How Digitalization is Helping Companies Big and Small

Mar 03, 2021   Written by Louise Maratos, KBC Consulting Operations for the Europe, FSU and Africa (EFA) region

Louise Maratos talks how digitalization is helping companies big and small. Currently leading the EFA Consulting delivery team she tells of her experience as an engineer, keeping up with technology, maintaining focus and clearing the mind with the freedom found in work/life balancing.

You currently lead KBC Consulting Operations for the Europe, FSU and Africa (EFA) region. What path did you take to get you here?

Specialty chemicals in Teesside gave me the first experience of operations and was foundational for my operational manufacturing background. Moving to London, I moved to water treatment plant operations - I've actually supported a large portion of the water network for South East England, including Heathrow. However, my passion has always been in refining, ever since my Dad was an electrician at Stanlow, so I took a position at BP Coryton later to be PetroPlus. I worked in the cracking asset operations until I moved to Shell and finally here at KBC.

Being sold from BP to PetroPlus must’ve been interesting. What did you lose, as an Operations Team, going from a big integrated oil company like BP to a multi-site independent refiner like PetroPlus?

I suppose, this is what's interesting for many of our current clients. What's it like to stand alone? What's it like to need support and work out what's missing without large central teams/resources. How do you manage your management of change? If you look at some of the issues, then it is driven by that lack of organizational change and managing that change properly. I am currently working on two projects, both independent refiners, where we are doing the technical profit improvement piece, but also investigate those wider concerns as well. Overcoming the technical problem is one thing: the technical answer is good, but it's never the complete solution. Implementing it is often a lot harder !

Over the years what have you seen that helps plant operations overcome change more effectively?

So, I started off at Shell as an FCC specialist, supporting their global operations, but ended up spending six and half years supporting proactive technical monitoring programmes. I looked at how you monitor, what you monitor, versus what's the best practice. What I found was the knowledge that individuals build over that time disappears when they get a new job or move departments. I looked at how can you keep that knowledge with the asset rather than with the person? This is where you create a culture of discipline - taking all that practical experience and using it within simulation models and technology to monitor the asset over time. The discipline, however, extends further as it is both doing monitoring and actually executing something about it. If you don’t do something with the output or there are no work processes behind it, then that's where knowledge is lost and you lose the value in your investment. Some engineers do not realize that monitoring is part of their job. But instilling that monitoring discipline helps the asset whenever change happens.

You mentioned using technology for plant monitoring – how have you seen monitoring evolve?

Like music, it’s evolved. You started with vinyl records, then you moved into like cassettes, then CDs, now Spotify and monitoring is exactly the same thing. However, digital technology is outstripping the vision, so where it was two years ago against where it is now - that difference is huge. Technology will keep changing, so the question for me is how do we keep up with technology as engineers? It's making sure that the data that monitoring needs or produces doesn’t overwhelm. It also means specifying technology that doesn’t just telling us the day-to-day bad actors, but it actually gives engineers the freedom to be much more efficient and focus on the key things that we need to: delivering the profit, the value, the safety and everything else that goes with it.

Beside streaming music, how have you been finding freedom outside of work?

My company and my job and my laptop allow me to work anywhere in the world as proven through Covid-19. We've continued to work and can support our clients remotely and adapted the way we've worked. This has certainly helped with the balance as my family is always my priority in balancing my work/life. Spending time with them outside of traveling and my role is really important. Just as important is my horse. I started riding when I was four, and as I’ve matured I’m a rider more for fun than for competition. I currently have a 24 year old Belgium cob called Folly. She's massive and weighs in at 750 kilos, 16.3 hands. I go out riding mainly on the Salisbury Plains. It’s very nice, getting into the countryside with fresh air and clearing the mind.