HxGN Radio Podcast: pressure makes diamonds

plant with purple sky

Tune in to the HxGN Radio episode Pressure Makes Diamonds featuring Patrick Holcomb, executive vice president of global business development and marketing for Intergraph Process, Power & Marine (PP&M), about the fiscal necessity to shorten the supply chain and how automating work processes is creating the need for consistent data and higher quality deliverables. (Read the full transcript below.)

Holcomb has an engineering background and previously worked for Exxon and Accenture doing work process design and market strategy. In his current position he sets the overall market strategy and marketing communications plan for Intergraph PP&M. This is a dynamic time for the company and his team.

Intergraph has a long history of innovation. From  innovating technology hardware in the 1960s to creating the first successful plan and design system, PDS, in the 1980s, to today. PP&M is leading the way in advanced work package planning for construction, and with SmartPlant Fusion, is managing millions of unstructured documents and turning them into valuable information used in a data-centric work process.

The industry is changing, and PP&M is changing with it. Rather than build another application for another discipline, PP&M is asking “How do we make the whole value chain compress? How do we empower the whole value chain to work together more effectively?” PP&M is focusing less on manual hand-off, and manual checking, and more on automated hand-off and streamlined work processes by:

  • Developing best practices and tools to shorten supply chain management
  • Increasing quality, in turn lowering time and costs, by improving automation and removing manual checking
  • Launching a new integration tools, like Master Tag Registry, to create consistent tagging rules

To listen to more episodes produced by HxGN Radio, visit the HxGN Radio channels on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher, or visit hxgnradio.com for more stories from Hexagon’s global network of brands. (Recorded live during HxGN LIVE 2015 in Las Vegas, June 1 - 4, 2015.)


Full transcript:
Welcome to HxGN Radio. This is your host, Kathleen McNeil. Thank you for joining us for today’s podcast episode brought to you by Intergraph Power, Process & Marine. In today’s podcast, we’re talking to Patrick Holcomb, who is executive vice president of global business development and marketing for Intergraph PP&M.

KM: Thank you for joining us, Patrick.
PH: It’s good to be here Kathleen. Thank you.

KM: So, can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your role at Intergraph PP&M?
PH: Sure. I’ve got a unique opportunity in the job that I have, and I think it’s probably the best one in the world. My background is in engineering. I used to work for Exxon, and I also used to work for Accenture doing work process design and market strategy. So, now my job is literally to set the overall market strategy and marketing communications plan for Intergraph PP&M. So, my organization literally defines all the R&D priorities, all the user requirements across all the software that we’re creating in order to make sure that it fits the market, and we find the right need. And there’s a lot of change going on in the market right now. So, it’s a particularly dynamic time for us.

KM: I’m sure. It sounds very exciting. Innovation has been a cornerstone at Intergraph PP&M and has served as the foundation for some of the smart technologies, as you refer to them. Could you tell us about those technologies that are involved in making plants smart?
PH: Sure. Intergraph has a long, long history of doing this, of innovating in different ways, whether you go all the way back to the 60s when Intergraph was innovating in technology hardware up into the 80s when we created the first successful plant and design system called PDS. And even to what we’re doing here at the show today, where we’re taking steps forward in advanced work package planning for construction, managing millions of unstructured documents and turning them into useful things that you can use in a data-centric work process. We’ve got a pretty long history of that, in fact, internally many people comment that we’re very good at doing things that are complex. Unfortunately, it also means that if it’s not complex we can make it complex which is, I suppose, an internal culture that we have to resist, but we’ve been constantly innovating in all areas for a long time in this highly complex field of engineering and design.

KM: I know that times have changed so much with technology and operations. What are some of the innovations and advancements that Intergraph PP&M has been a part of?
PH: Well, some of the most exciting things that are happening now in the industry – the industry is going through a change. We used to write technology that was effectively all designed to automate single discipline work processes, and all of our applications and all of our competitors. This is nothing new. All evolved the same way, because that’s how clients were purchasing technology.
However, what we started to see is that starting to run out. The opportunity for growth for us is not in building another app for another discipline, because for the most part they’re generally covered. Likewise, the industry is under a lot of pressure right not because oil prices fell in half. And that causes a lot of pressure on profitability. So, the pressure right now – and I’ve used this term before – that pressure makes diamonds, and I can assure you there is no shortage of pressure. The question is how do we make the whole value chain compress? How do we get the whole value chain to work together more effectively? And that’s what’s exciting. That’s really what’s kind of leading edge now. We saw early today comments from people like Bechtel and Fluor where they’re really starting to compress their value chain with data-centric work processes. So, less manual handing off, less manual checking, more automated hand-offs and a more streamlined work process. It’s a change. It’s a real work process change and a technology change. But it’s starting to happen in the industry.

