Just like many other organisations, global oil giant BP is going through a digital transformation of its own and is relying heavily on cloud computing along the way.
The organisation has significantly upped its cloud efforts over the last 18 months and is now starting to reap the rewards, which range from cost savings, to efficiency increases and greater innovation.
Speaking at the AWS Summit in London this week, Claire Dickson, CIO of downstream, explained the technological changes taking place at BP and how they are affecting the business as a whole.
“IT underpins every single part of our business at BP, be that deep sea, desert, rigs or retail, IT underpins all of it,” she said. “We decided about a year and a half ago that we were going to go all-in on cloud.
“We obviously wanted to reduce our cost base by closing our data centres, but efficiency and growth are also two key pillars for our business. We need to drive efficiency in our core business that enables us to move into new business models.”
In no part of the business is this efficiency increase more stark than the crude/feed stock selection and refinery optimisation processes, an area which Dickson believes showcases the greatest level of differentiation.
“In our refineries we have asset economists and refinery planners who run very complex linear programmes to decide which crude and feed stocks to run at any given time. And we use a software called Spiral to do that and it was one of the first apps that we put into the cloud.
“Believe it or not, for the same data set, the same crude and feed stocks, the same units, what used to take us seven hours to run now takes just over three minutes. I have to admit I didn’t really think that we’d get that out of cloud, so it has been quite revolutionary for us.”
That’s a very specific example, but there are of course more general benefits that have also emerged. For example, BP has seen its cost base for SAP systems drop by a third, along with a 30-40 percent total IT cost reduction.
Cyber security has also been impacted, especially in patching which has seen significant speed improvements thanks to automation. “[Patching is a hot topic for all of us with the security situation that we all face,” said Dickson. “We have found that our cloud patching has been orders of magnitude faster than on-prem.”
But the biggest change Dickson has seen is the increased levels of innovation that technology is enabling, not just in the IT team but across the organisation as a whole.
Innovation is “the golden nugget”, she said, because “this is how we move our businesses forward and achieve the big ambitions.
“I now have a businesses that uses words like ‘amazing’ and ‘love’ in the same sentence as the IT systems that we provide and when we talk about innovation, we don’t just want IT to innovate in our company, we want the business to innovate.
“With cloud, we bought the technology and I think we thought that we would get a reduction in our OpEx with that. What we’ve gained is business innovation beyond IT.
“Achieving innovation beyond IT where you dissolve the barrier that often exists between your IT organisation and the business is where the magic happens. When somebody in the business sits with you and says ‘what other questions can I ask the computer?’ you know that you’re on to something good.”
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