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No More Yellow Pages: Social Changes Building Products Industry

Jennifer Scholze

Gone are the days when consumers turned to the Yellow Pages to look up the number for a local repairman, or asked a neighbor to recommend a home repair product. Now, consumers are Googling YouTube videos to fix a leaky pipe or running toilet. They’re pursuing DIY blogs and Pinterest pages to plan home renovations. And they’re taking to Yelp and other review sites to voice their displeasure over product or service problems.

Most consumers – 88% – trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, reports BrightLocal. Great online reviews can turn your new product into an overnight success. Conversely, bad reviews not only sink your product’s sales, but can also undermine your brand’s integrity and reputation. In a virtual sea of tweets, pins, likes, favorites, shares, and comments, how can a business keep pace with what’s being said about it and its products?

The solution: social listening and social engagement. Companies must take advantage of social networks and online review sites in B2B and B2C to create a new world of selling opportunities and product improvements. This includes sensing demand, generating leads, engaging consumers throughout the sales cycle, and prompting responding to customer dissatisfaction/product concerns.

Leaders in the building products industry must learn to better integrate social media, quality management, traceability, and targeted marketing to increase customer satisfaction, shrink the sales funnel, and reduce warrantee costs.

From online commentary to offline action: a social engagement case study

Check out this infographic, which includes an example of a real-time building products business process.  The graphic demonstrates how social engagement is closely connected with supplier collaboration, business networks, workforce engagement, and Big Data analysis.

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In the first step, end-consumers connect via mobile and social. A variety of valuable data is left behind on the web, ready to be analyzed and turned into action. This data ranges from users’ product review ratings on a website to consumers tweeting about their preference for one product feature over another.

Next, the building products company screens the social networks and consumer rating of its products. Structured and unstructured data are considered, and data from other sources supplement the data pool. Big Data analysis reveals three major areas that seem to be dominant on the Web: a quality issue, missing product features, and happy customers.

The data about the quality issue is sent over to the engineering and quality management department for further investigation of the issue. As a result, an engineering change request with high priority is issued. The user manual is updated to more explicitly tell the end consumer about the correct usage of the product. This new manual is published via various channels.

The marketing and sales department looks into requested product features and the significant number of happy customers.

Social engagement in the real world: 3 examples

Social engagement starts with identifying and engaging prospective customers early in the sales cycle. This allows your business to frame the buying process in your favor. For example, Mohawk Industries, Inc. is using social listening to identify prospective customers on Twitter, engage these customers with tweets, and then close transactions–all without leaving the Twittersphere. Lowe’s has a Pinterest “Build It!” board dedicated to DIY product ideas. Pins include links back to Lowe’s website so consumers can instantly purchase necessary project supplies.

Social engagement also means partnering with virtual influencers to amplify marketing messages. Kohler, for example, partnered with popular “Mommy Blogger” Elle Walker to create a video called How to Potty Train Your Kid in 5 Seconds. The video, featuring Kohler’s touchless toilet technology, became an overnight viral sensation, amassing more than 7 million views. James Sandora, Kohler’s director of global digital strategy and management, told AdAge that the video has generated “significantly more engagement than any other content we’ve created.” Purchase intent registered via social media shot up, says Sandora, who indicated the video’s success was driving a whole new social media listening and engagement strategy for the ceramics manufacturer.

Start the digital journey

Your business cannot be everywhere at once. So how will you know when a customer tweets about wanting to buy your product, or worse, tweets a complaint about a recent purchase? Failing to immediately respond means missed sales opportunities and unhappy customers. And even if you did know when a customer tweeted about a product problem, how could you get this information to your products team in a timely manner to address the issue with future models? Social tech solutions can help.

Click here to learn more about digital transformation in the building products industry. To download the white paper, Digital Transformation in Building Products, click here.

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About Jennifer Scholze

Jennifer Scholze is the Global Lead for Industry Marketing for the Mill Products and Mining Industries at SAP. She has over 20 years of technology marketing, communications and venture capital experience and lives in the Boston area with her husband and two children.

