Data & Analytics

Nigeria Looks To Bridge Gaps in Oil and Gas Digital Transformation

Overcoming the gaps in digital transformation through collaborative partnerships will be paramount if Nigeria is to benefit fully from a boom in oil and gas infrastructure and be considered an industry heavyweight on the world stage.

Nigeria World Map
Source: filo/Getty Images

Digital transformation in Africa is advancing in leaps and bounds, with Nigeria leading the charge as home to the highest number of technology hubs in the continent. This advancement, coupled with global initiatives such as the Biden administration’s Digital Transformation with Africa, will see the continent’s digital infrastructure grow significantly.

Despite this technology spike, Nigeria’s energy industry is lagging behind its global peers, putting its big ambition, to be a gas-powered economy by 2030, at risk.

Is Nigeria’s Decade of Gas in Jeopardy?
Nigeria is on the cusp of a big oil and gas infrastructure boom, which could see the country finally unlock the economic prosperity residing in its abundant natural resources. This could lift millions out of energy poverty by augmenting domestic supply as well as boosting exports.

Historically, Nigeria has been severely hampered by a lack of oil and gas infrastructure; however, progress is finally being made as a result of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Decade of Gas Initiative, alongside the long-awaited reforms delivered through the Petroleum Industry Act.

Although the pace has been slow, large infrastructure projects such as the Dangote refinery, the 614-km-long AKK natural gas pipeline, and several liquefied natural gas plants are anticipated to be commissioned over the coming months and years. In addition to this, the state-owned refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri, and Kaduna are being rehabilitated, which will be another boost to the Nigerian economy.

Despite the planned projects, Nigeria’s checkered history with the use of digital technology within the oil and gas industry is in danger of jeopardizing this potential success story, with many companies becoming disillusioned by digital transformation.

The Pitfall of Digital Distrust
Most oil and gas decision-makers will have at least one story to tell of how they were sold a vision of digital transformation only to be left with an inferior product and no support to assist with implementation. These purchases not only failed to contribute any productivity or financial improvements but also, in many cases, did not solve the issues that they were bought to resolve. It’s become an all-too-common pitfall, engineered by unscrupulous salesmen who are only in it for the win.

Understandably, this has led to distrust and hesitation in adopting new innovations that would have a positive effect, whether on production, maintenance, resourcing, or construction. For many workers in the industry, this has created an element of doublethink; many have ambitions to mirror their global peers when it comes to digital innovation but are hesitant to do so based on their past experiences.

While industry leaders elsewhere are benefiting from the latest innovations in digital twins, data analytics, and preventive and predictive maintenance, many Nigerian workers are still struggling to piece together their maintenance schedules from incomplete plant plans and records kept in Excel. Employees waste a lot of their time looking for data that has been siloed into several systems and documents, or worse, has not been captured at all, residing solely in colleagues’ memories.

This frustration is only amplified when, year after year, they attend the same industry conferences but are left out of conversations for being no further along in digitally transforming their Nigerian operations. This deflated feeling is particularly acute for the globally mobile portion of the workforce that has benefitted from digital transformation first-hand in the United States, the Middle East, and Europe and previously gained satisfaction from using digital tools to amplify their decision-making.

Overcoming Digital Disillusionment
Without digital transformation, Nigeria will continue to trail its global peers. Although domestic supply and exports will rise, economic prosperity would not be unlocked to the fullest potential. To mend the rift created by digital disillusionment, a new approach to digital transformation is needed.

Collaborative partnerships with an innovative ethos offer a compelling alternative to previous digital transformation attempts. Built on mutual trust and understanding, they can wash away the hesitation and disenchantment of the past, revealing the almost limitless opportunity of a digital future.

James Fisher AIS’s rollout of its R2S digital twin technology is one example of how Nigeria is benefitting from a different approach.

Partners in Innovation
The key to putting theory into action has been to take a consultative-style process that puts the emphasis on solving the company’s problems even where there are no clear solutions. This is how innovation happens. It requires a culture shift away from the traditional business model that relies on quickfire sales of point solutions. Instead, the focus is on establishing long-term partnerships with oil and gas companies to solve their complex issues jointly through consultative engagements, often encompassing design-thinking methodologies and data-science techniques.

With the investment almost equal for both partners, Nigerian oil and gas companies can have renewed confidence in adopting emerging technologies such as data analytics, digital twins, and predictive maintenance. A consultative approach also lends itself to being scalable and adaptable. Those hesitant to give digital transformation another try can start with a small amount of change—and then scale that change up on the back of success.

For those companies that have taken the leap toward adopting digital twins, they now have the capability to present 2D data, visual data, and real-time data in a real-world context, allowing teams from various departments to plan better and swiftly make important operational decisions. Data that was once siloed, outdated, and disconnected has become useful, robust, and accurate, providing visibility to the remotest of assets through a visually immersive information experience.

The final piece of the puzzle is to create opportunities for knowledge transfer so that Africa’s oil and gas industry can confidently champion its digital transformation journey on its own terms. To make this vision a reality, James Fisher AIS is creating a training school in Angola that equips new industry recruits with the digital skills needed to overcome Nigeria’s digital transformation gaps to operate oil and gas assets efficiently. The firm also has opened headquarters in Lagos, expanding the team in Nigeria to give companies direct access to digital transformation experts who are attuned to the region’s specific needs and understand its digital heritage.

Bridging the gaps in digital transformation through collaborative partnerships will be paramount if Nigeria is to benefit fully from a boom in oil and gas infrastructure and be considered an industry heavyweight on the world stage.