Ask the Expert: Operational Risk Management in Oil & Gas

Michel Tol
December 03, 2019

In the past months, we published two Q&A blog posts where Enablon experts shared their perspectives.

The first was with Martin Vauthier, Head of Artificial Intelligence Analytics at Enablon, and included 5 questions and answers on AI in EHS.

The second was with Kyle Schiber, Product Manager of Environmental Compliance and Process Safety at Enablon, and included 5 questions and answers on environmental compliance.

This time we expand our Q&A series to our eVision colleagues. Both Enablon and eVision are Wolters Kluwer businesses, and offer EHS and Operational Risk Management (ORM) solutions to leaders in asset-intensive industries.

I spoke recently with Michel Tol, Head of Product Marketing at eVision. Michel is also a thought leader who has presented at many conferences and has been interviewed by industry publications.

I asked him five questions about ORM in the Oil & Gas industry. Here are Michel’s answers.

JG: What is the most underestimated challenge in the Oil & Gas industry? Is there a challenge that is clearly a big one, but that you feel is still not getting the attention it should?

Michel: I would say that underestimated challenges aren’t necessarily the issue…it’s the response to the challenges that is an issue, or more specifically: expectations regarding the solutions that tackle the challenges.

Think about the incredible evolution of consumer technology. Today you can do so many things with your smartphone: you can control the thermostat of your home, view what’s missing in your fridge when you shop for groceries, or even see who is at your door when the bell rings.

Oil & Gas workers are either consciously or subconsciously aware of these innovations, and they naturally have an expectation that things will trickle down to industrial technology. In other words, people are starting to expect the same features, connectivity, ease of access, and depth of integration as commodity technology.

When talking about challenges, it’s typical to hear an Oil & Gas professional say something like: “Well, I can monitor this or that with my smartphone at home, why can’t I do the same for this piece of equipment?”

That’s a challenge that people in leadership roles in Oil & Gas have to face. Their workers use consumer technology every day, and there’s a growing expectation to have the same conveniences, and bells and whistles, at work.

JG: Do you foresee a problem with a wave of potential retirements? As experienced and skilled Oil & Gas professionals retire in the near future, what challenges do you see and how can they be addressed, especially with regards to people with technical skills?

Michel: Yes, but the problem goes beyond the potential loss of knowledge and expertise. What is often underestimated is the challenge of getting younger generations to be actually interested in Oil & Gas careers.

How do you get talented and skilled people to NOT want to work in Silicon Valley or for technology firms? It’s hard to convince them not to. Many young people are very attracted to a host of other industries. But at least in Europe and North America, this is somewhat offset by the increased appeal of working in renewables (including hydro-energy, wind, and solar). This is a true growth market. However, the issue of maintaining interest in traditional Oil & Gas must be addressed.

I attended Asian Downstream Summit in Singapore in October, and a large delegation from Brunei, which included government officials, dropped by our booth. I had an interesting conversation with a high-level member of the delegation about the challenge of reinvigorating the attractiveness of the industry.

I can make a tentative comparison with attracting the younger generation to work in the military in Europe. With no active military threat, it’s complicated to recruit people. So Defense Departments must find innovative messaging and compelling methods to make a career in the military look more appealing. They must think outside the box. It’s the same challenge for the Oil & Gas industry, and the solution might be similar.

Finally, with the potential wave of retirements, transfer of knowledge is certainly an issue. But with eLearning, microlearning, and Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality, workers can learn about procedures in videos, and even receive remote assistance or remote expertise in real-time.

Picture this: A young Oil & Gas worker is inspecting an equipment on an offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico. He has some questions. Through his smart goggles, he sends a live video stream of what he’s seeing to a semi-retired Inspections expert in Arizona sitting comfortably in his couch in his living room with his smartphone. The experienced worker then guides the young worker through the process step-by-step.

JG: There’s a lot of talk about Industry 4.0. But let’s go beyond buzzwords. Suppose I’m a worker in the Oil & Gas industry. What will it mean for me and my day-to-days tasks? How will the new technological landscape affect me personally?

Michel: Through advanced visualization, frontline workers and contractors will be able to see what’s going on before they step into action.

They’ll see graphics and models of a work site to be aware of their work surroundings. This will also increase situational awareness, which is key to avoiding incidents.

I’ll use another more practical and relatable example: permits. Previously, the responsible person on site would have a pile of permits of their desk.

Before work would start, they would have to know by memory any connections between the specific work covered by the permit, and related incidents, events or lessons learned. They would then need to remember to communicate the information.

Think about all the potential for human error or oversight in the scenario I just explained. There are multiple points of potential failure. So many things could go wrong, which would result in a failure to communicate critical safety information.

With advanced software technology that is mobile-enabled and supported by Artificial Intelligence, the process is far more efficient and less prone to error. The information is delivered to the user in near real-time, synchronized with up-to-date data, providing a clearer, accurate picture of the work and work conditions.

What’s more, the permit includes information on past incidents, as well as lessons learned, such as protective measures to take. This type of additional data within this “augmented permit” is created automatically without manual processes that can lead to errors.

JG: There are many types of ORM solutions today. Let’s suppose that I’m an executive in the Oil & Gas industry and I tell you “Michel, I have a limited budget and I need to show that your product works before expanding to other modules. So I can spend on a solution right away, on another one about a year from now, and I’ll have to wait about 2-3 years before purchasing the 3rd solution”. What roadmap would you propose?

Michel: Start with something that is business critical, and that affects your workers everyday, with an obvious example being Permit to Work. Implement a cloud-enabled software solution that digitizes your permits and eliminates paperwork. This also allows you to leverage the data included in permits for other processes (hazard assessments, barrier management, etc.)

Next, after you have digitized permits, eliminate operational and data silos between EHS and ORM. In tangible terms, this means starting to enrich and augment business-critical processes with historic incident and event data that was previously kept in separate databases. There is tremendous value in unlocking that data to inform decision-making.

And finally, enable advanced analytics, especially predictive and prescriptive analytics. Do new things. Change the paradigm. Leverage operational efficiency as a factor giving you a competitive edge. Specifically, turn data and information into models where you can test scenarios before rolling them out in your operations. See the future before it happens!

JG: Looking at the four questions and answers above, it seems that one emerging, common theme is change. The Oil & Gas industry will face a wave of changes, including changes in personnel, software tools, processes, data management, etc. Change management is complex and there are many aspects to it. But if you could offer one tip on how to navigate through change, and only one, what would it be?

Michel: My top advice is the following: Involve all stakeholders across the organization. This will ensure that transitions are less disruptive, and that you get the most value out of new innovations.

I realize that the need to engage with stakeholders is something that people have heard repeatedly, but it still astonishes me that it’s not done properly in many situations. To start with, it’s critical to accurately identify all stakeholders.

For example, did you include frontline staff who will actually use these new technologies on a daily basis? What about contractors? Are you reaching out to both EHS and Operational Management staff?

Then, it’s about communicating constantly. Never take anything for granted. For example, don’t assume that sending a couple of e-mails will do the trick. You may get someone to pay attention to something only after your 3rd or 4th interaction.

Finally, listen! Involving stakeholders is not a one-way communication. You must be aware of their expectations, aspirations, concerns, and wishes.


That’s our Q&A with Michel Tol. There are plenty of interesting insights that I’m glad we shared with you. Keep following our blog for more Q&A posts with our experts!



Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

Content Thought Leader