Digitalist Flash Briefing: Using Social Media to Streamline Customer Interactions

Peter Johnson

Today, we’re looking at another company that uses digital tools to meet their audience online.

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Peter Johnson

About Peter Johnson

Peter Johnson is a Senior Director of Marketing Strategy and Thought Leadership at SAP, responsible for developing easy to understand corporate level and cross solution messaging. Peter has proven experience leading innovative programs to accelerate and scale Go-To-Market activities, and drive operational efficiencies at industry leading solution providers and global manufactures respectively.

Four Big Reasons Your Email Campaigns Are Being Ignored

Michael Brenner

If you put email messages, Facebook posts, Tweets, and blog posts in a room and told them to duke it out, last-man-standing style, I guarantee you—email would win. Your email messages are far more powerful than your other digital channels when it comes to making a marketing impact.

Blogs may generate leads like a machine and social media can grow your brand’s reputation like a gardener with two green thumbs, but your email messaging is the glue that keeps the whole content marketing strategy together. This is because email is where you are reaching out to them, a still necessary concept in the era of inbound marketing.

Email drives more conversions than both search and social. Your messages are five times more likely to be viewed than your Facebook posts, 40 times more likely to lead to customer acquisition than your well-planned social media campaign, and (take a deep breath for this one), the potential ROI of email marketing is 3800%.

It is email that keeps your leads interested, makes your existing customers feel involved, and even serves as a jump-off point for your thought-provoking blog posts, can’t-miss videos, and other content that your curated contact list needs to see.

Your email campaigns are what let people know what is going on, from promotional deals to industry news, and maintain your relevance more than anything else. From B2B email newsletters that hook your quality leads to those elegantly formatted transactional and follow-up emails that work your customer retention magic, email marketing is more effective than many businesses are aware of.

Are you getting $38 back for every $1 spent on email? If your emails aren’t getting opened and you aren’t getting the acquisitions, conversions, and returns that this channel is capable of offering, then it’s time to examine your methods to find out why your email campaigns are being ignored.

1. Your headlines aren’t irresistable

Think about it. Most people check their email every day. Especially with mobile email, it is more convenient than ever to sift through our inboxes whenever we feel like it. Lots of email interaction happens at the office – a report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that 28% of the average work week is taken up by email.

But, more relevant for marketers, it’s also happening while at various points throughout the day. It is estimated that half of Americans check their email while sitting in bed. 42% are checking while in the bathroom.

We can conclude that your target market is opening and reading some messages. If people aren’t opening your email, it is because your headlines aren’t enticing enough. We are clearly glued to our digital communications. As long as you have something of value or interest to share, you’re going to get attention.

And that’s the key to creating an irresistible email subject line: hinting at something of value or interest. You want your recipient to think, “I better open that one and see what it says. Don’t want to miss out on what’s inside.”

Here are some examples:

  • Did you know this?
  • Don’t make this mistake! (I did)
  • Save $52 – Today!
  • Question about your career/work/health/specific goal…

All of these subjects evoke a natural response of curiosity. Not every recipient will click on your message, but emphasizing the importance of intrigue in the subject line is going to increase your email open rates.

Make your subject lines promise something more inside, without over-promising, of course. False promises are a great technique for shortening your contact list.

2. Your email isn’t primed for mobile

With so many emails being opened on mobile devices (anywhere from 20 to 75 percent depending on your industry), it’s important to craft email campaigns that are mobile-friendly. What does that mean? Basically, keep things short and concise.

  • Keep your subject lines short. Mobile devices tend to display only between 25 and 30 characters.
  • Screen sizes are small. The smaller your email content, the more likely it is to be read.
  • Leverage your pre-header text. That first line of copy in your email will show up along with the sender’s name and subject line on a mobile device. Use this to your advantage.
  • CTAs should be glaringly obvious–just in case someone is checking their email while doing other important tasks. One, in some cases two, CTA buttons are appropriate. Any more than this will dilute your messaging in the limited space you have to work with.

Here’s a great example Campaign Monitor shared of CTA design in an email for Freshbooks:

It’s easy to recognize and click on, even if you are in the middle of chopping veggies or walking home from work.

