Cloud-based monitoring services are rapidly gaining in prominence and acceptance, especially as a means of connecting site data with remotely located experts, providing support where the in-house workforce is limited either in number or skillset.
With a skills shortage being a consistent industry issue, this can offer significant value and productivity gains by globalizing the division of labor. In addition, third party equipment suppliers, catalyst vendors and consultants often have access to powerful analytical and simulation tools which help to analyze and resolve site problems. However, operators will be keen to ensure that:
- There is no dependency on one particular supplier
- That in-house expertise isn’t hollowed out
- That supplier recommendations and expertise are independent in nature, and not just a means to sell a particular product
It is important to emphasize that not all cloud services are created equal. We envision three different types of systems, depending on where the tools and expertise reside:
Type 1: On Premise: In this type of service, the analysis tools and models, as well as the experts that run them, are all on the operator’s site. The operator analyses plant data and equipment performance, and if they decide that something needs to be done (such as get someone to inspect a machine, or order some chemicals), they communicate with external suppliers on a need-to-know basis. This system works well if the site capabilities are high, but is vulnerable if expertise is lost.
Type 2: Outsourced Services: Here the data is exported to a third party (typically a supplier or vendor) who runs their own analysis on the results, and then provides feedback and recommendations. This type of system is effective in the short term, as the expert recommendations can add substantial value, but the service does little or nothing to build capabilities. In fact, because there is little transparency in how the answers were arrived at, it reduces the insight and understanding levels of the on-site teams.
Type 3: Collaboration Services: The data and tools (such as simulation models) are hosted in the cloud, but are accessible to both the operating site and third-party experts. Because the model is accessible to all, site engineers can investigate and learn for themselves using a tool that is verified and assured. This type of system provides the benefit of expert skills to fill gaps on site, whilst at the same time developing customer skills rather than degrading them.
KBC believes that the “type 3” approach best fits the needs of most operating facilities. In fact, we’ve built our Co-Pilot solution according to this philosophy, both in the technology (by providing collaboration tools and shared models, not just a dashboard) and in the services (by providing collaborative consultants and building the program into the systems and processes you use every day).
If you’re considering using cloud services to enhance your operations, ask yourself these questions to see what category you fall into:
- What results will I see? Will I just get the answers or will I get access to the tools that generated them?
- Will the information be available to share with other partners (such as chemical suppliers, catalyst vendors or other experts in different parts of my organization)
- How does the program facilitate knowledge transfer and capability development of my people?
- Who am I collaborating with? Do they think like me and can they help with the change management side of any recommendations?