Using Technology To Find Opportunity During Downturns

Brian Moore

The kneejerk reaction to falling commodity prices and company revenue from many quarters has been to put all costs under scrutiny and defer investments. We’ve witnessed widespread layoffs, reductions in numerous areas, and from a technology perspective, cutbacks on technology spend.

Let’s say the market lull has forced your business to shed part of its workforce. Simplifying your corporate and field IT systems is an opportunity to come back with a leaner team able to carry the workload of the one you had before the downturn. It could also help you to make better operational decisions using the mountains of data you’re now generating. In a time when technology is enabling businesses to be much more efficient, there’s potential to be intelligently adaptive and ready for the next growth phase.

How can technology help?

In the short term, we see several key areas where improved insight from data and simplified IT can make an impact, including a) minimizing production deferrals and cost leaks, b) maximizing operational profitability, and c) reducing total cost of ownership.

In terms of preparing for an immediately successful upswing while remaining disciplined through the downturn, you can a) use the cloud to quickly scale operations and holistically connect data and processes, b) give your supply chain mobile capability across remote sites, and c) better determine the ROI of all investments with better cost visibility and forward-looking/predictive capabilities.

A short- and longer-term roadmap focused on meeting these objectives results in several outcomes. First, let’s focus on how it can transform the usefulness of data across the business. During our conversations with oil & gas and mining companies, we often encounter the fundamental assumption that their data quality is high, so they already know a lot about their business. However, there are many things they don’t know it is possible to see or do. A lot of the data is essentially being wasted.

Take an example from maintenance and operation: monitoring and addressing problems. We can shift from time-based scheduled maintenance to more real-time predictive analysis and sensor technology allowing maintenance teams to see when problems are likely to occur, or observe imminent conditions across the entire operational environment.

Drilling into the benefits of simplified and more intelligent IT

We invariably find opportunities in data “incompleteness” to offer more and faster insight, introducing the ability to deal with ad hoc problems, as well as ongoing challenges like logistical organization. The foundation for this is built on a single source of truth – a platform of consolidated data analytics – which gives better control over which information is available and how it is used. All the different systems and sensors in your infrastructure can be set up to communicate with each other to come up with valuable answers.

Continuing with the theme of consolidation, consider that if you’re running an infrastructure that hasn’t been refreshed for a number of years, there are likely dozens of IT applications that could be stripped out following the advent of this simpler and interconnected technology. Likewise, business processes can move far away from paper and manual handling to complete digital automation.

This kind of IT neglect results in having to pull data from an ever-wider range of sources as the infrastructure and number of applications swells, slowing operations to a crawl. For instance, when dealing with the large volumes of data involved in processes like third-party contingency, we’ve seen examples of contractors spending hours going through credential checks and security clearances before they can start working. Technology like Big Data and the cloud can cut this down to minutes.

The business case for digital transformation in corporate and field IT systems is about enhancing visibility and improving agility, while simplifying to reduce costs. The downturn won’t last forever, and while commodity prices may not return to decade highs, the good times will be back. How are you responding today?  Is this also putting your company in an advantageous position for the future?

For more insight on future-focused technology, see Ambient Intelligence: What’s Next For The Internet Of Things?

Brian Moore

About Brian Moore

Brian Moore is a Regional Vice President at SAP. He develops and oversees the region's sales strategy, aligning its focus with overall business objectives. Working directly with Canadian companies in a variety of sectors, he maps out their toughest business challenges and finds ways in which SAP solutions, people, and partners can increase productivity and profitability to take their business to the next level.