3. Your timing is off

This is where marketing automation offers such an immense value. You can time when your emails are sent, creating a seamless experience for your target recipients. What day and at time your emails are sent does matter if you want them to not be overlooked.

From birthday emails offering a special deal to timely reminders about a service about to expire, when you send can make the difference between meaningful and meaningless. Hubspot shared an excellent example of the power of timing: Eater Boston sent out an email at 6:45 pm on a Wednesday night titled, “Where to Drink Beer Right Now.” This type of strategic timing can make your email metrics go through the roof.

4. You are not being personal enough

Personalization is paramount when it comes to email marketing. Simply adding an element of personalization in the subject line and within the content can dramatically increase your open rates and click rates.

Email personalization is a true digital marketing art form in its own right. There are plenty of techniques you can use, and they all revolve around understanding who is reading your email and segmenting. Consider what tone of voice your target recipients will be most interested in relating to–casual, uplifting, professional, sarcastic?

It’s also important to pay attention to content. Depending on the business you are marketing for, it may make sense to segment your contact lists based on what products or services your buyers and leads are interested in. For example, a software company may send out completely different weekly emails for customers who have subscribed to varying tiers of service.

A/B testing was born to help you create better email campaigns

Email marketing is an effective digital marketing tool that you can’t afford to neglect. If you’re not getting the results you should, as with all facets of modern marketing, then it’s time to refine your strategy. Make adjustments–or start from scratch–in order to motivate your contacts to open your emails, read what you have to say, and click on your CTAs to move further down the sales funnel.

When you’re not sure what will work, A/B testing is a marketer’s best friend. From colors and timing to subject lines and tone of voice, don’t hold back when it comes to good old A/B testing to ensure you are crafting the most impactful email campaigns possible to engage, inspire, and relationship-build with your market.

For more on email marketing strategies that get results, see Why Email Marketing Is Making A Comeback In 2017.

Source links for images: Business InsiderCampaign MonitorInvespcroPixabay 

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About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of  The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider GroupHe has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and   a top  CMO influencer by Forbes.

Data Lakes: Deep Insights

Timo Elliott, John Schitka, Michael Eacrett, and Carolyn Marsan

Dan McCaffrey has an ambitious goal: solving the world’s looming food shortage.

As vice president of data and analytics at The Climate Corporation (Climate), which is a subsidiary of Monsanto, McCaffrey leads a team of data scientists and engineers who are building an information platform that collects massive amounts of agricultural data and applies machine-learning techniques to discover new patterns. These analyses are then used to help farmers optimize their planting.

“By 2050, the world is going to have too many people at the current rate of growth. And with shrinking amounts of farmland, we must find more efficient ways to feed them. So science is needed to help solve these things,” McCaffrey explains. “That’s what excites me.”

“The deeper we can go into providing recommendations on farming practices, the more value we can offer the farmer,” McCaffrey adds.

But to deliver that insight, Climate needs data—and lots of it. That means using remote sensing and other techniques to map every field in the United States and then combining that information with climate data, soil observations, and weather data. Climate’s analysts can then produce a massive data store that they can query for insights.

Meanwhile, precision tractors stream data into Climate’s digital agriculture platform, which farmers can then access from iPads through easy data flow and visualizations. They gain insights that help them optimize their seeding rates, soil health, and fertility applications. The overall goal is to increase crop yields, which in turn boosts a farmer’s margins.

Climate is at the forefront of a push toward deriving valuable business insight from Big Data that isn’t just big, but vast. Companies of all types—from agriculture through transportation and financial services to retail—are tapping into massive repositories of data known as data lakes. They hope to discover correlations that they can exploit to expand product offerings, enhance efficiency, drive profitability, and discover new business models they never knew existed.

The internet democratized access to data and information for billions of people around the world. Ironically, however, access to data within businesses has traditionally been limited to a chosen few—until now. Today’s advances in memory, storage, and data tools make it possible for companies both large and small to cost effectively gather and retain a huge amount of data, both structured (such as data in fields in a spreadsheet or database) and unstructured (such as e-mails or social media posts). They can then allow anyone in the business to access this massive data lake and rapidly gather insights.

