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Refiners to increase spending on digital tech

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Nearly two-thirds of refiners plan to increase their investments in digital technologies over the next three to five years, although digital is not one of the top plant investment areas for refiners today, according to new research from Accenture. The Accenture Connected Refinery research – based on a survey of more than 200 executives, functional leaders and engineers at refiners globally – shows that more than half of respondents (57%) said that their current level of digital investment overall was more or significantly more than 12 months ago.

While this spending is set to increase, only 19% of refiners rated digital as one of their top three priorities for spending on plant efficiency and productivity over the next three years. When asked to identify the most important benefits that digital technologies will provide, respondents most often cited more-effective plant management (63% of respondents), reducing operational risk (59%) and more-efficient and predictive maintenance (54%).

Reducing operational costs appeared most frequently in the top three business priorities that will drive refiners’ next digital investments, cited by 39% of respondents, yet the most frequently mentioned barrier to digital implementation was the investment required, cited by 50% of respondents.

When asked to identify the digital technologies that drive the greatest impact in operational performance, respondents most often cited analytics (74%), cybersecurity (41%) and mobility (38%). The inclusion of cybersecurity among the top three suggests that companies are seeking to offset the greater risk of cyberattack that comes with more-connected refinery operations. Some of the current and future planned business investment areas that increase this connectivity include more automation, moving operations to the cloud, mobile solutions, AI and robotics.

“As the number of connected systems and devices that share data in the energy value chain continues to grow, so does the scale and impact of any potential cyberattack risk,” Countryman said. “Historically, refinery execution and control systems have been on premise, locally maintained and fairly isolated compared with enterprise systems. With increases in wireless infrastructures connecting people and connecting machines, and manufacturing execution system applications moving to cloud, new operational technology security measures are required.”

Showing the need for new measures, more than one-third (36%) of respondents cited data security as a barrier to adoption of digital technologies; this figure rose to 50% among IT professionals surveyed.

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