“One of our key focuses within Upstream business is for us to navigate better on the digitalization challenges faced by the organization. Digitalization helps us to increase or augment the success factors by focusing on solving specific business problems,” says Dzulkarnain Azaman, Head of Upstream Digital & Technology, Center of Excellence, Upstream, PETRONAS. “We need to align our focus areas on digital, technology and data towards our aspiration to become a digitally enabled business. I typically equate the digital world to how our economy works. A healthy economy depends on the flow of money within the system. Similarly, in Digital, if you think about it, it’s all about allowing data to flow within the ecosystem as much as possible. Digitalization enables us to navigate the challenges better because if you think about it, well-managed and well-consumed data (at the right time, at the right level and with the right quality) enables quality decision making.”
“Upstream is a data-driven business,” explains Shaharuddin Hamid Mustapha, Head of Digital Excellence, PETRONAS. “It requires aggregating and analyzing petabytes of complex data to make billions of dollars of decisions.”
In the oil and gas industry, “upstream”—or exploration and production—is the sector that searches for crude oil and natural gas fields, and drills and operates wells that bring gas and oil to the surface.
Shaharuddin was one of the key people involved in the development and buildup of UP, explains the defining moment when he realized that providing data straight to decision makers’ fingertips was an opportunity. “One of the vice presidents said to me, ‘We are pouring millions into modernizing our fields, but I have to search through emails just to find out how much hydrocarbon we were producing that day.’”
To help PETRONAS Upstream senior leaders quickly make actionable decisions based on trusted data, the company wanted to connect data providers and data consumers in a collaborative way. The team sought a secure digital solution that could accurately answer data-driven business questions around daily production, current trends and drilling progress.
PETRONAS worked with IBM® Consulting (IBM Hybrid Cloud Services) and used elements from the IBM Garage™ Methodology—co-create (design), co-execute (build), co-operate (scale)—to build UP, a digital solution for the upstream business hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. The project began with a single-persona mobile app, grew into an enterprise mobile app and then into a strategic business platform serving the Malaysia oil and gas industry.
The PETRONAS UP platform has 30,000+ users
UP offers users more than 100 diverse features
To kick off the project, the PETRONAS Upstream Digital group participated in an Enterprise Design Thinking® workshop. PETRONAS and IBM Consulting brought together multidisciplinary experts, including a product strategist, a user experience designer, a business analyst, an architect, a front-end developer, a back-end developer and a data architect.
The team created user personas and designed the minimum viable product (MVP) that helps address the original pain point that the vice president had shared with Shaharuddin—providing business leaders with information such as how much hydrocarbon their respective business is producing daily. The MVP also provides business leaders with information about any health, safety and environment (HSE) incidents, their business’s incident-free days and other financial indicators.
Working together, the PETRONAS and IBM Consulting team co-created a mobile app that is designed to help users with two key intents—Know It and Take Action. Know It refers to business questions such as How much oil is a certain field producing? What are a specific country’s reserves and resources? Take Action refers to taking action based on the app’s content. For example, creating and updating an action plan to improve performance for a specific area, booking a technical review meeting, or approving a submitted technical paper.
The app allows users to:
While the first MVP was designed for the senior leadership personas, the app gradually increased the personas it serves, to include all levels of leaderships and business teams across multiple domains. Throughout this expansion, the app remained true to intent to help users Know It and Take Action.
The app design is intuitive and user-friendly. “We didn’t have to tell people how to use it or why we need to use it, and certainly didn’t require a training manual,” says Shaharuddin.
The architecture has an open-source front end, middleware on a hybrid cloud platform, and secure databases in the back end. Through UP, the journey to cloud was a huge advancement in PETRONAS’s digital transformation because the company can easily scale workloads and work more nimbly with cloud-based data. With UP, digital policies were revisited and multiple exemptions were made. As Shaharuddin puts it, “It revolutionized the way we work with digital and data projects. We were pushing all the boundaries to build this app on the cloud.”
So far, the Upstream Digital & Technology team has moved substantial workloads to a hybrid cloud platform, which has simplified and sped app development. The company has moved sensitive production data from on-premises databases to the cloud, which has matured the company’s technology infrastructure. Shaharuddin also attributes minimal interruption during the COVID-19 pandemic to the company’s adoption of cloud technologies.
“Currently, the digital transformation has positively impacted Upstream business in having better IT infrastructure, improved managed Data and higher processing power through Cloud,” adds Dzulkarnain. “The above digital and technology transformation has impacted our people in higher work efficiencies and improved decision making. In addition, these work efficiencies have continuously improved our people's work-life balance, helping them perform better.”
PETRONAS embraced new ways of working and co-created UP using agile methodologies. Agile development practices provided structure, alignment, quality and transparency across the team and kept app development moving lightning fast. “We were releasing new features into production once or twice a week,” says Irene WM How, UP Delivery Partner, Associate Partner, Malaysia Hybrid Cloud Transformation for IBM Consulting. “We were going faster than the typical agile.”
While scrum ceremonies and agile tools kept the project on track, the key benefit of agile was the team’s ability to remain focused on business outcomes and remove any obstacles that were in the way of achieving these outcomes.
The initial app was so well-received that PETRONAS and IBM Consulting soon began expanding its capabilities and reach. UP grew into a strategic enterprise business platform with web and mobile app channels for both internal and external users. UP users can access curated content across business domains and take action based on this data.
The joint team remained dedicated to quickly delivering new features and iterations for UP. “IBM demonstrated that they are not just a local team; they can pull in the big enterprise and bring in the capabilities needed,” says Shaharuddin. “IBM Consulting brought a strong spirit of ownership, passion and commitment to this project. They didn’t treat us like a customer; they became part of us. We were a product team.”
UP has become an integral part of the PETRONAS upstream business, now with more than 30,000 users, 100 features and 70 onboarded communities and business units. The platform helps users complete digital projects up to 4 times faster; projects that used to take 6–12 months now take 1–3 months.
The President and Chief Executive Officer of PETRONAS proved this point when onstage at a global town hall. He projected UP onto the screen and demonstrated how to use the intuitive app, explaining that it provides key information that he regularly accesses.
Shaharuddin says that it was powerful to see UP recognized at the topmost level at PETRONAS, but “the highest point was realizing that UP has made a difference and has benefited so many people. And that this was made possible because of the passion from both PETRONAS and IBM.”
PETRONAS (link resides outside of ibm.com) is a global energy group with a presence in over 50 countries. Headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the oil and gas company was established in 1974 and is wholly owned by the Government of Malaysia. PETRONAS energy solutions include upstream exploration, downstream oil refining and renewable resources. The company has nearly 48,000 employees.
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