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Accenture builds data scientist base in Australian city Perth

The data strategy of Australian energy giant Woodside has encouraged the IT industry to invest in the development of data science skills

The expanding scope of work of a major analytics project for Australian natural energy supplier Woodside has given consultancy giant Accenture the impetus to rapidly expand its data analytics team.

Woodside is looking to harness past investments in new areas of its business. Its interest in analytics has resulted in the creation of a mini-industry as consultants and technology suppliers run to help address its needs.

Sensing opportunities in converting improved equipment monitoring into lower maintenance and increased reliability, Woodside established a separate data science division in January 2015.

In May, the company signed a deal with IBM to apply Watson’s high-end analytics capabilities against historical datasets, collected over 30 years of operation, to identify trends that will help it manage its operations more proactively in the future.

“We are bringing a new toolkit to the company in the form of evidence-based predictive data science that will bring down costs and increase efficiencies across our organisation,” Shaun Gregory, senior vice-president for strategy, science and technology at Woodside said at the time.

“Data science, underpinned by an exponentially increasing volume and variety of data and the rapidly decreasing cost of computing, is likely to be a major disruptive technology in our industry over the next decade. Our plan is to turn all of this data into a predictive tool where every part of our organisation will be able to make decisions based on informed and accurate insights.

Increasing productivity through predictive analytics

The latest expansion to Woodside’s analytics efforts has seen Accenture working to apply predictive analytics capabilities to Woodside’s Pluto LNG Project, a significant offshore-drilling venture established to mine natural gas fields 190km north-west of the Australian mainland.

By sourcing a range of different data from various source systems – systems running heat exchangers or fans, for example – the Accenture team is helping Woodside’s data scientists turn their skills to predicting failures, system downtime and more.

“It has really helped them with their decision-making,” said Paul Carthy, managing director of Accenture’s energy industry group. “It has allowed them to predict issues days, weeks and months in advance – which was the real thing they’ve wanted to focus on.

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“They have moved from the current state of being strong in operating, to being more predictive in everything they do. They’re trying to drive really proactive strategies for their operations teams, and using digital teams and analytics to drive high-value tasks. All of this merges together to give them more speed.”

The work is expected to deliver significant improvements in Woodside’s daily operations, but it has also created major demand for new data analytics skills in and around the isolated Western Australia city of Perth – the base for Woodside and dozens of other significant natural resources operators.

Rising demand for data scientists

Ramping up Woodside’s analytics capabilities saw Accenture rushing to build out its team of data specialists. The company already had what Carthy called “a large analytics team” within its digital group, but reached out to data analytics and subject matter experts in Singapore, India and elsewhere to support its work in Perth.

Accenture’s growing team of data scientists “was built on the back of a few things”, said Carthy, who noted that the hunger for big data skills has seen the company sourcing people with extensive experience in data management and business intelligence, as well as many with engineering or statistical modelling backgrounds.

“They use a lot of those skills in data analytics,” he said. “We have scaled our teams around the world and scaled our practice in Perth as a result of the need for data scientists.

“They have broad-ranging skills across the resources industry – and they’re not easy to find. We have spent time over the years trying to make sure the team is structured correctly.”

Applying those skills to Woodside’s operational environment has benefited both Woodside’s nascent internal analytics team, and Accenture’s own global analytics capabilities. As well as working to improve Woodside’s use of analytics on its systems, Accenture is looking for ways to leverage the skills it has built in Perth on a range of projects across Australia and around the world.

This demand will grow as businesses look for new ways to apply analytics techniques to their everyday operations in areas such as marketing, trading, health and safety, and human resources.

“It has been a very collaborative project,” said Carthy, “and for these things to work, it has to be. And while they’re focused on the Pluto LNG project for now, in the future this work can be used across any of their assets. As they grow internationally, this could be applied anywhere.”

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