In this interview with the Council Chairman of Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) Nigeria, Mr Debo Fagbami said as companies are increasingly gathering data across every element of their supply chains from oil fields and pipelines to refineries, power stations and manufacturing, it is imperative attention is paid to Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Mobile Technology and the future of the energy industry. He noted that it has beenestimated that 90 per cent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.


What do you see as some of the primary challenges and opportunities this wave of data will create?

The challenges associated with the wave created by big data in our industry would stem from the fact that big data in itself is a complex terrain.

Obvious challenges would come during its integration with existing business processes and methodologies as well as the uncertainties created by the management of large and complex data by an industry only beginning to adopt it.

Added to this would be the in-house talent gap as well as the complexities associated with migrating existing data into a big data structure suitable for use in the artificial intelligence(AI terrain). 

Synchronizing data across multiple data sources and user groups or function also create a challenge and added to this would be costs associated with migration and providing solutions for specific scenarios and end-user applications.

Having said this, big data and AI in our industry would open doors for new talent as well as cross-training and skills conversion which is not unfamiliar territory for petroleum engineers to explore and exploit.

As more organizations recognize the importance of big data as a means of realizing and entrenching competitive advantage, it would be used as an in-road to gain insight and make more informed decisions.

Security is a hot topic regarding big data, to what extent will big data be responsible for new security problems and challenges?

I will throw a curveball to this question as big data in itself presents a powerful means of storing large amounts of data that can help analyze, examine, observe trends and irregularities within a system or network. Big data analytics tools can be used to identify and combat a cyber-security threat which remains a concern for most organizations today.

Having an in-house structure and talent pool that is adequately equipped to utilize the concept of bid data for business process enhancement as well as to protect the system is a fantastic bargain for any serious organization.

Cyber threats remain a clear and present danger and oil and gas companies generate and store large volumes of data on a daily basis in support of the energy value chain from exploration to production and a threat to any remains a threat to all, hence the responsibility lies with all industry players to ensure that standards are set to utilize robust analytical tools to combat the threats imposed by cyber-crime.

Could you expand on the need for procurement and sourcing of AI, big data and mobile technology in Nigeria energy industry?

For as long as there is need to utilize and manage large volumes of data, there would always be the requirement to employ analytical tools to make sense from the complex wave and volumes of data available. This will certainly bring about the need to resort to external sources and commercial data sources to provide bespoke and mined datasets to facilitate the effectiveness of business processes.

How has the skills transfer and foreign investment changed over time within the industry?

In recent years, skills transfer has become more of a necessity than ever before. As the world tends towards the concept of a global village or global market place, talent has to remain competitive with global standards. I said before that the PIGB remains an enabler or provides a platform to create investor confidence to encourage foreign direct investment. It is long overdue for this to be signed into law.

Between here and Silicon Valley: what will be the culture of the future for the upstream industry?

The culture in the industry would transform from one that sees data as a burden to one that sees data as an asset. The more organizations tend to find themselves immersed in data, the more the need to have ways to analyze, validate and authenticate such data and information.

Tell us the best time for the adoption of a significant new technology paradigm and how associated organizational challenges can be counteracted.

Like the Chinese say, the best time to plant a tree is a hundred years ago, while the next best time is now. Adoption of new technology and the required paradigm shift to a big data mindset to deal with organizational changes is now and this cannot be over-emphasized.

The oil and gas industry is possibly a latecomer into the realms of the big data revolution, but quite a number of organizations like Shell and BHGE are at the fore-front of embracing big data as a means of improving their business process.

Will further regulation, perhaps similar to the telecommunication sector, be required to rebuild investment trust and confidence in the Upstream segment of the industry in the absence of PIGB?

The oil and gas industry in Nigeria is already largely at par with global standards as far as practice goes. The regulatory bodies in country have done a fantastic job at regulating the various activities in the industry particularly as regards standards of practice and compliance.

In the upstream space, activities are further governed by subsisting laws including the Petroleum Act amongst others and these create a baseline level playing field for all industry players in the sector. ”In our industry, additional regulation is not and should not be on the front burner at this time”. 

The clamor for the PIGB is essentially borne out of the need to create an enabling environment to shore up investor confidence and stimulate activity in the industry to drive commerce and enhance the socio-economic landscape. The vibrancy of the upstream sector remains a key enabler to the economic development of our country.

How has SPENAICE event grown since its first entry?

The SPE Nigeria Annual International Conference has certainly grown since inception 43 years ago. On a personal note, my first attendance at NAICE was in 1997 in Port Harcourt and since then I have witnessed NAICE hosted in various Nigerian cities including Lagos, Abuja, Calabar and more recently settled in Lagos having found a venue large enough to accommodate the spread of programs and attendees that NAICE commands.

The exhibition component has seen a quadruple increase in participation from organizations in the last ten years alone, our panel session style discussion forums have grown from 3 to 6 in recent years not to mention the quantity and quality of peer-reviewed technical papers that have been presented at various NAICE events. NAICE continues to be the leading technical conference in sub-Saharan Africa and it remains a pacesetter that has opened up the technical space in our industry.

In the coming years, I envisage NAICE to expand beyond the shores of Nigeria beginning first with hosting it outside Lagos to other oil and gas enclaves in country like Port Harcourt, Bayelsa etc. and ultimately staging it outside Nigeria which is a prospect I sincerely look forward to witnessing.

How will the structure of the NAICE2019 program support or encourage the participation of mid and downstream sector of the petroleum industry? What about other sector sectors connected to the industry eg. Banking, insurance, pipeline infrastructure?

First off, NAICE has always supported and continues to support participation from the midstream and downstream sectors and at some point, in the past, the NAICE theme has actually focused on natural gas being a key enabler to the economic development of Nigeria.

For a gas-focused conference at the time, there is no way discussions would not center around processing, transportation and distribution via pipeline infrastructure, and these are areas that are well covered by the aforementioned sectors.

Similarly, other sectors like Banking and other financial services have been fully integrated into our NAICE program of activities. This year, we would be having quite a number of power-packed panel discussants trashing out issues in the area of AI and big data and quite a few of these discussants would be coming from the financial services sector.

Should we expect to see a bigger and innovative NAICE 2019 and SPE in the coming year?

Absolutely! SPE and NAICE continue to break new ground and explore blue ocean territory and our team of volunteers will always come up with innovative programs and activities designed to share technical knowledge and provide avenues for professionals to develop their technical expertise.

My would-be successor in office, Joe Nwakwue would be unveiling the theme for next year’s conference during the closing dinner of NAICE 2019. NAICE 2020 as the name implies promises to be a “visionary” event and all I can say to you is “stay-tuned” and watch this space.

Final thoughts?

I want to seize this opportunity to invite everyone reading this to block their calendars from August 5th to 7th to be a part of NAICE 2019 which promises to be another excellent delivery from SPE. Venue would be at Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos Nigeria.

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