KM: Absolutely. As you just mentioned, the industry is going through a difficult period with lower crude prices and reduced expenditures. Given this landscape, how is Intergraph PP&M helping organizations reduce costs while at the same time staying competitive?
PH: It is tough. It really is. It’s tough out there and I won’t make any jokes about that. It is really difficult. Owners want. They still want to get these projects in, but sometimes the upside – the revenue on the expectations – is not as high as it used to be. And that means they’ve got to get the project in for less money, and that’s really what we’ve been focusing on.
Probably the single biggest area where that can be impacted is in construction. If you look, most studies will show that there’s anywhere between 30-40 per cent idle and wait time on construction projects. Now this is in an industry where around 70 per cent of all projects are delayed and have overruns, and at the same time you’ve got 30 and 40 per cent idle and wait times going on inside the construction phase of the project. So, you might think very simply well just stop all the idle and wait time, and then everything else will be good. And in some ways it is that simple, but you’ve got to do that one person at a time. Investing in the technology to really enable advanced work packaging so that people can begin to make construction as efficient as manufacturing is, is a borrowed concept from manufacturing. Just-in-time materials, just-in-time information – that’s what eliminates all that idle and wait time because all of that can be turned into schedule improvements and profit. And I think that’s probably the single biggest area where the industry is focused today.

KM: Absolutely all about efficiency, I’m sure.
PH: Yeah.

KM: Intergraph PP&M works with oil and gas partners around the world. What are some of Intergraph PP&M’s biggest projects that have been maybe the most impactful?
PH: We’ve been on a host of global flagship projects. For example, the largest manmade floating thing in the world is the Shell Prelude. It’s massive – it’s almost half of a kilometer long that was designed with our software. Likewise, if you saw the video earlier this morning, ITER which is a multinational collaboration to build the first scaled up nuclear fusion reactor. So, it literally will operate at 150 million degrees Celsius, the temperature of the sun.
Those are projects that we’re supporting with our technology, and from those mega, mega projects all the way down to very small projects. We saw today, projects that are maintenance projects that could be no more than $5 million using our technology. And so, as a result of that it’s given us a really great breath to see what’s happening and how we can begin to help the industry become more efficient. There’s certainly lots of automation to do. We’re seeing as a result of our portfolio breath – we’re seeing lots of opportunities in lots of little places, to just shorten up the supply chain, stop manual checking, automate work process, and it’s starting to happen. We saw it earlier today. Lots of the industry vanguards are starting to make real differences.

KM: We’ve touched on the importance of efficiency a little bit, but low risk is also a very big goal for global energy industries. How does Intergraph PP&M approach this challenge?
PH: If you’re doing it right it all tends to happen together. When you automate something, and you remove manual checking processes and manual handovers what tends to happen is quality goes up at the same time that costs go down for the same reason that your average car that you buy today on a real dollar basis is actually much cheaper than it was in the 70s, and it’s much higher quality at the same time. And so, it’s really a win-win in the end for the consumer as that begins to happen.
A good example of that is a new technology we just announced here at the show this year. Master Tag Registry, which is an integration product, forces project people to have consistent tagging rules. This might sound simple, but if you get a few hundred or maybe a thousand designers all working there’s a little – creativity creeps in, and it turns into a bit of chaotic mess later on when everyone’s trying to consolidate that and figure out if this document with this tag number is the same as that document with that tag number. It would become a real mess. And so with Master Tag Registry we can enforce consistency. We can also automate all the tag registers, which is this huge deliverable information product, on projects that used to be done manually. We would have people running around for weeks pulling these together and trying to piece together out of all this inconsistent data, trying to pull those together for the handover. And now we can automatically do that at the push of a button, and that’s great example where we’ve got both speed and efficiency and a much higher level of quality in the deliverables.

KM: Absolutely. Low oil prices won’t be around forever. What do you foresee for the industry and Intergraph PP&M, let’s say, in the next 1-3 years?
PH: Well, this is something I learned while I was at Exxon, which is it’s important to focus on what you can control. The first thing I’ll say, anyone that tells you where oil prices are going to be three years from now is either fabulously wealthy or delusional. Nobody really knows. Nobody saw this coming. No one saw the last downturn coming, and no one knew what the shape of the curve would be going up, and we don’t know that either. So, the only thing we can focus on is helping people be more efficient in their work, making sure that our technology really contributes toward an industry improvement in the deployment and operational capital projects. And so, that’s what we’re focused on today. We’re just going to make people better at what they’re doing, lowering costs, improving quality, improving speed, and the market will work itself out as to where crude prices land.

KM: Definitely. Well, Patrick thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.
PH: Thank you Kathleen. It was fun.

And you can learn more about Intergraph at intergraph.com/ppm. And tune into more episodes from HxGN Radio on iTunes or SoundCloud or visit hxgnradio.com for more stories from Hexagon’s global network of brands. Thanks for listening.