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September 14, 2017

How digitalisation can help the energy sector to manage generational changes

Digitalisation may not seem like the obvious conclusion, but this could have many benefits for energy firms undergoing a generational shift.

By James Nunns

The energy sector is experiencing one of the greatest generational shifts it has ever seen. As an older generation of highly trained specialists approach retirement age en masse, energy firms are scrambling to attract and retain a large number of talented young workers to replace them.

Martin Richards, senior director for energy industry solutions, OpenText

However, in today’s digital age, graduates have a huge variety of job prospects to choose from. With the likes of Facebook, Uber and Google looking to recruit from the same talent pool, it is crucial that energy firms compete with these high-growth start-ups and innovative technology companies to recruit a new generation of professionals.

In the late seventies, running a nuclear power plant or exploring for oil and gas was one of the most attractive career paths for young engineers or PhDs. Fast forward to present day and the energy sector offers high-tech career appeal for ambitious young graduates. The question is: how can the energy sector hire the brightest new graduates while preserving a decade’s worth of knowledge and experience from their current employees?

Digitalisation may not seem like the obvious conclusion, but this could have many benefits for energy firms undergoing a generational shift. By updating and digitalising how they manage, store and share information, energy companies can preserve the knowledge of soon-to-be retirees and improve their ability to recruit a new generation of skilled employees. At the same time, such transformation can also help those organisations become more efficient, effective and ready for future change.


Rethinking data

While every business in the energy industry is unique, many have long relied on archaic paper-based documentation. Traditionally this information has been distributed across various silos, with different teams or departments holding the information very close to their chest in an effort to keep it away from their colleagues. This attitude will be alien to the next generation of professionals.

Until recently many firms employed teams of document controllers who were in charge of managing requests for records. If you needed a printed report or maintenance guide, you would turn over a written request to one of these controllers, who would then disappear into a dark room of filing cabinets to retrieve the document. This is a process many industry veterans are used to, but it’s not sustainable in today’s working environment. Young workers are used to sourcing documents online, talking to their peers internally or externally to solve problems quickly and using cloud-based tools to make them more productive.

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Addressing the generational gap in the energy industry will require organisations to rethink how they operate and adopt new technology to bring greater efficiencies to transform the way they work every day.


Preserving history in the digital age

As energy firms look to digitalise their processes and preserve the knowledge of soon-to-be retirees, they will require IT teams to digitalise large volumes of information from a wide array of sources – paper reports, books, memos, handwritten notes and more – and then bring order to that information so it can be more easily searched, shared and kept up to date.

This is where technology plays an integral role. Advanced scanning devices and character recognition software can quickly and efficiently transform printed materials into digital data – and from there it’s easy to store and manage in the cloud.

There’s no easy, one-size-fits-all approach to digital transformation, but there are a few steps energy firms should take when transitioning from paper to digital:


  1. Content control: it’s important to break down the silos and bring content into a single, digital repository. Making sure that files and metadata are standardised from the beginning will ensure content is searchable, sharable and usable in a variety of formats.


  1. Open and secure accessibility: optimise newly digital content for accessibility. This requires adding advanced search capabilities, as well as security controls for sensitive documents, version control and support for mobile.


  1. Checks and balances: build in a process for content reviews, approvals and audit trails so collaboration is seamless across departments and everyone can see where changes have been made. It’s worth adding an automatic notifications feature, so whenever information is revised or updated, it will alert the relevant parties.


  1. Complete integration: the last stage of transformation is to integrate the content platform with other systems for operations, maintenance, project management and more. For example, this process could enable an employee reading a client work order on an iPad to also receive location-based information in real-time on where a certain piece of equipment is located and get temperature data to know whether the equipment in question is cool enough to be safely touched.


Managing change is always challenging and that’s definitely the case in the energy sector, which has traditionally had a reputation for being resistant to change. However, the industry is certainly starting to sit up and take notice of the shift towards digital. In fact, our recent research revealed that the UK energy industry is undergoing significant digital transformation, with 96% of respondents stating they had already set out on their journey towards digitalisation.

Energy companies that are serious about successfully navigating the Great Crew Change will need to embrace new technologies and processes, ideally with help from experienced partners who know how to manage and deliver transformation. We’re already seeing new kinds of energy businesses emerging – smaller, more agile, cloud-based ‘digital native’ businesses. Legacy companies will have to adopt similar ways of thinking, working and managing information if they wish to recruit the brightest young talent and remain competitive.

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