Few industries have as much to gain from implementing next-gen technology as the resources industry. Combining the power of machine learning, advanced analytics, mobile solutions and smart sensors will drive a new era of growth, innovation and improved efficiency.

We are on the brink of a politically, economically and socially fractured world. That’s why the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2018 theme, Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World’, aimed at developing a shared narrative to improve the state of the world. Being a WEF Strategic Partner for 19 years, Accenture brings leadership for digital transformation at the intersection of AI and Future Workforce, redefining strategy, sustainability, and technology.

Some view AI as a potential economic fracture, yet it has the potential to generate enormous economic and social opportunities. New relationships will surface. New skills and social contracts will have to be developed for embedding the Future Workforce, enabling human-machine collaboration.

Over the past decades, our world has changed dramatically. Mobile and online technologies have been wildly successful, becoming cornerstones of everyday life. By and large, we take this for granted, as if these tools have always been there. It’s easy to forget that the first iPhone was released little over a decade ago, or that Dropbox and YouTube have yet to celebrate their fifteenth birthdays.

But while these technologies already play fundamental roles in our private lives, they have yet to establish themselves firmly in industrial production environments . This offers a unique opportunity for growth and innovation. In many regions across the world, a new generation of professionals is entering the labor market, one that grew up with 21st-century technology embedded in almost every facet of their lives. For them, the digital revolution and its myriad possibilities are the norm.

By implementing these technologies and integrating them into production processes, the resources industry has the opportunity to align work experiences with the latent skills of its workforce, leveraging modern capabilities to empower workers and drive efficiency. Doing so will bring many benefits, from increasing employee availability and bolstering operational focus to reducing costs and improving workplace safety. Human and machine collaboration could also boost business revenues by 38 percent in the next five years and generate higher levels of profitability and employment. At the same time, it will help workers in regions where next-gen technologies are not yet commonplace to develop future-oriented skills that will prove vital to social and economic growth in the coming years.

A digital highway to industrial growth

Industrial automation is nothing new, but the digital technologies at our disposal today have the power to drive efficiency and flexibility in the resources industry on a level never seen before. Smart sensors, machine learning, next-gen analytics and the Internet of Things all create tremendous opportunities in their own right. Combining them will enable a quantum leap in maintenance, manufacturing and market responsiveness.

To give one example: in the past, workers had no alternative but to perform routine inspections of all production equipment, regardless of operational status. This constitutes a massive drain on time and operational resources that might be better spent elsewhere. Thanks to modern analytics solutions, however, predictive maintenance is now well within the realm of possibility. Intelligent systems monitor each asset closely, analyzing data to determine when maintenance or repairs should be performed to prevent outages, preserve efficiency and guarantee a safe working environment.

Image: Adriana Begeer - Connected Worker and business-driven digital plant transformation Monitoring core assets and systems also creates a wealth of data to share with engineers, planners and other professionals throughout the entire plant ecosystem. Unlocking these insights and making them easily accessible serves to increase both operational control and transparency, allowing organizations to minimize the impact of internal politics on decision-making processes.

The same advances also allow for the creation of reliable decision support systems. Instead of relying on established practices, chemical producers might use variables like local demand, available capacity and real-time energy costs to determine which products they produce at which plant at any given time.

Connecting workers with the future

The opportunities presented by Industry X.0 are not limited to production process optimizations. From the perspective of improving work experiences for individual employees throughout the entire production ecosystem, the potential benefits are no less evocative.

Industrial environments pose unique risks to the health and safety of workers. Especially in the chemical and oil and gas sectors, accidents can have tragic consequences for employees and far-reaching implications for employers. By connecting on-site professionals to smart sensors capable of measuring a wide range of environmental variables, it becomes possible to provide individually-targeted safety information. If the sensor detects a gas leak, it can immediately notify workers in the vicinity to evacuate the area, while simultaneously alerting hazard remediation teams to take the steps necessary to restore normal working conditions.

Similarly, video analytics and on-site tracking allow digital plants to monitor the whereabouts of their employees and promote workplace safety. When workers are about to enter dangerous areas or accidentally stray off of established safe pathways, the system can issue personalized alerts and help them take appropriate precautions.

In terms of efficiency and effectiveness, augmented reality solutions offer unique benefits that would otherwise be impractical to implement. Real-time connections with external engineers provide opportunities for over-the-shoulder coaching, as well as off-site diagnostics and second opinions with regards to maintenance and repair procedures.

But perhaps most importantly, the Connected Worker concept allows organizations to ensure that the right professionals with the right skillsets are working on the right assets at the right time. Matching work packages with individual capabilities is a crucial step toward greater efficiency and effectiveness, especially in major turnarounds where deadlines are tight, and the number of workers on-site might swell from hundreds to thousands over the course of the TAR process.

The importance of business-driven scale-ups

It is not a stretch to say that the resources industry can achieve positive outcomes like these in the near future. In our Machine Dreams survey, we interviewed 512 manufacturing executives across all major industrial countries in North America, Western Europe and Asia. Of this group, fully 85% expected human-machine environments to be an integral part of their operations by 2020.

Of course, there are still challenges to tackle. Implementing new technologies may reduce the need for human professionals in certain areas, necessitating a forward-thinking approach to reskilling your existing workforce and prepare them for different task profiles. And if your organization has no real experience with these new technologies, it would be wise to start with a proof of concept or proof of value before moving further.

The primary challenge, however, is taking these opportunities to the next level. PoCs and PoVs are only the first steps. In order to reap the benefits of Industry X.0 , you will need to scale up these solutions and implement them on a broader level across your organization. And that process should always be business-driven.

As a company, you need to start by setting business goals. What do you need to achieve? How do you want to evolve your business? Which results are you aiming for, and how will you define success?

Once you have these goals locked in, you can compile a longlist of potential use cases and start to determine which of those cases offer the best opportunities to achieve those goals. Combined with your proofs of concept or value, you will then be able to work systematically toward full-scale implementation, with clear intent and purpose. 

Seize the opportunities of tomorrow

The resources industry has an opportunity to transform itself on an unprecedented level. We live in the era of the digital revolution. New technologies are already transforming the way operations are executed. Many of the components that enable connected workers and digital plants are already part of our everyday lives. Mobile platforms, neural networks and the Internet of Things are but a few examples of a growing list of next-gen technologies that are constantly creating new capabilities for the future of industry.

Perhaps more significantly, both technology and executive vision are converging. Our research has shown that there is strong support for these new concepts throughout the resources and manufacturing sectors. Industry leaders clearly understand the impact this can have on their competitive advantage, from data-driven performance enhancements to a more powerful, digitally-enabled workforce.

"Use the power of digital to integrate the opportunities of tomorrow into your operations"

If ever there was a time to leverage that understanding and drive the right decisions, it’s now. Today. Taking a focused, business-driven approach will allow you to take your business to greater heights than ever before, improving efficiency, empowering workers and driving new innovations. With Industry X.0 as a business priority, you can use the power of digital to integrate the opportunities of tomorrow into your operations and dramatically enhance your business results.

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