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‘Knowledge is not proprietary, information can be proprietary’

Raj Jhajharia, Technical Manager, Gulf Downstream Association (GDA), discusses the importance of striking the balance between promoting transparency, in a bid to enhance efficiency, and protecting the Intellectual Property rights of its member companies in the oil & gas sector; efforts to improve HVACR operations in critical facilities and opportunities and bottlenecks surrounding adoption of disruptive technologies. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Hannah Jo Uy of Climate Control Middle East, on the sidelines of the 24th World Energy Congress, in Abu Dhabi…

| | Nov 6, 2019 | 6:45 pm
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Raj Jhajharia

Could you tell us about Gulf Downstream Association and its profile of activities in the region?

Gulf Downstream Association (GDA) is a non-profit entity created by five founding companies – Saudi Aramco, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Bahrain Petroleum Company, Kuwait National Petroleum Company and Kuwait Petroleum International. These are the National Oil Companies (NOCs) of the GCC [region], and the objective of the association is to promote knowledge sharing and experience among all the oil & gas downstream players. Under our umbrella, we created four different types of membership – full members, associate members, business partners and knowledge partners. Full members are the [entities] operating the facilities – like any refinery, gas plant, manufacturing facility and laboratories, as well. The GCC lab is our full member, as are SASREF, Samref, YASREF, Shell and Chevron, to name a few.

To what extend does the knowledge transfer facilitated by the Association include the design, operation and maintenance of the critical facilities of its members with an eye on enhancing its efficiencies?

We cover everything – from A to Z, people to processes and everything in between. Efficiency is, of course, at the centre. We created nine technical committees focusing on technologies, operational excellence, plant reliability, leadership, industry training and energy management. These technical committees are manned by subject matter experts taken from our members, and we have created a unique platform from our website we call the Knowledge Hub. Through the Knowledge Hub, all our members can exchange information and experience, ask questions, start a topic of discussion, and the knowledge which builds up in this Knowledge Hub remains for the future generation. It becomes like an industry memory. We are creating and building an industry memory for the future, so people don’t have to go to different places to find answers. They can come to our Knowledge Hub and get the answers to their common questions.

People are really open to giving their suggestions, and between the different experts they are able to resolve many issues they are individually facing. Because, imagine, one company has an issue, which has been already resolved by another company, but they don’t know about each other. Through our platform they can connect and help each other, so it’s nice – a lot of knowledge exchange.

Within such a critical and highly specialised industry, wouldn’t there be apprehensions when it comes to sharing information that could be considered a competitive advantage?  How does the Association address and overcome concerns surrounding members sharing potentially sensitive details of internal technical operations?

Excellent! You touched on an interesting point. Initially, when we started, everyone was worried and apprehensive. They were reserved. What we did is we discussed among all members, and we developed a protocol – we call it the Knowledge Sharing Protocol. Our principle is very simple – you don’t have to share any proprietary facts. You see, knowledge is not proprietary, information can be proprietary, but knowledge can come without some proprietary information. When you are extracting knowledge from a particular information, you can filter the proprietary attributes of the information. For example, you don’t have to share the name of the unit, and if you want to hide the name of a company, the license or licensor, a particular specification or formulae – take it out. But the lesson you have learnt from an incident, you learned a new way of doing business, which can be shared without disclosing any propriety information – and you gain, as well. There is no proprietorship for knowledge, because we believe that if there were proprietorship of knowledge, nobody would learn. We keep on exchanging knowledge without worrying about proprietorship, but we need to only make sure we don’t affect anyone’s business, and we do make sure of this. Our Knowledge Sharing Protocol, we define it very carefully. We say, ‘This is the process you follow to make sure what you are sharing is not violating your company’s IP [Intellectual Property rights]’.

You mentioned that the Association has its base in Bahrain and holds a number of events within the country. Does GDA hold workshops across the GCC region, as well?

Yes, absolutely. Apart from our nine technical committees, we hold our signature conference, which we call the GDA Conference. It used to be called Petrotech in Bahrain for the last 20 years, but now it has been renamed the GDA Conference, and it happens every two years. The next one is in October 2020. In between, we do smaller conferences and symposium courses. We have a lot of collaboration with industry and technology providers. The same people offer the courses to the outside world at a price, but we have collaborated with them and negotiated a huge discount for our members, so our members will benefit, and the provider also benefits. At present, we are mostly in Bahrain, but we are open to hosting it anywhere in the GCC region, as long as we have a critical mass of attendees.

Within these symposiums, how much of a focus is given to sharing best practices related to HVACR equipment of critical applications, all of which require specialised knowledge?

We have a technical committee, which is called energy management, and in this energy management [committees] we have at least 10 subject-matter experts drawn from different National Oil Companies and industry technology providers. What this committee is doing is looking into aspects of how to save energy of how to make [operations] energy efficient. For example, in most refining industries, there is a lot of waste heat. In our refinery, they are continuously doing research on how to do cogeneration. In every process, you are creating energy, and this energy can be used in one way or another in the plant, and it has been possible. In terms of getting]one dollar value of oil, you create extra amount of dollars by saving the energy.

With an eye on improving energy and operational efficiency, what sort of a role do you see disruptive technology — be it artificial intelligence, internet of things or virtual reality — will play in enhancing internal processes of downstream entities? Do you feel existing innovative technologies are being utilised to the extent they could be?

You are absolutely right. Industrial Revolution (IR) 4 is a bundle of technologies – it has started to play the role but not to the extent that it should, and the only reason is lack of awareness. People are still not clear, asking what do they mean by IR 4? What is AI? What is the application? People think it’s all hype, and they don’t know what is the use of it. We are trying, as an Association, to break this wall. We are trying to bring workshops and programmes to help enhance the awareness of people and provide competency, because the people today, they don’t have the competencies to handle IR 4 technologies that will play a greater role in the future.

How willing are stakeholders in the oil & gas sector to adopt these innovative technologies in their operations? Providers of such technologies have pointed out that the industry is generally apprehensive when it comes to integrating such solutions in their facilities. Have you observed the same bottlenecks?

Yes, absolutely, and we have to move away from this thinking. There is a requirement for our industry to do a cultural shift. There has to be an IR4 culture built within our workforce. I agree that right now, the workforce is close-minded. A lot of people don’t look at this technology with an open mind, it’s the new generation that is most open. We need to re-educate people, re-skill them and look at Artificial Intelligence as a solution, rather than a threat. Many people look at AI as a threat, because it might replace the people, when in fact, it will replace the job you are doing with a lot of error. Human error is something you cannot avoid, but the AI can do the same job a human does with so many errors, perfectly, and then you and concentrate the human mind on something more creative, imaginative and visionary.

There should be greater collaboration between new technology providers and companies. But it is easier said than done, because there is a whole lot of providers, and no one knows who is giving what. How do you test them? How do you filter them? There are many claims, but are they really true? We don’t know, so the industry is confused on one hand, and there is a whole supermarket of providers. There is no interface… nobody, no bridge in between, who can say, “All right, this is the good technology for you, and this is how it should be used.”

Some companies are coming with a hidden agenda, so that’s why you need a third party, like an association, who doesn’t have an agenda. We don’t have an agenda to the vendor nor towards the consumer. We are in between, independent, and we can bring both of them onto our platform. Whoever gives most value, we let them test. We can play the role of an incubator of future technology, and we encourage people to come and bring their technology. We encourage our members to come and test it, and then they decide among themselves, so, actually we call ourselves th

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