Some things are easier to sell than others. It amazes us how many people buy new smartphones every year. Some new gadget gets folks to pay for version 11 when they haven't even really used a fraction of the version 10 model they bought last year. Only if everything was as easy to sell as the latest consumer fad.
According to statista.com, in 2019, the number of smartphones sold to consumers stood at around 1.52 billion units, a significant increase from the 680 million units sold in 2012. This means that over 19 percent of the world's total population owned a smart device in 2019, a figure that is expected to increase to 37 percent by 2021.
But our problem is an industrial one, not a consumer one. So how do you sell the value of integration and automation to the oil and gas industry? A software platform enables integration and automation, but it is a lot more than just a single application. A specific functional application can be described pretty quickly, but a platform is a lot more complicated.
A smartphone is a platform of sorts. While few use a smartphone for its original purpose, like making a phone call, the other features (web browsing, camera, GPS, text messaging, music and video streaming, etc.) are the key selling points. Here, the most attractive features are all integrated into a single interface, with standardized protocols, without the user even being aware of most of the value of the digital platform that one has in their pocket.
For a smartphone platform, the thought of integration and automation is considered a given. The value of the rest of the features would be much less without the glue the platform brings. Let's switch from the seller's to an insiders' view from the client's perspective for a minute. What if the operations group sees the value, but the IT department brings up objections? What if the reservoir engineering groups really need one app, but the rest doesn't fit with the installed field automation systems? What if the workload engine is desirable, but no one really knows how the data management process would connect? Who owns the big picture in a large corporation? How do you balance the value to one segment with the costs to another? Who is the champion for this enormous change? Whoever it is, please let the salesman know so he can send them some literature on their product.
These questions reflect a larger issue of corporate governance. All well-run organizations have governance processes, especially around financial, HR, and legal processes. But how many times do you find these processes work for technology acquisition or for an enterprise view of data? Do they reflect C-suite dreams versus bench level reality? Does anyone have the courage to tell the COO that their company's technology and processes don't work the way they think they do?
How do you get a foot in the door to begin the change this situation? Few, if any, will start with the platform idea. No one starts from a clean sheet of paper either. How do you deal with legacy technology, data, and workflows? Does anyone know how much effort it will take to remake the data and workflow infrastructure currently existing?
Everyone wants to be second and follow the industry leaders and not take the initial risk of adopting bleeding-edge solutions. Is there an easier way? Can a thoughtful pilot help to start the process? Where should we begin? There are too many questions for most operational managers to deal with. Give them a good field production problem and delegate this platform question to the IT manager. That is what they are there for, isn't it? And we are back to square one for the platform salesman.
There is a way to get started on the right track and make progress, which we will discuss in a future article. But you see the challenges of a complex sale. Without a strategic perspective, the value of a platform can get lost in all these tactical questions. In some ways, many companies are not ready for the giant leap to a platform solution even if their performance is lagging, but they can only consume band-aids for their broader automation and integration challenges. The platform vendor will have to evaluate their potential clients, just as the client checks out their suppliers. Some aren't ready for the giant leap, but many are, and they can't wait to get started.