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GCC refiners are realizing the benefits of digital, but further progress is needed to evolve on par with International Oil Companies

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) refiners are turning their attention to the transformative benefits and growing necessity of digital applications to advance in the digital age, according to a survey conducted by Gulf Downstream Association (GDA) in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Despite only a few GCC regional oil companies industrializing wide-scale investment in digital technology, 88% of GCC refiners surveyed acknowledge that non-investment poses risks such as a lack of ability to improve margins and lower competitive advantage.

“The study highlighted that 67% of GCC refiners hope that digital technologies will solve their top two challenges: reliability and product optimization,” said Audah Al-Ahmadi, Secretary General – GDA. “Additionally, 19% of respondents believe digital can improve knowledge retention, with cybersecurity (10%) and safety (4%) rounding out refiners’ expectations of digital to solve challenges.”

Despite industry-wide awareness of digital transformation in the refining sector, the lack of integrated digitalization strategies, and a fear of the unknown are the two key barriers preventing digital adoption. Of these, investment in current digital applications is perceived as a challenge; with 50% of those surveyed stating a lack of proven technology is the largest challenge to investment, followed by difficulties in estimating a robust business case upfront (25%), and a lack of short term benefit (25%).

“Unlocking digital requires pinpointing the most important areas to apply digital technologies, and these are maintenance, operations, and production planning,” said Mirko Rubeis, Managing Director and Partner at BCG. “The shift from being aware of digital use and piloting digital applications to industrialization is slow in maintenance and operations, despite 20% of respondents expressing awareness of more than ten digital applications. In production planning and economics, only 12% are aware of more than ten applications that could enhance this aspect of their business.”

“Globally, the report highlights IOCs are pursuing digital in six key areas: advanced market-driven operations, next-gen planning and scheduling, asset management 4.0, safety and field productivity, trading / commercial plant interface, and support functions excellence,” said Yousef Ali, Chairperson – GDA Industry Trends Technical Committee and Team Leader – Value Chain Optimization, KPC. “Successful digital adoption in these fields globally is setting a precedent for regional oil companies to leverage future growth via digital.”

“Traditionally, many GCC refiners have taken a conservative approach when it comes to leveraging digital to enhance operational excellence,” said Samuele Bellani, Deputy Chair – GDA Industry Trends Technical Committee and Principal at BCG. “For regional oil companies to compete on the digital front, they will need to realize how to minimize their investment challenges by developing digital technologies in the areas of maintenance, operations, and production planning to reap the immediate benefits of applying digital to boost their business and their bottom line.”
Source: GDA

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