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Can oil and gas be more like the software business? This CEO thinks so.

We are at a pivotal moment in the lifetime of the oil and gas industry. Digitalization is poised to reimagine the industry as we know it — something that Aker BP CEO Karl Johnny Hersvik thinks Cognite will help drive. And it’s a challenge so filled with complexity that it seems tailor-made for him.

It was completely by chance that Hersvik ended up in the oil and gas industry

Being a good boxer is about much more than just hitting hard. Anyone who has been in the ring knows that it takes speed, agility, a degree of gutsiness, and most of all, the ability to take a punch. Karl Johnny Hersvik learned to box in his youth, at his father’s urging. It started as a way to scare off the bullies, but it turned into an outlet for Hersvik’s abundance of energy. It was a steep learning curve, but it worked. The bullies backed down, and Hersvik had a new hobby that fed his continual need to be challenged.

Boxing was the first of many lessons for Hersvik. The Bergen, Norway-native has always been drawn to solving complex tasks, and he’s made it his life’s mission to get to the bottom of everything. 

This led him into the world of physics, mathematics, and natural sciences. He says it was never his goal to become CEO of a large company. His mother would have preferred he became a doctor or lawyer. 

“I followed my interests and studied industrial mathematics, informatics, and applied mathematics. It was 1998, and I expected that I’d go into software programming, which was a hobby for me at the time.”

The realization was the catalyst that launched Cognite

It was that constant itch for a problem to solve, coupled with both natural and learned instincts as a leader, that shaped Hersvik into who he is today: the CEO of Aker BP, Norway’s second largest oil and gas company. He started the job in 2014, in what was then called Det Norske Oljeselskap, a petroleum exploration and production company out of Norway. Det Norske is what later became Aker BP (in 2016) after a merger with BP Norge. 

Hersvik makes bold moves off the bat in CEO role

“I spent my first month talking to everyone in the company. We formulated a plan to grow to 60,000 barrels in production. And my first task was to acquire Marathon in Norway.”

Hersvik signed with Marathon after just one month on the job, and it marked one of the largest transactions ever on the Norwegian continental shelf. It was a bold move for a new CEO, but Hersvik had something even bolder in mind as his next step. 

In 2016, when the company officially became Aker BP, Hersvik started to think about how digitalization could change the business. “I have a software background. And when I entered the company, a lot of software was being used, but this isn’t what I had in mind.

“Having software isn’t digitalization. But having the right software certainly helps get you there,” Hersvik says.

If you look at any other business that has succeeded in digitalization, it’s because they’ve removed friction in a process, Hersvik explains, not because they use a lot of software. He reflects on the fact that it’s far easier to make a purchase or book an appointment today because digital tools have made the process easier for consumers. “So why can’t we do the same in a business-to-business process?” Hersvik questions. 

To begin the digitalization journey in Aker BP, Hersvik wanted all the data produced or consumed by the company and any vendor it collaborates with to be available to anyone, on any device, with extremely low latency. He and some colleagues started by scanning the world for solutions, to see if there were technologies available that they could apply. Hersvik reports, “No one had solved this problem yet.” 

This realization was the catalyst that led to the launch of Cognite

Cognite has given us the competitive edge

“We have succeeded in changing the business formula for ourselves and our vendors. Cognite has given us the competitive edge.” 

The idea behind Cognite, formed out of necessity just a few years ago, has blossomed into a thriving company, specializing in software that puts industrial data into context and makes it actionable. Just as intended, Aker BP put the platform to work to liberate all the data; data that Hersvik wanted anyone and everyone to have access to across the value chain. 

“Cognite has reduced our threshold for accessing data in our ecosystem, and it’s given us a platform for experimenting and testing.” 

Hersvik explain that the Cognite technology has already helped them make strides “removing friction and waste, and shortening timelines.” But to make these big changes in an old industry, it’s not only about the technology. You have to change the entire organization, the value chain and most importantly, the people. 

It’s the ultimate problem to solve, with enough complexity to make anyone’s head spin. But to turn an oil company into a digital powerhouse takes a certain amount of guts, a degree of agility, a willingness to fail, and an ability to get back up again. Not a far cry from Hersvik’s days in the boxing ring.

Today, Aker BP is going all in when it comes to digitalizing their business, because it’s the only way, according to Hersvik. And with the right people on the team and the right platform on which to stand, the odds are certainly in their favor.

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