It’s not that companies couldn’t do this before; they just couldn’t do it cost effectively and without a lengthy development effort by the IT department. With today’s massive data stores, line-of-business executives can generate queries themselves and quickly churn out results—and they are increasingly doing so in real time. Data lakes have democratized both the access to data and its role in business strategy.

Indeed, data lakes move data from being a tactical tool for implementing a business strategy to being a foundation for developing that strategy through a scientific-style model of experimental thinking, queries, and correlations. In the past, companies’ curiosity was limited by the expense of storing data for the long term. Now companies can keep data for as long as it’s needed. And that means companies can continue to ask important questions as they arise, enabling them to future-proof their strategies.

Prescriptive Farming

Climate’s McCaffrey has many questions to answer on behalf of farmers. Climate provides several types of analytics to farmers including descriptive services, which are metrics about the farm and its operations, and predictive services related to weather and soil fertility. But eventually the company hopes to provide prescriptive services, helping farmers address all the many decisions they make each year to achieve the best outcome at the end of the season. Data lakes will provide the answers that enable Climate to follow through on its strategy.

Behind the scenes at Climate is a deep-science data lake that provides insights, such as predicting the fertility of a plot of land by combining many data sets to create accurate models. These models allow Climate to give farmers customized recommendations based on how their farm is performing.

“Machine learning really starts to work when you have the breadth of data sets from tillage to soil to weather, planting, harvest, and pesticide spray,” McCaffrey says. “The more data sets we can bring in, the better machine learning works.”

The deep-science infrastructure already has terabytes of data but is poised for significant growth as it handles a flood of measurements from field-based sensors.

“That’s really scaling up now, and that’s what’s also giving us an advantage in our ability to really personalize our advice to farmers at a deeper level because of the information we’re getting from sensor data,” McCaffrey says. “As we roll that out, our scale is going to increase by several magnitudes.”

Also on the horizon is more real-time data analytics. Currently, Climate receives real-time data from its application that streams data from the tractor’s cab, but most of its analytics applications are run nightly or even seasonally.

In August 2016, Climate expanded its platform to third-party developers so other innovators can also contribute data, such as drone-captured data or imagery, to the deep-science lake.

“That helps us in a lot of ways, in that we can get more data to help the grower,” McCaffrey says. “It’s the machine learning that allows us to find the insights in all of the data. Machine learning allows us to take mathematical shortcuts as long as you’ve got enough data and enough breadth of data.”

Predictive Maintenance

Growth is essential for U.S. railroads, which reinvest a significant portion of their revenues in maintenance and improvements to their track systems, locomotives, rail cars, terminals, and technology. With an eye on growing its business while also keeping its costs down, CSX, a transportation company based in Jacksonville, Florida, is adopting a strategy to make its freight trains more reliable.

In the past, CSX maintained its fleet of locomotives through regularly scheduled maintenance activities, which prevent failures in most locomotives as they transport freight from shipper to receiver. To achieve even higher reliability, CSX is tapping into a data lake to power predictive analytics applications that will improve maintenance activities and prevent more failures from occurring.

Beyond improving customer satisfaction and raising revenue, CSX’s new strategy also has major cost implications. Trains are expensive assets, and it’s critical for railroads to drive up utilization, limit unplanned downtime, and prevent catastrophic failures to keep the costs of those assets down.

That’s why CSX is putting all the data related to the performance and maintenance of its locomotives into a massive data store.

“We are then applying predictive analytics—or, more specifically, machine-learning algorithms—on top of that information that we are collecting to look for failure signatures that can be used to predict failures and prescribe maintenance activities,” says Michael Hendrix, technical director for analytics at CSX. “We’re really looking to better manage our fleet and the maintenance activities that go into that so we can run a more efficient network and utilize our assets more effectively.”

“In the past we would have to buy a special storage device to store large quantities of data, and we’d have to determine cost benefits to see if it was worth it,” says Donna Crutchfield, assistant vice president of information architecture and strategy at CSX. “So we were either letting the data die naturally, or we were only storing the data that was determined to be the most important at the time. But today, with the new technologies like data lakes, we’re able to store and utilize more of this data.”

