Known for its world-class energy capabilities and global portfolio, Woodside is Australia’s largest independent oil and gas company. 

In an industry requiring absolute accuracy, it is critical Woodside’s engineers avoid guesswork. To ensure precision, they rely heavily on historical context and procedural information. Unfortunately, every time an expert with years of knowledge and knowhow retires, that experience walks out the door with them.

So the question for Woodside became, how do you retain the knowledge of senior experts and make it possible for junior employees to locate, analyze, and learn from it? To make existing knowledge available throughout the company and preserve decades upon decades of collective wisdom, they turned to IBM and Watson.

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Refining Watson with years of wisdom

To amass as much knowledge as possible for their Watson solution, the IBM-Woodside team engaged staff across the organization, and even incorporated input from retirees. “They know what’s useful for them,” said Russell Potapinski, Woodside’s General Manager of Intelligent and Autonomous Systems. “You can’t build a cognitive system without context.”

“You have to spend a bit of time training Watson before it will actually work, but it’s been really positive in the operations area,” said Caitlin Bushell, a Graduate Process Engineer for Woodside. Once Watson learned the natural language the staff use and what they wanted to know, it could accurately match data with what they needed. “It’s helped our engineers get up to speed very quickly on what has already been done and how they were managed in the past,” she said. “We can learn from the past, and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.”

Building a legacy of learning

Beyond helping Woodside capture critical knowledge, Watson has also fundamentally changed employee mindsets, making them eager to leave their knowledge behind for future use. “They’re aware their knowledge will be beneficial for other engineers who might face similar challenges in the future,” said Neil Maxfield, Woodside’s General Manager for Project Capabilities.

How Watson learned in 5 steps

1. Watson was trained
Watson absorbed over 600,000 pages of documentation, from reports to correspondence.

2. Watson was tested
The machine learning model was continuously updated to be able to analyze a higher volume of records.

3. Watson was launched
Over 80% of employees adopted Watson for their day-to-day work.

4. Watson got results
Employees used to spend 80% of their time researching problems and 20% fixing it. Watson has reversed that.

5. Watson keeps learning
Employees are encouraged to provide feedback, whether they’re brand new or have years of experience.

The Watson advantage

Before Watson, Woodside’s engineers spent up to 80% of their time trying to uncover possible solutions or hazards—and only 20% of their time on the actual engineering work. With Watson, time spent on researching has been reduced by 75%, because Watson enables easy access to decades of wisdom and learnings built up by Woodside’s own employees.

With Watson, not only has Woodside saved US$10 million worth of time and kept employees safe, but they’ve also created a bridge for knowledge transfer from the past and for the future. “Watson has given us the flexibility and capability to move quickly, helping us solve new and exciting problems faster, simply because we’re not spending as much time searching for information,” said William Shondelmyer, IBM Watson’s Managing Consultant for Woodside.

What’s next for Woodside and Watson?

“The biggest thing in oil and gas is health and safety, and Watson can help us make better decisions to ensure that,” said Alexander Russo, an IBM Cognitive Engineer. “The goal now is to always be innovative and plant as many potential seeds as possible to grow Woodside.” Caitlin Bushell agrees: “Watson is changing the way we work. It is helping us make more informed decisions,” she said.