Roles IT Oil, Gas Professionals Should Play to Maintain Their Edge

by Karen Boman, Senior Editor

The current downturn in the oil and gas industry is the best time to pursue innovative new ideas. In fact, not sharing these ideas could cost the well-being of oil and gas industry workers.

Speaking at the OilComm 2015 conference in Houston, Pink Petro CEO Katie Mehnert discussed the need for the oil and gas industry to continue pursing innovation in the current downturn. This innovation will be critical to the industry’s future as it continues to face disruption. Citing a May 2015 McKinsey & Co. report, Mehnert noted the oil and gas industry faces four disruptive forces – growing energy demand due to more people moving to cities; accelerating technological change; an aging global population; and greater global connections. Since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident, the slightest seep of oil from the Gulf of Mexico impacts stock prices.

Prior to her founding of Pink Petro, Mehnert had worked in oil and gas as an IT professional. Drawing on her experience in IT communications, Mehnert outlined four roles that oil and gas IT professionals should play to maintain their business edge and create the trend, not just be part of the outcome.

Rule 1: Be an Engineer

Engineers design with the end in mind.

“What that means is get close to the customer,” said Mehnert.

The reason Steve Jobs was so successful with Apple is because he got close to his customers to find out what they really wanted, Mehnert said.

“Steve Jobs was able to meet customer needs because he understood the end game – it’s about the end users.”

The silos that exist in oil and gas companies can make it difficult for IT professionals to understand the end game, said Mehnert. Early in her IT career, an executive asked Mehnert to take a job in the field. Mehnert was told that, if she wanted to be relevant in the future, she had to spend time in the field. The executive was right: trading in her heels for steel-toed boots and jumping out of helicopters helped Mehnert better understand the needs of the company’s customers.

“You need to ask yourself all the time, who is the customer and what are their needs? Design with the end in mind.”

Rule 2: Be a Doctor

Being a doctor means “being a ninja for simplicity,” Mehnert noted, and just saying no to complexity. How difficult is it to be simple? Very difficult, it turns out.

“We live in a world of complex because it’s easy,” said Mehnert. “When you’re able to enable processes, people, systems, value chains, to be more simple, there will be more value at the end of that.”

In her experience, major oil and gas companies have thousands of expectations and competencies to operate safely. These companies need to simplify this number of competencies. Complexity can kill – with incidents such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident serving as examples of this fact – while simplicity can drive value and lower risk.

“If you know that, you’re valuable in upturns and downturns.”

Rule 3: Be a Gardener

Mehnert advised IT professionals to be gardeners – grow value, lower risk and eliminate waste – in good times and bad.

“We shouldn’t wait for $40 oil to have this mindset with ourselves and conversations in our workplace. It’s your job to always look for ways to lower risk and eliminate the weeds.”

Rule 4: Be an Entrepreneur

When looking at new ideas, IT professionals should act like an entrepreneur – or an intrepreneur – treating their company as if it were their own and they were spending their own money. While acting like an intrepreneur can enable IT professionals to maintain their edge, suggesting new ideas can be difficult in a corporate setting, where the view may be to keep using the same practices and technologies because they’ve always worked.

“If [an idea] won’t harm anyone or result in anyone going to jail, it should be discussed.”

In fact, not speaking one’s mind could result in somebody not coming home safely from an operation, Mehnert said.

Oil and gas IT professionals should take a cue from the Apple campaign, Think Different. Many people have good ideas, but don’t take the risk and put ideas on the table. But the best time for these ideas is now, Mehnert said. The current disruption occurring in the oil and gas industry is an opportunity to “reinvent ourselves and bring us to the next frontier.”

“Thinking different is difficult,” said Mehnert. “When you think differently you don’t fit in. Your job is not to fit in, it’s to stand out. Our industry’s future depends on those ideas.”

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