Tips on How to Do Digital Transformation

Two guys in a bar telling a joke

Tips on How to Do Digital Transformation

If you’re involved in leading a digital drive at your company, you may be interested in these handy tips for successfully driving change.


A Call for Help

A few years ago, I received an urgent email note from a complete stranger. Mike was a 23 year old engineer working at an oil and gas company, and he wanted some advice on a problem he was having at work.

Mike’s job was to travel to the gas fields and record asset details about the as-built production wells. The paper documents at home office about the wells were somehow incorrect. His instructions were to take the inaccurate paper engineering documents to the field, and make corrective notes on the documents in red ink.

In typical millennial fashion, Mike purchased an Apple mini tablet and downloaded a free app from iTunes for doing a home inventory, the kind you use for recording your stuff for insurance purposes. Except he loaded the corporate asset catalogue into the app, and used the app to build field data records.

He scanned the engineering documents using Apple’s note app, which made it available for on screen annotations. He used GPS data to auto fill the locations, and took HD photos of everything at the site. Mike and his small team of junior engineers built highly accurate, perfectly correct, electronic, fully compliant, detailed site data supported with HD photos which they dispatched back to home office, at 10 times the normal pace of work, a fraction of the error rate, for no additional cost.

After two weeks he was recalled, for some coaching. Apparently, home office was expecting incomplete, hand written, grubby paper files to trickle in once per week to be reviewed and corrected by risk reviewers, checkers, inspectors, and senior engineers, and typed into the system. They had no idea what to do with highly accurate, perfectly correct, electronic, fully compliant and detailed site data, complete with photos and annotated electronic diagrams.

Mike was told to go back to paper.

His question to me was simply this: how do I get my management to change what they’re doing?

Technical Success, People Failure

Mike’s plight underscores the most profound issue that digital innovations face in oil and gas. It’s not about the technology. Mike delivered a free technology success, but a complete workplace failure. His efforts paralleled the 97% of tech startups that fail.

Digital innovations are going to unleash enormous technology successes but in the process, the potential for huge workplace failures. Productivity should rise by at least 20% and costs should fall by 20%. Mike’s little experiment proves the point.

You can see how Mike’s approach worked (a focus on data and the use of cameras, built quickly for free, and fun for his team), and failed (no management support, poor change management, home office apathy). The winners in digital change are those that concentrate as much, if not more, on the human element of digital.

Organizational Reaction to Change

Mike ran headlong into the natural organizational responses to change that help avoid workplace failures, but at the same time kill off technology success.

  • I don’t understand digital. It doesn’t apply to us or we would have heard about it. Digital is more consumers, and we’re industry.

This reflects a profound lack of understanding of digital, and I see this most frequently at Boards and executives.

  • Digital is important, but it’s not the priority. We have to do other things, like improve safety, or grow production, or reduce costs.

This reflects a lack of leadership and executive ownership for digital.

  • Don’t worry. Digital is just the latest passing fad. It too will fade.

This reflects a failure to communicate clearly and repeatedly that digital is here to stay.

  • Digital is not our core business. it’s overhyped and sounds like consulting piffle.

This reflects a pattern of technology led change that is unconnected with true business problems.

  • Remember that ERP project we did? It was late, over budget and didn’t deliver.

This reflects a poor understanding of how digital change can be embraced, with agility and in smaller change steps.

  • My data is mine and I’m not sharing it. There’s too much risk.

This reflects a traditionalist view of data as a scarce resource, and an overreaction to cyber worries.

  • We tried that once, and it didn’t work.

This reflects oil and gas’s nature to avoid failure at all cost.

  • I’m just a year or two from retirement. Let someone else do this.

This reflects an uncompetitive organizational culture.

Antidotes to Organizational Resistance

How might you turn your technology successes into workplace successes? I offer you 7 tactics that I regularly see as the essential ingredients to drive change fast and with results.

Honour your past, define your future

Boards and executive management need to own the strategy and direction. Without clarity of direction, the Mikes in your organization will bump continually into those locked into the past.

CEO as change leader

Digital isn’t something that is best delegated deeply into the organization. The best in the industry lead digital from the front. It’s really hard to argue with the CEO. And remember, the tipping point is when 30% of your organization gets it.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Repeat.

Communicate everything — successes, trials, pilots, awards, results, promotions, failures — Share them all. Shine a light on the Mikes.

Be purpose driven, focus on business drivers

You know something’s wrong if your digital effort is called a science project. Mike’s challenge was that his solution solved his problem but did not solve the organizational problem. Take aim at real business problems that are linked to results.

Think BIG, start small, be agile

Yes, digital will be as big a change as deploying an enterprise resource system or adopting the internet, but the way forward is through a series of small projects to build that momentum. Mike’s solution, although really clever, wasn’t framed as part of a bigger change, so it could be safely ignored.

Build cyber security in

Digital creates a far greater attack surface, and you’re right to be concerned. But cyber is just the new safety. You just gotta do it.

Stay the course

An oil company tried bot technology for the first time. Their initial bot didn’t work. In fact, the first 50 iterations didn’t work correctly. But they stayed the course, in the face of completely reasonable voices arguing to stop the pain. Digital is more trial and error than we’re used to.

Next Steps

How should you move forward to create your world of technology and workplace success?

First, set your digital North Star. Where are you headed with digital and what is your ultimate aim? Your organization needs that clarity so that it can properly mobilise.

Second, educate your organization. You make no progress so long as people in your organization can legitimately say that they don’t get what you’re doing.

Third, build a business driven roadmap. Set out the specific investments that you’ll make to trial some ideas, test some thinking, and move the organization along.

Fourth, raise your data acumen. Oil and gas is generally rubbish at data. Mike’s innovation was all about creating great data, the lifeblood of digital. You’ll need to get good at it for digital to pay off.

And finally, put the foundations in place — cloud, solid enterprise solutions, cyber defense.


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

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

Mobile: ☎️ +1(587)830-6900
email: 📧 geoff@geoffreycann.com
website: 🖥 geoffreycann.com
LinkedIn: 🔵 www.linkedin.com/in/training-digital-oil-gas

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