Why challenging the status quo is crucial for continued innovation in the energy industry

We caught up with Andrew Quail, Director of IT and Innovation at SGN, to discuss why the utilities industry will benefit from a data and systems revamp, why continual innovation is so important, and the ground breaking partnership between SGN and FYLD…

In my decades of experience in tech and innovation, I’ve found the key to sustained business value is the implementation of safe and reliable IT services alongside innovative new technologies. This balance improves customer outcomes, employee safety and productivity, as well as associated costs. Transitioning to new processes and ways of working is an evolution required across every organisation, including those in the energy sector.

The transition to the lower carbon future the world needs is very complex. At SGN, we are working on strategies that demonstrate hydrogen use, along with other renewables, supports the energy transition. Digitalisation is also a prerequisite and enabler for our innovations and the future of energy. 

In my opinion, capturing and analysing data is vital for progressing digital innovation. We must move to data-driven visions of the future. We all have an obligation to engage with open and available data to improve learnings across all industries. After all, AI helps to drive better decision making, and assists in the remote management of teams across the world.

Challenging the status quo

The best practice for redesigning process systems to optimise operations is to challenge the status quo. The gas sector, which I work in, has historically been far behind in using intelligent data. There is a huge opportunity to improve how data is captured, analysed and stored. To do this, we must work collaboratively.

The partnership SGN has built with FYLD has hugely challenged the status quo of the industry. Having fieldworkers systematically and willingly collect data about what takes place on their worksites is transformational. Its transformative power should not be underestimated.

One example that clearly shows the power of this data is the predictive safety intervention project SGN is actively partnering on with FYLD. This will let us be proactive and stop incidents in their tracks – rather than today’s reactive approach – enabling the best possible safety benefits for the 21st century gas industry.  I look forward to the experimental work FYLD is doing on predicting operational challenges being deployed in 2023.

This partnership with FYLD is helping SGN to be transformative and challenge the legacy thinking of existing processes, for example, the transformation of traditional paper into well digitalised processes. The way FYLD creates a shared, real time, imagery-based view of field operations is completely new to this industry – it results in better management, more efficient teams and material span of control increases.

Targeted and effective

The cultural and behavioural changes encouraged through FYLD’s platform is a key journey for fieldworkers. The buy in from teams to change processes is important and often develops in tandem with the machine learning element of the platform. The more the team uses the platform, the more enhanced its prompts, hazards and controls become.

FYLD was designed for and built by fieldworkers, for fieldworkers. The positive effects this brings, through functionality and ease of use, means that FYLD users see it as a support tool, rather than an extra task in their day.  It has been really well embraced at SGN.

From a management perspective, supervisors have far more insight and higher spans of control using the platform. FYLD occupies a complimentary position to site visits, with data now helping us to target which sites supervisors should visit and when, as well as the teams that can be left to it to finish their work.  It helps us understand this from a human connection perspective, as well as an operational or safety risk perspective. The intelligence and insight from the FYLD platform informs targeted and effective decision making.

Importance of innovation funding

Innovation funding is massively important as processes and systems are updated in line with the energy transition. SGN is collaborating with FYLD to deliver a project funded by OFGEM’s Strategic Innovation Fund to pilot ground breaking new ways of working. We are actively working on predicting challenges that will arise during the course of a fieldworkers day.  

We are partners in thinking differently, and the innovative digital solutions we are developing will lead to information about what takes place in the field, along with other data sets, being used to drive organisational change.  While the FYLD team has members that are experienced in running field force operations working in dangerous environments, they often think differently to us as they are not at the coal face, delivering BAU outcomes whilst also delivering a transformation agenda. This ‘outside-in’ thinking has proven powerful time and time again for SGN, as the FYLD team identifies concepts from a data led perspective which are very complimentary to our strategy.

I’m really excited about the potential of FYLD to enable benchmarking.  This has always been extremely difficult, with people asserting that ‘every job is different’. I question if this is really true, but regardless data science will enable us to solve the challenge. Performance benchmarking is essential for validating processes and giving stakeholders assurance that they’re taking the best course of action. It will let us better reward our best supply chain partners, and work with other partners to collaboratively achieve stronger outcomes.

FYLD and SGN’s journey

The initial implementation of FYLD for field engineers was so successful within SGN that we invested in a multi year innovation agreement. This has led to SGN co-investing and working very closely with FYLD to enhance the features and functionality of its platform, and deploy it further to new workstreams such as maintenance and emergency responders.

We have our own team dedicated solely to working with FYLD. We have been agreeing roadmaps, investing time, money and effort into our partnership. By having senior buy in across the organisation to achieve these goals, we’re setting both SGN and FYLD up for a successful collaboration.

At SGN, we use digital solutions to enable smarter, safer outcomes for our workers and customers. We partner with like-minded innovators to work with us on the journey.

The environment we occupy requires digitalisation and a radical rethinking of how technology can make safety and operational efficiencies for customers as streamlined as possible, while reducing the burden of energy costs.

The challenge is so great and prize so rewarding. We must act, we must innovate and we must work with companies that enable us to do that. FYLD is a vital part of our journey.