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Industry board member: Invest in digitalization and open up to more data sharing

With 43 years of experience in the energy industry under his belt, OMV executive Johann Pleininger talks about what it takes to conquer the next step in the industry’s evolution: digital transformation.

From the fields to the head office

Johann Pleininger grew up in the part of Austria where the vineyards meet the petroleum pumps. Born in Mistelback in 1962, he spent his childhood working the fertile fields of his homeland, where he learned the true meaning of hard labor. 

“My father was sick and I had to help out on the family farm. Luxuries were hard to come by at the time. Somehow this experience has shaped my perspective on life, and I have learned that you can’t always choose the easiest and most comfortable path.”

Pleininger’s path was certainly neither easy nor entirely comfortable. At the age of 15, he would make a choice that would impact the rest of his career. He took on an apprenticeship at one of Austria’s largest industrial companies, OMV.

He apprenticed as a mechanical technician and was able to study engineering in parallel, obtaining a truly hands-on education. He went on to spend the next 18 years of his life working the land of his childhood, but in an entirely different way. He had become an oil field worker, followed by a shift leader, and later a foreman, learning the trade from the bottom up. 

“Oil and gas are not produced in the headquarters. I worked my way up but never forgot where my roots are, always having my feet on the ground.”

He understands better than most that, in order for the incredible technological advancements to stick, the entire organization needs to be on board, sooner rather than later. His advice to all future leaders attempting similar digital endeavors is this:

“To a future successor, I recommend that you remain curious and flexible, and to always strive to incorporate the latest technologies. This constant aim for improvement will ensure that we continue to produce oil and gas safely and efficiently,” says Pleininger

You can’t always choose the easiest or most comfortable path, he's learned. But with a well-aligned team on board, combined with the right technology to make it happen, the energy industry is positioned to overcome its challenges and navigate a more sustainable, data-driven future

Industrial data-sharing is a gigantic task: this is where Cognite comes in

By sharing data and using its own data in a smart way, Pleininger and OMV believes that they will make better decisions for the company and its people. 

“At OMV we have a total of 400,000 sensors that can stream real data to our engineers’ desks. We have more than one petabyte of data available that we need to take into account when developing and operating our fields.”

A gigantic task, Pleininger remarks, which is where Cognite’s platform comes in. It converts vast amounts of data into “reasonable and profitable decisions.” OMV has already done this in New Zealand, for example, where they have implemented a solution that uses the streaming data from the fields to continuously maximize their condensate yield (natural gas liquid) within the frequently changing market constraints, saving more than one million Euro in the process. 

Cognite enables a new way of working at OMV and in the entire upstream industry. By collaborating with them, we have been able to transform the way we respond to challenges,” he says, describing the OMV teams as working agile now, running sprints and responding faster to feedback loops. They have reduced costs for modifications and found ways to generate business value quicker than ever before. 

“Cognite combines its technology platform with a dynamic and innovative delivery team. This is exactly what we needed,” he says.

"Industrial digitalization is the next mandatory step in the development of the business"

It’s perhaps this firsthand knowledge of the intricacies of the energy industry along with a lifelong acceptance of hard work that has bolstered Pleininger’s career. He climbed the corporate ladder of OMV for decades, moving out of the fields and into the corporate headquarters in Vienna, where he is today. Pleininger has earned himself a seat on the Executive Board, with responsibility for Upstream. 

It’s a deserved spot for a man who has been riding the oil and gas rollercoaster for 43 years. He’s been a part of OMV’s history, standing knee-deep in the industry’s slow and steady evolution. As Pleininger describes it, the industry he’s dedicated his life to is evolving, and "industrial digitalization is part of this evolution."

"In OMV, we actively promote and communicate digital transformation as something that is both inevitable and beneficial to everyone involved," he adds.

The industry is changing at a breakneck pace, and that's only been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic and the oil price crisis. At a time like this, strong leadership and digitalization that proves its own value go hand in hand. 

“What the oil and gas industry needs now is fast value creation and for leaders to be willing to invest when we see value.”

OMV is practicing what Pleininger is preaching. The company is no stranger to investing in new technologies, as well as adapting its organization, its capabilities and its way of thinking to align with the digital opportunities knocking at their door. 

OMV secures role as technological frontrunner in Upstream

Less than three years ago, OMV launched the global program DigitUP with the ambition to turn the company into a technological frontrunner in the upstream world. They have invested time and effort into bringing the latest industry innovations into the company, and now they are starting to reap the benefits. 

“One example of value created is through our Drilling Cockpit Center. It helps us monitor every well we drill globally, and it enables us to offer assistance with a virtual expert team. Plus our remote Power Desktops provide a seamless remote work experience, which turned out to be a godsend in the challenging coronavirus lockdown period.”

Pleininger adds that he is witnessing a changing mindset in OMV. Digitalization has caught on, and it’s causing other energy players to reach out to one another in order to share and learn more. Open source is becoming more important, according to Pleininger, and many companies are starting to openly share data and crowdsource some of their challenges – which is a relatively new way of thinking for the one-and-a-half century old industry. 

All images courtesy of OMV.

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