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“Digitalization is about simplifying processes”

CIS PETROCHEMICALS

“Digitalization is about simplifying processes”

The global petrochemical industry is currently transitioning from talks of "digitalization for the sake of digitalization" to solving practical issues and developing competitive advantages. Sibur is one of the key players in digital transformation in Russia. The company actively implements innovative solutions in various areas.

Globuc asked Alexey Vinichenko, head of the Advanced Analytics division at Sibur, to share his thoughts on what "practical digitalization" means in petrochemicals.

Globuc: How do you determine what is useful in the case of digitalization in the petrochemical industry? What does digitalization mean in practice? What are the solutions and in which areas are the most promising and in-demand?

Alexey Vinichenko: Above all, digitalization in the petrochemicals industry is about simplifying processes and optimizing operations. The introduction of various digital tools allows us not only to pinpoint our needs, but also to look at processes in a completely different way, redefine them elsewhere, and abolish them altogether.

Agenda

Building end-to-end processes and optimizing or modernizing them is highly valuable to business, and digital tools allow you to do this.

Transparency in processes allows you to implement various metrics, monitor them, detect abnormalities and quickly respond.

Starting with small success stories, usually local improvements, approaches start spreading to more extensive areas, cross-functional issues arise and consequently greater effects.

The transition of business lines from focusing on wells to understanding and optimizing the entire value chain makes it possible to correctly place the focus of attention, allocate resources as efficiently as possible, and choose the set of digital initiatives that is really needed.

Often the effect is achieved not so much due to the digital solutions, but the work that goes on in the process of its implementation.

I would also like to mention the contribution/input of data analysis tools:

  • Facilities in advanced analytics, as well as machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies, offer significant potential for improving efficiency. The range of applications is extremely wide - from recommendation systems that help manage the technological regime to strategic planning. Whether in HR, sales, marketing, logistics, manufacturing, security or purchasing, there is a place for applying these tools and achieving significant effects everywhere.
  • To effectively use advanced analytics, you need to implement mechanisms for working with data: collection, storage, and quality management. Therefore, along with analytical tools, mandatory infrastructure elements are the "data platform", as well as the tools that collect and transmit data such as mobile applications, IIoT sensors, production systems, etc.
  • Digitalization makes it possible to switch to data-driven approaches developing a culture of data-based decision-making in all departments and at all levels.

Globuc: How much investment in digital technologies is economically justifiable in both the short and long term?

Alexey Vinichenko: digital technologies are not just economically justified, but an undeniable competitive advantage in the midterm.

We can see this clearly in other industries, such as finance and telecommunications, which are essentially already becoming IT companies, and for them this is a factor of surviving in a highly competitive environment.

The petrochemical industry is a little more conservative by nature and has started to actively digitalize later than others, but the motive is the same. The transition from automation to digitalization allows us to make another leap in the development of the industry, often called the fourth industrial revolution.

Very soon we'll start talking seriously about unmanned plants in the petrochemical industry. Technologies are already quite close to making this possible even in continuous and dangerous production.

Globuc: What are the main obstacles that you would identify in a real digital transformation for a petrochemical company?

Alexey Vinichenko: The main obstacles are mostly internal issues and are related to the historical characteristics of the industry and corporate culture.

Historically, longer investment cycles, a stable customer base, and a predictable level of demand have not contributed to changes in the way business is conducted, and the question of survival is not as acute as in B2C segments.

However, the world is changing rapidly, and the speed of response to market demands and new challenges in terms of efficiency, safety, and ecology don’t leave you standing by. And now the industrial sector is actively reducing the digital gap, while being able to rely on the experience of industries that began to develop this niche earlier.

Due to the design features and age of some equipment, it is not physically possible to implement advanced solutions everywhere. Where modernization is costly and uneconomical, a reasonable balance can improve operational efficiency by making point-to-point improvements to individual parts of the process.

Not being an IT company in the purest form, we face a shortage of digital talents such as data analysts and engineers, developers, and product designers. It is important to explain to this audience that digitalizing a large industrial company with technological components, installations, complex logistics and seeing the effect of their work on real production processes and internal users is no less interesting than making another on-trend app. We share these cases in our blog on the IT resource habr.ru and on our site sibur.digital/en.

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