Welcome to the New Normal: Services and Support in a Post-Pandemic World

Welcome to the New Normal: Services and Support in a Post-Pandemic World

In Britain, it was three weeks to “flatten the curve”; in France just 15 days initially as the country began its “war” on the virus. Nine months on, it’s a war of attrition, and the battle is still raging.

For industrial operators in oil and gas, refining, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other sectors, the recurring restrictions, travel bans, and illness have caused significant disruption. Maintenance and servicing to ensure safe, reliable and efficient operations can be postponed only so long.

Operators have faced several distinct challenges: How to ensure safe operations that protect people and plant with fewer on-site resources; how to ensure business continuity, safeguarding productivity and profits; and how to execute critical projects that can’t be delayed without on-site support.

In many cases, the answer has been to accelerate existing moves towards remote services. These predate the pandemic but have been bolstered enormously by its demands.

With the advent of vaccines to the virus, we can hope those demands will diminish. There are significant reasons to suspect that the move to remote services will persist, however.

Meeting the needs
The main reason for suspecting that the move to remote working will endure is the well-established benefits it brings. Most relevant to the pandemic has been the reduction in site visits it enables. Even without the virus, though, that has significant attractions for industries where operations and sites are often isolated, inaccessible and in extreme or hazardous environments.

Remote services that cut the need for flights, accommodation and visits offers significant costs savings and enhance safety. But the technology and tools available can also address wider challenges and bring broader benefits to efficiency and reliability.

On the one hand, by harnessing the data that remote services require, analytics software can be used to proactively monitor systems and assets and deliver predictive solutions. Detecting and addressing anomalies that indicate rising risks of faults can prevent failures, improve reliability and avoid downtime. It can also dramatically enhance maintenance efficiency –by up to 30 percent in many cases.

On the other side, remote connectivity and collaboration tools can enable operators to harness expertise from throughout the organization and outside when problems do arise. Solutions can connect those in the field with central control rooms and remote experts to harness the knowledge and visibility of them all. Reducing the need for on-site support by as much as half, it cuts costs, but also resolves problems faster, with remote diagnosis of faults to minimize disruption.

Crucially, remote support addresses not just temporary strains from a crisis like the pandemic. It also addresses long-term challenges. By improving access to the knowledge held by staff, wherever they happen to be based, it can make better use of the expertise organisationsalready have, helping address the skills gaps affecting many industries.

Not going back
Of course, neither these challenges nor, in many cases, the solutions are new. Remote monitoring, analytics and support have been widely proven in past projects to address maintenance challenges, enhance performance and address skills gaps. While predictive maintenance tools and solutions for workers such as wearable computers have evolved over time, the concept is not new.

The COVID crisis, though, has changed the discussion fundamentally.
First, it has boosted confidence in the connectivity at the heart of remote service solutions and comfort with new ways of working. Concerns over security and managing remote workforces have put off some industries, rightly cautious about protecting sensitive information and systems or equipment controlling hazardous processes.

Those concerns have been alleviated in part by sophisticated cybersecurity at the heart of these solutions, but in the main by familiarity. In many cases forced to overcome their reluctance to keep operations going, many businesses now have months of experience using remote solutions safely and effectively and enjoying their benefits. That makes it unlikely they’ll return to old ways of working.

Second, while the pandemic will soon be in the past, the need for resilience remains. The crisis of the last year and the massive disruption poses longer-term questions about how operations can guard against threats in future. Remote services and, more broadly, remote operations provide organizations with greater flexibility to continue operating safely and effectively in the event of future disruptions –whatever the source. Many will hope to forget the experience of the last year. The lessons, however, are likely to be remembered.