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May 3, 2019 2019-05 Alumni Student

BP and Digital Technologies Featured at Spring 2019 Hallene Lecture

On April 1, Steve Fortune and Morag Watson of BP presented the spring 2019 Hallene Lecture, titled “Digital: Transforming Oil and Gas.” Hosted by The Hoeft Technology and Management Program, the Hallene Lecture regularly brings in leading executives from major corporations to provide insight into the intersection of business and technology.

Fortune and Watson presented an overview of how the use of digital technology is having an impact across several of BP’s business endeavors.

Hallene2019_FortuneWatsonQuartonMany think of BP as a gasoline company—not surprising given the many BP gas stations across Illinois and the US. However, BP sees itself more broadly as an energy provider. “Our mission is all about bringing more energy to the world,” said Fortune. “And doing that with fewer carbon emissions. We call this the dual challenge, and we believe we can be a leader in the energy industry in how you do both.”

BP is looking into alternative energy sources that would enable it to achieve its goal of reducing carbon emissions while providing the energy the world needs. They are actively investing in companies that are exploring alternatives for providing energy to the world. One company BP invests in is working to develop a biodiesel jet fuel “from actual garbage,” Fortune said. He went on to describe how BP is also investing strongly into companies developing solar and wind energy sources.

Fortune said that digital technology in its many incarnations will play an important role in modernizing the energy industry. “It’s a massive industry, and it’s a collection of a number of many different types of businesses,” he said. “It’s a wealth of opportunity.”

Watson talked about how BP is getting involved in big data projects. As she explained, there are four V’s of data: volume of data, variety of data (text, video, etc.), velocity of data, and veracity of data (trustworthiness).

BP is improving operations using big data analysis, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, among other technologies. Risers, the pipes that run from the ocean floor to the rig platform, require regular inspection. This used to involve someone being lowered over the side of the platform to physically inspect the risers. Now, a semi-autonomous crawler is capable of going up and down the risers with sensors and a video camera to examine them. Using big data analysis to combine the inspection data with video from drones, the risers’ integrity can be determined.

BP is also investing in a company that is advancing the artificial intelligence technology used by NASA to land the rover on Mars, independent of direct instructions from a control center on earth–and are developing ways to bring that technology to the energy industry. “We’re taking that technology into BP and trying to apply it to our context,” Watson said. “There are great similarities between deep space and deep water.”

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are also a big part of BP’s customer service efforts, were computers can interact with customers through an online chat 24 hours a day.

Fortune summed up BP’s interaction with digital technologies by reiterating a point he made at the beginning of their talk: “We want to meet the world’s energy needs, and do it in a way that lowers carbon emissions.”


About Steve Fortune and Morag Watson

Steve Fortune is the group chief information officer (CIO) at BP with responsibility for setting and implementing the strategy for information technology and services (IT&S) worldwide. His leadership and vision for a modern and transformed IT&S function is driving greater operational efficiency and improved business results across the company, while maintaining the security and integrity of BP’s core infrastructure and applications landscape. 

As vice president and chief digital innovation officer for BP’s Digital Innovation Organization, Morag Watson leads a team that works closely with the business to accelerate the efficient adoption of new technologies and deployments at scale. They identify the next waves of digital opportunities before they have even begun to take shape, and remain vigilant to digital developments that might one day pose a challenge.

About the Hallene Lecture Series

The Hallene Lecture Series honors the memory of Alan M. Hallene (’51), former president of Montgomery Company in Moline, Illinois. He served as president of both the Alumni Association and the U of I Foundation Board of Directors. He was the recipient of two of the University’s highest honors: the Alumni Association Achievement Award and the U of I Foundation’s Presidents Award.