udemy.

And in between all of this developmental activity, I also:

  • Attended or presented at 22 separate events and panel discussions
  • Recorded 2 webinars
  • Published 32 blog posts
  • Published 34 podcasts
  • Interviewed 8 technology entrepreneurs for the podcast series

Looking to 2020

In the coming year, I expect to continue building on the commercial success of the book and its various spin-off products. We’ll release captions for the on-line training course. A second version of the on-line course is in the works, improving the lecture quality, beefing up the quizzes and incorporating more variety in the lecture formats.

My co-author, Rachael Goydan, has already hinted that we might need to start work on Bits, Bytes, and Barrels 2.0. There’s now a gathering body of work in the industry to suggest that there are lessons to take on board, tactics that work and have generated real results, and all manner of trials that demonstrate clearly what does not work.

I’m keen to get the book into other languages, although that is dependent on the publishing industry. The languages that I think are most relevant are Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Chinese, and I’m very open to your solicitations in that regard.

The blog and podcast series will continue in their present form, and I expect a lot more interviews with digital and oil industry participants.

I also expect the speaking engagements, book signings, and panel discussions to continue apace, with much more emphasis on the international market. Not to read too much into it, but I think the international market is keen to learn what the western markets are doing. I’m already booked out for speaking in London, Madrid, Calgary and Houston in 2020.

Lessons from the Year

Here are my 5 key takeaways from spending this past year focused on helping managers everywhere accelerate digital energy.

1) Digital is real

Enough companies have experimented with digital to satisfy themselves that it’s real. CIOs need no convincing. From their perspective, digital tourism is now over, and companies now need to start investing to capture value. Waiting any longer will create quite serious competitive problems in a few years time. Meanwhile, the size of the prize is now well established, very large, and a career maker for the ambitious.

2) General managers have upside

Despite the track records of success being laid down by the early adopters, many general managers (that is, those not working in technology), still lack even a simple grasp of the digital basics. They’re going to have to get a move on, or they will build up a technical debt that will have to be paid. Payment may even be with an inorganic career change (read dismissal from post for being a digital laggard). Meanwhile, those that do work on digital are getting promoted, future-proofing their careers and getting invited to bigger tables.

3) Education is catching up

The education sector is not on pace with the changes taking place in digital. The more I learn about education, the less surprising this is, but companies should expect the next generation of workers to be less au-courant with digital in their field (engineering, geology, instrumentation). There will need to be an investment in your existing people as there will not be enough digital talent to go around. Meanwhile, your people are desperate for training—they worry about their relevance in the future.

4) Talent wants in on digital

Many young people have confided with me their profound discouragement with the managers in oil and gas. Very few managers, it seems, encourage any change, are willing to entertain conversation about how digital could make a difference, and are prepared to invest in their people in up-skilling in digital areas. Unless managers change, I fear that talent is going to vote with their feet and move over to the digital industry or leave oil and gas altogether. Meanwhile, those that do cut the green beans a little slack are amazed at what the juniors can deliver with little support.

5) The future may be Asian

It’s accurate that North American oil and gas companies have advantages relative to their international peers by virtue of being in proximity to the center of the digital universe. However, digital technologies are very democratic — low cost, widely distributed, easily deployed. The most innovative developments in oil and gas may well not be in North America — the market here is not growing, climate regulations are going in reverse, and there are now some meaningful digital behemoths in Asia. Meanwhile, those with international exposure are very well placed to pick up the trends and innovations that could prove to be very disruptive.


In closing, let me thank you for reading my work and following me in my various activities. I respond personally to every comment and call, and I am grateful for any feedback, no matter the content, so that my work can improve.

And I wish you the very best for the holiday season and the coming new year!

Finally, a very special thank you to my niece Jennifer who contributed this week’s artwork. She inked the drawing using my trusty iPad while at her family cottage just outside Kingston.



Check out my new book, ‘Bits, Bytes, and Barrels: The Digital Transformation of Oil and Gas’, available on Amazon and other on-line bookshops.

Take Digital Oil and Gas, the one-day on-line awareness course.

Mobile: ☎️ +1(587)830-6900
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