CSX can now combine many different data types, such as sensor data from across the rail network and other systems that measure movement of its cars, and it can look for correlations across information that wasn’t previously analyzed together.

One of the larger data sets that CSX is capturing comprises the findings of its “wheel health detectors” across the network. These devices capture different signals about the bearings in the wheels, as well as the health of the wheels in terms of impact, sound, and heat.

“That volume of data is pretty significant, and what we would typically do is just look for signals that told us whether the wheel was bad and if we needed to set the car aside for repair. We would only keep the raw data for 10 days because of the volume and then purge everything but the alerts,” Hendrix says.

With its data lake, CSX can keep the wheel data for as long as it likes. “Now we’re starting to capture that data on a daily basis so we can start applying more machine-learning algorithms and predictive models across a larger history,” Hendrix says. “By having the full data set, we can better look for trends and patterns that will tell us if something is going to fail.”

Another key ingredient in CSX’s data set is locomotive oil. By analyzing oil samples, CSX is developing better predictions of locomotive failure. “We’ve been able to determine when a locomotive would fail and predict it far enough in advance so we could send it down for maintenance and prevent it from failing while in use,” Crutchfield says.

“Between the locomotives, the tracks, and the freight cars, we will be looking at various ways to predict those failures and prevent them so we can improve our asset allocation. Then we won’t need as many assets,” she explains. “It’s like an airport. If a plane has a failure and it’s due to connect at another airport, all the passengers have to be reassigned. A failure affects the system like dominoes. It’s a similar case with a railroad. Any failure along the road affects our operations. Fewer failures mean more asset utilization. The more optimized the network is, the better we can service the customer.”

Detecting Fraud Through Correlations

Traditionally, business strategy has been a very conscious practice, presumed to emanate mainly from the minds of experienced executives, daring entrepreneurs, or high-priced consultants. But data lakes take strategy out of that rarefied realm and put it in the environment where just about everything in business seems to be going these days: math—specifically, the correlations that emerge from applying a mathematical algorithm to huge masses of data.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a nonprofit group that regulates broker behavior in the United States, used to rely on the experience of its employees to come up with strategies for combating fraud and insider trading. It still does that, but now FINRA has added a data lake to find patterns that a human might never see.

Overall, FINRA processes over five petabytes of transaction data from multiple sources every day. By switching from traditional database and storage technology to a data lake, FINRA was able to set up a self-service process that allows analysts to query data themselves without involving the IT department; search times dropped from several hours to 90 seconds.

While traditional databases were good at defining relationships with data, such as tracking all the transactions from a particular customer, the new data lake configurations help users identify relationships that they didn’t know existed.

Leveraging its data lake, FINRA creates an environment for curiosity, empowering its data experts to search for suspicious patterns of fraud, marketing manipulation, and compliance. As a result, FINRA was able to hand out 373 fines totaling US$134.4 million in 2016, a new record for the agency, according to Law360.

Data Lakes Don’t End Complexity for IT

Though data lakes make access to data and analysis easier for the business, they don’t necessarily make the CIO’s life a bed of roses. Implementations can be complex, and companies rarely want to walk away from investments they’ve already made in data analysis technologies, such as data warehouses.

“There have been so many millions of dollars going to data warehousing over the last two decades. The idea that you’re just going to move it all into a data lake isn’t going to happen,” says Mike Ferguson, managing director of Intelligent Business Strategies, a UK analyst firm. “It’s just not compelling enough of a business case.” But Ferguson does see data lake efficiencies freeing up the capacity of data warehouses to enable more query, reporting, and analysis.

Data lakes also don’t free companies from the need to clean up and manage data as part of the process required to gain these useful insights. “The data comes in very raw, and it needs to be treated,” says James Curtis, senior analyst for data platforms and analytics at 451 Research. “It has to be prepped and cleaned and ready.”

Companies must have strong data governance processes, as well. Customers are increasingly concerned about privacy, and rules for data usage and compliance have become stricter in some areas of the globe, such as the European Union.

