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Creating momentum for digital innovation starts with “why”
by  Alvin See
Digital transformation may sound like an all-too-familiar term, but that doesn’t negate its benefits. A common thread of “why,” supported by less ambiguous targets and processes, provides the impetus to drive value from digital innovation—and hasten progress.
4 min read

Searching "digital transformation" on the Internet returns >700 million results (up from >400 million just a couple years ago). Yet many organizations find it difficult to put a finger on what digital transformation entails. Strategy is oftentimes ambiguous from the beginning and implementation complex to execute and scale in the end. 

The responsibility of leading this transformation often falls on the chief digital officer (CDO), a role that is both relatively new and already reported as being in danger of extinction.

So, why is digital transformation so complex, if indeed it is? Shouldn’t digital make things easier? I’ve had the privilege of working with multiple diverse groups of energy and tech firms and their CDOs on their digital transformation journeys. My biggest observation thus far?

It really starts with why

Data gives us the gift of foresight

Articulating (and believing in) digitalization is not easy. Our industry is founded on the safe exploration and commercialization of economically viable hydrocarbon reserves—oftentimes under unpredictable market conditions. Considering this and the triple energy challenge where electrons are increasingly replacing hydrocarbons, we must prioritize our understanding and ask the right questions on the changes required to be successful in an uncertain future.

The answer all companies invariably come to is digital. Not “digital” for technology’s sake, but using data in combination with digital advancements to better: 

  • Find, evaluate, and confidently invest in prospects faster than the competition;
  • Determine and pursue the most economical scenario to develop fields and wells that leverage innovative concepts and tech;
  • Maximize the value of producing assets safely and efficiently under potential business scenarios;
  • Provide resilient and agile operating models and ways of working to not only ride market changes, but also benefit from the opportunities they bring;
  • Extend organization capabilities into energy transition topics.

The list goes on. Leading companies increasingly understand this and are committing resources to digitalization. If you have yet to arrive to this conclusion, check in on each function’s (e.g., operations and support, exploration, development, production, supply chain and finance) aspirations and strategy, and you’ll find data and digital to be central components of their target improvements. Better yet, ask them how much more they could deliver if the data from across their domain workflows was truly unlocked and accessible.

The benefit of an integrated data mindset

Part of the advantage of digital transformation is elevating siloed digital initiatives into a fully integrated program—one that injects, challenges, funds, and drives collaboration across your organization’s value chain and data investments.

I’ve seen companies that obsess over a single number for their business case, companies with a visionary approach towards all innovation, and even companies that have taken on the cautionary threat of “transform or wither” as their mantra. What is undeniable is that there’s no turning back once the why—the value digital brings to their business—is understood and internalized.

As Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, "He who has a why can bear almost any how.”

The question is does your organization have a compelling, consistent, and internalized narrative for “why”? It’s usually frontline staff that understand the need for digital more readily. Senior management often require more time to understand the business imperative. Same with middle management as they learn and appreciate what digital can and needs to do to ultimately lead and execute the transformation.

This does not happen overnight. It is an evolving journey of adapting your organization and its ways of working to leverage data in the delivery of your goals. And if you’re interested in the subsequent “how” of digital innovation—including the need to steer, drive, and enable digitalization from a user and CDO organization perspective—check out the next part of this series.



Alvin See

D&I Strategy Manager

Alvin See is known as the keeper of trivia and obscure stories to his friends and colleagues. An engineer and business consultant, his passion is in the digitalization of the energy sector and the house in which he lives.

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