Cybersecurity investments essential for industry future

It’s certainly an exciting time for the refining and petrochemicals industry, with changes ahead, but for industry players, it can also be a challenging period. How is the human element of the industry coping with advancing technology, and how can leaders aid in developing workforce capabilities and human resource dynamics in their organisations?

Industry leaders shared their opinions on the topic during a panel discussion held at this year’s Asian Downstream Summit (ADS), moderated by Bob Gill, General Manager of the ARC Advisory Group.

“In terms of the digital revolution, from my perspective, the promise and threat of digital transformation – better known as artificial intelligence, or AI – is real.” said Solihin Yusoff, Vice President, Lotte Chemical Titan Malaysia. “But the major impact on jobs has not yet been rife in quite a number of organisations. As recently as 2017, some bosses would believe your work skills would soon be useless – that was quite common! Leaders around the world began to consider how the organization would be different when thousands of employees’ jobs were automated away – but then we fast-forwarded a few years and the story is different. As with many technologies, reality did not keep up with the hype, at least not right away.

Industry gurus forgot the first law of digital innovation: Technology changes quickly, but organisations change much more slowly. Many people are working with smart machines in their daily work, but few have lost their jobs to them. Autonomous vehicles, robotics and AI have advanced remarkably, but the world has not been turned on its head by automation. Of course, some leaders are still considering how to prepare the companies and their workers for changes that will come as organizational data feeds and machine-learning algorithms mature.”

The democracy of digitalisation

Adding on was Dr. Pietro Valsecchi, Operational Excellence Expert for Covestro, a leading supplier of premium polymers. “Digitalisation has a peculiarity in that it brings a democratization of technologies,” he said, “because the two effects it has is that it makes data more available to everyone, but also empowers everyone with the same tools, more or less. This changes the dynamic in the workforce between leadership and its employees. In this space, they can also change the structure of working for authority to a more collaborative space. In my opinion, that is the digital transformation we are seeing.”

However, for all the fuss that the advent of digital transformation is causing in the industry, it is important to remember this: It is not new.

“In terms of this digital transformation and evolution, there’s nothing new in this technology,” explained John Koo, Business Development Director (Asia Pacific Operations), Becht. “I would like to step back a bit to define what we mean by digital transformation, because there has been so much talking about it in the past few years. To us, digital transformation means the alignment and application to streamline work processes, enable staff capabilities, and we use cutting-edge technology and subject matter experts to drive effective data management in making better decisions and make sure that assets are highly reliable. In terms of workforce capability and HR dynamics, we feel that the workforce needs to have an open mindset. As we approach learning and applying these contributions to the organisation’s digital evolution, effective communication, streamlining of work processes, the enabling of staff capabilities – all this will lead to a successful digital evolution.”

A big part of adapting to the digital transformation lies in ensuring that the workforce has the skills necessary to make the most of the digital tools now available. Employees have to upgrade their skillset, but leaders have to make sure that they provide the right level of support their workforce needs, and keep a sharp eye out for potential threats that these innovations may expose them to.

Valsecchi added, “It’s a little more democratic… We are moving into a place where the employees know more than me about new technologies. So it’s not me telling them what they have in technology; It’s them asking me, ‘can you bring this in?’ What we need to focus on now, in my opinion, is the cybersecurity. What we are lacking in skills is the awareness on how powerful these technologies are, and what cybersecurity risks we are taking. This is what we have to invest in, moving forward.”

Balancing people, cultures, and skillsets

Tapping in to Valsecchi’s point, Sharul A Rashid, Custodian (Instrument and Control) at PETRONAS, said, “The skillset for cybersecurity is very, very key to enable remote autonomous operations. Before COVID-19, we never thought of a pandemic, how it would affect on-site operations, and how onshore manufacturing is also affected, for example. We’re now able to use digital technology to remove people from the site and get them to safety.

In order to pursue AI as a carrier, for example, there are a number of skills you need to master. Among these are python, java, linear algebra, statistics… And there are also signal processing techniques, neural network architectures, these are among the skillsets. If these are of interest, it would help to ensure that we focus on these, to bring out the best in the employees or new resources.”

So what can organisations do to ensure that workforce competencies are allied with digital technology investments? According to Yusoff, the answer lies in making sure the organisation is an ecosystem.

“When you talk about an ecosystem, you’re talking about the functions that help to grow the organization,” he explained. “In terms of the vendors, suppliers, government agencies, the customers, the stakeholders, the organisation itself as a whole. So when we talk about artificial intelligence, automations, technologies, it’s got to go hand in hand. If none of the supporting functions in the ecosystem are working well, there is a big possibility that some production will drop; Competence will have to be replaced and substituted by some other factors.”

In the spirit of working hand in hand, it is also crucial to make sure that organisational leaders themselves understand the difficulties that the workforce may have in adapting to these changes, added Koo.

“I believe most leaders do understand the value of digitalization, and how they can add value to the organisation… It’s a huge expenditure, so really, before you do anything you need to do a digital audit exercise to assess the current situation so that you can estimate how much cost you need to expend. So, leaders need to understand the baseline conditions, the people culture, the skillset necessary… These are the things that leaders need to take into account of in terms of the digital culture in a real company.”

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