Companies must create data usage policies, then, that clearly define who can access, distribute, change, delete, or otherwise manipulate all that data. Companies must also make sure that the data they collect comes from a legitimate source.

Many companies are responding by hiring chief data officers (CDOs) to ensure that as more employees gain access to data, they use it effectively and responsibly. Indeed, research company Gartner predicts that 90% of large companies will have a CDO by 2019.

Data lakes can be configured in a variety of ways: centralized or distributed, with storage on premise or in the cloud or both. Some companies have more than one data lake implementation.

“A lot of my clients try their best to go centralized for obvious reasons. It’s much simpler to manage and to gather your data in one place,” says Ferguson. “But they’re often plagued somewhere down the line with much more added complexity and realize that in many cases the data lake has to be distributed to manage data across multiple data stores.”

Meanwhile, the massive capacities of data lakes mean that data that once flowed through a manageable spigot is now blasting at companies through a fire hose.

“We’re now dealing with data coming out at extreme velocity or in very large volumes,” Ferguson says. “The idea that people can manually keep pace with the number of data sources that are coming into the enterprise—it’s just not realistic any more. We have to find ways to take complexity away, and that tends to mean that we should automate. The expectation is that the information management software, like an information catalog for example, can help a company accelerate the onboarding of data and automatically classify it, profile it, organize it, and make it easy to find.”

Beyond the technical issues, IT and the business must also make important decisions about how data lakes will be managed and who will own the data, among other things (see How to Avoid Drowning in the Lake).

How to Avoid Drowning in the Lake

The benefits of data lakes can be squandered if you don’t manage the implementation and data ownership carefully.

Deploying and managing a massive data store is a big challenge. Here’s how to address some of the most common issues that companies face:

Determine the ROI. Developing a data lake is not a trivial undertaking. You need a good business case, and you need a measurable ROI. Most importantly, you need initial questions that can be answered by the data, which will prove its value.

Find data owners. As devices with sensors proliferate across the organization, the issue of data ownership becomes more important.

Have a plan for data retention. Companies used to have to cull data because it was too expensive to store. Now companies can become data hoarders. How long do you store it? Do you keep it forever?

Manage descriptive data. Software that allows you to tag all the data in one or multiple data lakes and keep it up-to-date is not mature yet. We still need tools to bring the metadata together to support self-service and to automate metadata to speed up the preparation, integration, and analysis of data.

Develop data curation skills. There is a huge skills gap for data repository development. But many people will jump at the chance to learn these new skills if companies are willing to pay for training and certification.

Be agile enough to take advantage of the findings. It used to be that you put in a request to the IT department for data and had to wait six months for an answer. Now, you get the answer immediately. Companies must be agile to take advantage of the insights.

Secure the data. Besides the perennial issues of hacking and breaches, a lot of data lakes software is open source and less secure than typical enterprise-class software.

Measure the quality of data. Different users can work with varying levels of quality in their data. For example, data scientists working with a huge number of data points might not need completely accurate data, because they can use machine learning to cluster data or discard outlying data as needed. However, a financial analyst might need the data to be completely correct.

Avoid creating new silos. Data lakes should work with existing data architectures, such as data warehouses and data marts.

From Data Queries to New Business Models

The ability of data lakes to uncover previously hidden data correlations can massively impact any part of the business. For example, in the past, a large soft drink maker used to stock its vending machines based on local bottlers’ and delivery people’s experience and gut instincts. Today, using vast amounts of data collected from sensors in the vending machines, the company can essentially treat each machine like a retail store, optimizing the drink selection by time of day, location, and other factors. Doing this kind of predictive analysis was possible before data lakes came along, but it wasn’t practical or economical at the individual machine level because the amount of data required for accurate predictions was simply too large.

The next step is for companies to use the insights gathered from their massive data stores not just to become more efficient and profitable in their existing lines of business but also to actually change their business models.

