Leading transformation in the downstream business

Now more than ever, innovation will play a key role in delivering more sustainable, affordable and reliable products that fuel human progress and economic growth around the world.

Understanding how the industry can harness the power of innovation can transform downstream business and bring needed improvements to meet changing customer demands and market conditions. For Allison Martinez, senior VP of business transformation and chief information officer (CIO) at Chevron Phillips Chemical, technological innovations such as AI have been helpful in plant modeling and analytical tools.

“We have software solutions that have been leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning and specific categories of artificial intelligence for a decade,” Martinez said. “We have it built into our digital twins, we have it built into our predictive analytic models, we have it built into our forecasting models; we continue to use that technology to leverage all of the intelligence we can get out of historical data and help customers make better decisions — and ultimately help predict failures and prevent failures in the future.”

Despite recent concerns over the growing role of AI in business, such as ChatGPT, Martinez noted that it is important to remember that AI is meant to enhance, not replace, what humans can do in the workplace.

“Where ChatGPT comes in and becomes scary is this idea that it can replace lawyers and doctors and all these other people — I think that’s a bit far-fetched,” explained Martinez during a panel discussion joined by co-panelists Linda Rae with GE and Suresh Padmanabhan with Indorama, during Reuters’ Downstream USA 2023.

“For example, in technical support, which is an area that we’re starting to explore, how can we leverage generative AI tools to enhance this type of support so we can provide even better support? It doesn’t replace, though, all of the knowledge and the domain expertise that we have,” Martinez said. “It’s simply a way of enhancing and maybe streamlining the approach we take with customers. So we’ll continue to leverage the technology as an enhancement, but it won’t replace the true domain knowledge and expertise.”

Ultimately, the goal of developing AI in industry is to improve reliability and make processes more efficient and safer for management and employees within a company. However, Martinez noted that innovative efforts are often met with resistance, which can usually be attributed to fear.

“If you’re going to introduce transformation, ideas, innovation, you have to consider safety and reliability. And if you’re going to be anywhere close to those two things, you know you’re going to get resistance. I think past that, you’re dealing with the normal challenge of change — managing change, resisting change — what you have to then think of is, ‘what is their perspective on why they’re worried about this change?’ And I think most of that comes down to some sort of fear,” Martinez said.

One way to combat this hesitancy in adopting new technologies is by helping users understand the potential benefits, outcomes and improvements that a digital transformation holds for a company.

“If you’re leading a transformation organization, the best indicator of success is that you’re not just the department they have to live with, but the department they can’t live without,” Martinez said.

According to Martinez, the way to get buy-in can include cost reduction, reliability improvement, avoiding unplanned outages and downtime, reducing maintenance costs or improving worker efficiency through digital inspections — all of which are examples of successful digital transformation that benefits an organization. Furthermore, embedding more digital tools into work processes can make it easier for companies to attract and retain the next generation of workers.

“The more you embed digital tools into your work processes, the more attractive those work processes can become to the computer science generation, which is another way of delivering value to your organization — helping to retain that next generation of workers and leverage their insights and their capabilities as you transform your business,” added Martinez.


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