For Petronas, digital transformation targets their own people first

  • Upskilling to a ‘Digital Democracy’ where everybody can affect change
  • Velocity of change underpinned by digital is ‘at the peak’ for energy industry

believe (if) the key decision makers are not thinking in a disruptive mode, innovation won't become second nature to the organization.

For Petronas, digital transformation targets their own people firstAadrin Azly (pic), Petronas Chief Digital Officer, shared an example of how Covid accelerated the oil giant during a recent roundtable at the AWS ASEAN summit, titled "Embracing Agility and Innovation in a New Normal".

"We had a collaboration program that was supposed to last two years. We compressed that within three months."

As extreme as that may sound, Aadrin said it was par for the course for his particular industry.

"More than ever in history, the sheer velocity and the impact of the change in the energy industry is at the peak," he stressed. "And I believe that digital is really underpinning a lot of these changes."

Consequently, Petronas has long been laying the groundwork for the ongoing digital revolution. In particular, Aadrin’s predecessors had invested in the fundamental building blocks for digital growth, such as connectivity, cloud, security, data enablement, and analytics.

"So when Covid did happen we could react within months or even weeks," he said. "It was a combination of both necessity and foresight."


Types of innovation

When it comes to planning for digital adoption, Aadrin classifies innovation in three different ways.

The first are innovation solutions that improve the bottom line, by either improving operations, or by compressing costs.

As an example, he pointed to DOVE (Drive Optimisation Value for Enterprise), a system Petronas uses to optimise their supply chains. "This used to be such a big challenge involving hundreds of spreadsheets, hundreds of people, managing the whole supply chain," he said. "Now, our integrated optimizer (the DOVE system) looks at the downstream routes from refineries, all the way to our service stations."

This is the kind of success that makes Aadrin look forward to upcoming developments. "We're quite excited, especially this year, to go into things like combining IoT and analytics, and looking at the remote autonomous assets, and digital twins."

The second set of innovations are potential new revenue streams prompted by customers and partners. "I think it is really something a bit more longer term, in terms of working with new ventures, and new ideas."

Finally, the third set is emblematic of the issues faced by the oil and gas industry as a whole. "It is really about sustainability and energy efficiency," he said. "This is in terms of digital trying to improve our carbon footprint, our energy mix, and also about making safer and better places to work."


Change and upskilling

Naturally, being a multi-billion company does not insulate Petronas from the friction that comes with change, especially when dealing with in-built legacies.

"Because you're not starting from a fresh base, like the new startups and new companies, you have built a lot of processes and artefacts that have served well in the past but moving forward, need to be disrupted or relearned," he acknowledges.

"So I think trying to get people in that mindset to change, both in terms of the culture but also in terms of the processes and policies, that is the biggest challenge more than anything."

A key part of this transformation is to upskill people appropriately. For this, Petronas has the SWITCH program, which includes micro learning tools and gamification.

When it started on the digital journey about three years ago, a lot of the capability building was really about upskilling for competencies such as software engineering and design thinking to around 2,000 of its staff.

"But I think now, there is this belief that we need to be more. We need to democratize digital within the whole group."

His philosophy is that to be a real game changer, the organization cannot just depend on one digital transformation department or CTO. Rather, each individual must be able to affect change.


Democratising digital change

One example of this is the Innovation Engine, targeted at the company's top 500 individuals. "It's really trying to inculcate and incorporate that whole ‘working backwards’ innovation culture," he said. "We believe (if) the key decision makers are not thinking in that disruptive mode, innovation doesn't become second nature, even when the rest of the organization wants to push it through."

Another example is the Citizens Analytics Program, which will incorporate the rank and file. "They become analytics translators, (although) they're not really data scientists, they're at the forefront (and) they know the business better."

Here staff will be equipped with basic data science and analytics skills, in order to build their own dashboards and products. "We started late last year and in a few months, we've already hit close to 2,000 participants."

Finally, there is the Petronas Digital Academy that will be established in the near future. Its aim is to drive digital adoption and digital capability en masse. "(We are) looking at learning institutions and also perhaps within government agencies, and trying to drive and propagate digital learning within Malaysia, beyond Petronas."

"At the end of the day it's really about investing in the people, and empowering them to be able to do more with less, to be able to make better decisions, and to really disrupt and drive," he concluded. The goal for Aadrin is to see people reduce bureaucracy, streamline processes, and, as he puts it, "really drive innovation at pace".

Achieving this, to him, would constitute, "the truest sense of digital transformation."



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