For example, product companies could shield themselves from the harsh light of comparison shopping by offering the use of their products as a service, with sensors on those products sending the company a constant stream of data about when they need to be repaired or replaced. Customers are spared the hassle of dealing with worn-out products, and companies are protected from competition as long as customers receive the features, price, and the level of service they expect. Further, companies can continuously gather and analyze data about customers’ usage patterns and equipment performance to find ways to lower costs and develop new services.

Data for All

Given the tremendous amount of hype that has surrounded Big Data for years now, it’s tempting to dismiss data lakes as a small step forward in an already familiar technology realm. But it’s not the technology that matters as much as what it enables organizations to do. By making data available to anyone who needs it, for as long as they need it, data lakes are a powerful lever for innovation and disruption across industries.

“Companies that do not actively invest in data lakes will truly be left behind,” says Anita Raj, principal growth hacker at DataRPM, which sells predictive maintenance applications to manufacturers that want to take advantage of these massive data stores. “So it’s just the option of disrupt or be disrupted.” D!

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.


About the Authors:

Timo Elliott is Vice President, Global Innovation Evangelist, at SAP.

John Schitka is Senior Director, Solution Marketing, Big Data Analytics, at SAP.

Michael Eacrett is Vice President, Product Management, Big Data, Enterprise Information Management, and SAP Vora, at SAP.

Carolyn Marsan is a freelance writer who focuses on business and technology topics.

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About Timo Elliott

Timo Elliott is an Innovation Evangelist for SAP and a passionate advocate of innovation, digital business, analytics, and artificial intelligence. He was the eighth employee of BusinessObjects and for the last 25 years he has worked closely with SAP customers around the world on new technology directions and their impact on real-world organizations. His articles have appeared in articles such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, ZDNet, The Guardian, and Digitalist Magazine. He has worked in the UK, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Silicon Valley, and currently lives in Paris, France. He has a degree in Econometrics and a patent in mobile analytics. 

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Artificial Intelligence: The Future Of Oil And Gas

Anoop Srivastava

Oil prices have fallen dramatically over last few years, forcing some major oil companies to take drastic actions such as layoffs, cutting investments and budgets, and more. Shell, for example, shelved its plan to invest in Qatar, Aramco put on hold its deep-water exploration in the Red Sea, Schlumberger fired a few thousand employees, and the list goes on…

In view of falling oil prices and the resulting squeeze on cash flows, the oil and gas industry has been challenged to adapt and optimize its performance to remain profitable while maintaining a long-term investment and operating outlook. Currently, oil and gas companies find it difficult to maintain the same level of investment in exploration and production as when crude prices were at their peak. Operations in the oil and gas industry today means balancing a dizzying array of trade-offs in the drive for competitive advantage while maximizing return on investment.

The result is a dire need to optimize performance and optimize the cost of production per barrel. Companies have many optimization opportunities once they start using the massive data being generated by oil fields. Oil and gas companies can turn this crisis into an opportunity by leveraging technological innovations like artificial intelligence to build a foundation for long-term success. If volatility in oil prices is the new norm, the push for “value over volume” is the key to success going forward.

Using AI tools, upstream oil and gas companies can shift their approach from production at all costs to producing in context. They will need to do profit and loss management at the well level to optimize the production cost per barrel. To do this, they must integrate all aspects of production management, collect the data for analysis and forecasting, and leverage artificial intelligence to optimize operations.

When remote sensors are connected to wireless networks, data can be collected and centrally analyzed from any location. According to the consulting firm McKinsey, the oil and gas supply chain stands to gain $50 billion in savings and increased profit by adopting AI. As an example, using AI algorithms to more accurately sift through signals and noise in seismic data can decrease dry wellhead development by 10 percent.

How oil and gas can leverage artificial intelligence

1. Planning and forecasting

On a macro scale, deep machine learning can help increase awareness of macroeconomic trends to drive investment decisions in exploration and production. Economic conditions and even weather patterns can be considered to determine where investments should take place as well as intensity of production.

2. Eliminate costly risks in drilling

Drilling is an expensive and risky investment, and applying AI in the operational planning and execution stages can significantly improve well planning, real-time drilling optimization, frictional drag estimation, and well cleaning predictions. Additionally, geoscientists can better assess variables such as the rate of penetration (ROP) improvement, well integrity, operational troubleshooting, drilling equipment condition recognition, real-time drilling risk recognition, and operational decision-making.

