Lessons from other industries central to oil and gas recovery

Allan Scott, Director of Materials and Inventory at ASCO discusses lessons the oil and gas industry can learn from other industries, such as retail. 

Digitalisation can help realise significant benefits for oil and gas, particularly if lessons can be learned from the experiences of other sectors including retail and automotive. In materials management there are opportunities for forward-thinking firms to leverage digital technologies and process intelligence to bring a step-change in how we manage materials and improve operational efficiencies. However, it will require organisations to think differently about the business and process architecture required to deliver this value.

Historically, the pace of change in materials management practice in the oil and gas industry has been slow. When commodity prices are high, focus is on material availability, and when they fall focus shifts to cost reduction in “big-ticket” areas; leaving little room for innovation. Despite the North Sea’s status as a benchmark for excellence, there is no global standard for best practice in materials management. The evidence base suggests that oil and gas supply chains lag other sectors in terms of performance. A potential solution is to build a retail logistics model, using lean processes and digitalisation, that works for the oil and gas environment and will extend the industry’s life for decades. Broadly speaking, processes for materials management are only around 1% effective; whether because of poor supplier and data integrity, poor planning and process control or materials not being tracked properly.

Meanwhile, logistics companies are typically required to follow established client systems that are often transactional, have poor user experience and not the best technology for the operation. With manual processes, personnel continually need to update records and, where handwriting is used, errors are inevitable. Why do we want to build the retail model for oil and gas? People are familiar with retail through selfservice technologies, e-commerce and great customer service but also as one of the things the retail industry does extremely well is supply chain management. Retail has already dealt successfully with many of the same problems facing the oil and gas industry today. For instance, when you buy a can of soft drink, it comes attached with a universal product code; suppliers need to conform with a set of rules to sell their products in that industry. Contrast that with oil and gas, where each company refers to that same component differently and products don’t have the ability to identify themselves. The retail industry has used established technology, such as bar codes and RFID tags for tracking and tracing cargo, to great effect for decades – with visual recognition to register and record items vastly improving the user experience. Not only does technology allow for greater control over planning and means that materials can be pulled when needed, it also allows for better decision making through data analysis.

The result is that transactional activity takes seconds, rather than several minutes. For our industry, it’s about trying to agree on what the common problems are in terms of end-to-end materials management, so that we can deliver greater control within individual businesses and collaborate with others to share data and inventory. Even something as simple as attaching a product photograph on the outside of a crate would save time and ensure the integrity of the components within. That all helps reduce unit cost within the industry and helps sustain the UKCS as a viable, long-term and competitive environment. There is significant room for improvement but we should all embrace that challenge to shine a light on the industry and say this is where we are in comparison to others, before identifying where industry can work together to avoid value leakage. If the shop around the corner can do it, why can’t a global industry with vast resources take it into a business environment?

Notes to editors: 

ASCO provide specialist materials and equipment management from demand creation to fulfilment. By deploying lean methodology, innovative systems, and leveraging data analytics, ASCO is at the forefront of driving supply chain efficiency in the oil and gas industry. The company is headquartered in Aberdeen, Scotland and operates globally from over 70 locations worldwide, and employs over 1,500 people.

Supply base management operations are augmented by a suite of complementary services, including materials and warehouse management, waste management, decommissioning, transport and logistics, training, personnel provision, fuel services and marine management. ASCO also delivers a range of specialist technical and advisory services in marine, materials and inventory and lifting operations. Operations are delivered using world class technology via our proprietary integrated Logistics Management System (iLMS). ASCO is owned by DH Private Equity Partners and ASCO Management. To find out more, visit