When drilling, machine-learning software takes into consideration a plethora of factors, such as seismic vibrations, thermal gradients, and strata permeability, along with more traditional data such as pressure differentials. AI can help optimize drilling operations by driving decisions such as direction and speed in real time, and it can predict failure of equipment such as semi-submersible pumps (ESPs) to reduce unplanned downtime and equipment costs.

3. Well reservoir facility management

Wells, reservoirs, and facility management includes integration of multiple disciplines: reservoir engineering, geology, production technology, petro physics, operations, and seismic interpretation. AI can help to create tools that allow asset teams to build professional understanding and identify opportunities to improve operational performance.

AI techniques can also be applied in other activities such as reservoir characterization, modeling and     field surveillance. Fuzzy logic, artificial neural networks and expert systems are used extensively across the industry to accurately characterize reservoirs in order to attain optimum production level.

Today, AI systems form the backbone of digital oil field (DOF) concepts and implementations. However, there is still great potential for new ways to optimize field development and production costs, prolong field life, and increase the recovery factor.

4. Predictive maintenance

Today, artificial intelligence is taking the industry by storm. AI-powered software and sensor hardware enables us to use very large amounts of data to gain real-time responses on the best future course of action. With predictive analytics and cognitive security, for example, oil and gas companies can operate equipment safely and securely while receiving recommendations on how to avoid future equipment failure or mediate potential security breaches.

5. Oil and gas well surveying and inspections

Drones have been part of the oil and gas industry since 2013, when ConocoPhillips used the Boeing ScanEagle drone in trials in the Chukchi Sea.  In June 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued the first commercial permit for drone use over United States soil to BP, allowing the company to survey pipelines, roads, and equipment in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. In January, Sky-Futures completed the first drone inspection in the Gulf of Mexico.

While drones are primarily used in the midstream sector, they can be applied to almost every aspect of the industry, including land surveying and mapping, well and pipeline inspections, and security. Technology is being developed to enable drones to detect early methane leaks. In addition, one day, drones could be used to find oil and gas reservoirs underlying remote uninhabited regions, from the comfort of a warm office.

6. Remote logistics

As logistics to offshore locations is always a challenge, AI-enhanced drones can be used to deliver materials to remote offshore locations.

Current adoption of AI

Chevron is currently using AI to identify new well locations and simulation candidates in California. By using AI software to analyze the company’s large collection of historical well performance data, the company is drilling in better locations and has seen production rise 30% over conventional methods. Chevron is also using predictive models to analyze the performance of thousands of pieces of rotating equipment to detect failures before they occur. By addressing problems before they become critical, Chevron has avoided unplanned shutdowns and lowered repair expenses. Increased production and lower costs have translated to more profit per well.

Future journey

Today’s oil and gas industry has been transformed by two industry downturns in one decade. Although adoption of new hard technology such as directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has helped, the oil and gas industry needs to continue to innovate in today’s low-price market to survive. AI has the potential to differentiate companies that thrive and those that are left behind.

The promise of AI is already being realized in the oil and gas industry. Early adopters are taking advantage of their position  to get a head start on the competition and protect their assets. The industry has always leveraged technology to adapt to change, and early adopters have always benefited the most. As competition in the oil and gas industry continues to heat up, companies cannot afford to be left behind. For those that understand and seize the opportunities inherent in adopting cognitive technologies, the future looks bright.

For more insight on advanced technology in the energy sector, see How Digital Transformation Is Refueling The Energy Industry.

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Anoop Srivastava

About Anoop Srivastava

Anoop Srivastava is Senior Director of the Energy and Natural Resources Industries at SAP Value Engineering in Middle East and North Africa. He advises clients on their digital transformation strategies and helps them align their business strategy with IT strategy leveraging digital technology innovations such as the Internet of Things, Big Data, Advanced Analytics, Cloud etc. He has 21+ years of work experience spanning across Oil& Gas Industry, Business Consulting, Industry Value Advisory and Digital Transformation.