Full speed ahead: digitisation at OGE
From container ship to speedboat
The world we live in is full of VUCA, don’t you think? VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. In other words: Our world is characterised by volatility, is more uncertain than before as well as more complex, and is fraught with ambiguity. This is a world in which decisions, once made, do not remain valid for long.
The digitisation of all areas of life has helped to create the VUCA world, but it also offers opportunities to deal with the uncertainty, complexity and permanent change. OGE is particularly affected by this new world.
OGE is an organisation in the regulated energy market. Like a big container ship, OGE previously moved persistently and reliably in one direction, supplying customers with all the gas they wanted. And in the VUCA world, too, container ships have their place. But what we also need now are speed, flexibility and ingenuity. A new way of thinking and collaborating. A company needs to be able to change course significantly at any time, to pursue several goals in parallel.
A few years ago, OGE set out to become more innovative and digital. To this end, it launched small speedboats, setting a course for digitisation.
Ralf Werner is CIO at OGE with primary responsibility for all digital projects in the company:
“We deliberately try things out sometimes and thus get into implementation quickly, then we scale the projects later.”
The strategy? Digitisation based on the principles of digitisation
At the core of the so-called Industry. 4.0 – the current age of digitisation – lie two developments: networking and self-monitoring. With networked systems, information is exchanged in the form of data, so that devices, machines and even people find it easier to better to each other.
Added to this is the self-monitoring of machines and plants. For this purpose, machines and the goods they produce are gradually being equipped with sensors. Through these sensors, they communicate constantly, both with each other and with other systems: This way, development, production, sales, suppliers and customers are networked with each other in the digitised corporate world.
OGE utilises these principles to digitise business processes – specifically with the “Digital Experts Programme”. This is a networked system of employees who manage themselves, communicate constantly and continuously optimise their processes.
“Digitisation is not an IT issue. It is a corporate issue. Here we need somebody in every department to drive digitisation forward. And that’s what we’ve done with the Digital Experts Programme.”
The Digital Experts Programme
Every department at OGE includes employees who are interested and enthusiastic about the world of digitisation and who want to steer one of the speedboats that will take OGE successfully into the future. The programme sought and found precisely these people, and through training courses, they became digital experts. Now they consider suitable projects for their respective departments, develop their own measures, and work to promote the path to digitisation. The whole thing was accompanied by a gamification tool, with which each digital expert’s achievements were rewarded with points and an award. The programme also had an impressive inward impact: More and more employees found out about it – and wanted to become digital experts themselves. The network became denser and denser, and ideas and measures for digitisation spread more and more throughout the company. Today, the programme is organised and continued via the Digital Campus Zollverein.
Corporate cooperation at the Digital Campus Zollverein
Together with other Essen-based companies such E.ON, RAG and Thyssenkrupp, OGE is implementing joint digital initiatives here. One example is “Beyond Conventions”. These are so-called “reverse pitches”, where start-ups present concepts on digitisation topics that are important to the big companies on the Digital Campus. Another example is a virtual trade show about hydrogen, where the member companies of the Digital Campus Zollverein digitally presented their hydrogen projects to the interested public during the Corona pandemic. An important topic was the “H2UB” – a platform for start-ups and established businesses in the hydrogen sector.
Digital solutions – not decreed from the top but initiated in the departments
Sebastian van Bürk is a member of the IT team at OGE with responsibility for carrying out digitisation projects, organising and moderating workshops, and training colleagues from all areas of the company in matters of digitisation. He takes this view of the developments over the last few years: “In the past, we offered digitisation projects and ideas to the departments, supported by the management. Today, it is the other way around: The departments approach us with their challenges and requirements for digital solutions.”
“It is now well known within the company: People can come to us with their ideas at any time. We then provide direct support with workshops, coaching and project management. Often, an initially complex idea first becomes an MVP, a ‘minimum viable product’. That means that instead of spending years building a sports car, we first develop a skateboard. Something that works quickly for the purposes of the idea, which we then test, further develop, and scale. Sometimes it takes a bit of persuasion to convince colleagues to deviate a bit from their original ideas, but only this way can we be fast, test something, learn from it, and tackle the sports car in several small steps.”
“We want to get people excited about digitisation. That is our mission.”
Some digitisation measures that are already being implemented or planned at OGE:
OGE has been using the Pipemon+ pipeline monitoring system since 2005. Protective current is applied to the pipe in the ground via a corrosion protection system, and this current searches for defects in the pipeline coating. If, for example, an excavator damages the pipeline, the current flow and measured values change, and an alarm is triggered by sensors installed along the pipeline. Recently, artificial intelligence has been incorporated to support the Pipemon+ system, with algorithms trained over months. Now it can reliably distinguish real faults from false alarms. False alarms occur, for example, when a traction system close to a pipeline transmits electrical voltages. In the past, a technician had to check the situation on the ground for every alarm, but this is no longer necessary. What’s more, digitisation of the sensors means additional sensors can be integrated easily into the Pipemon+ system, without the need for elaborate adaptation of the whole system.
The OGE sites are spread throughout Germany. Previously, if there was a technical problem at a site, someone always had to travel there to fix it. In future, thanks to “remote support”, the technical management will be able to guide the specialists on site using augmented reality so they can solve the problem themselves.
Digital training workshop
Until now, the handling of complex machines had to be learned in the presence of trainers using conventionally prepared – sometimes handwritten – documentation. In the digital training workshop, trainees can now familiarise themselves with the machines with digital training content and self-tests independently of their supervisors.
How can OGE boost acceptance of digitisation measures in the individual departments? By asking the departments internally about their challenges and needs. These are then met with future-proof digital solutions wherever possible. One example is the use of classic construction plans. Such plans are on A0 paper and therefore very impractical to handle on the construction site. Time and again there are misunderstandings in the interpretation of details in the plans, but now OGE is using the Microsoft HoloLens, among other things. These are glasses that can be used to position three-dimensional holographic objects in the physical space. The HoloLens forms a mixed reality, which means the user sees both their actual environment but also digital objects that can be incorporated into the physical reality. For many applications, these can replace the classic plans. The user can see immediately what the planned object should look like, what its dimensions are, and where on the object which work is required. In technical tasks, too, such as construction of a control cabinet, the HoloLens helps colleagues in the workshop with a three-dimensional representation of the planned circuits – and “visualises” for them the desired result of their work.
Sebastian van Bürk:
“Personally, the digitisation projects I enjoy the most are the ones where we are outdoors and very close to the action, with our field service staff who work on the pipelines in the field.”
Digital technologies that OGE is already working with today
Virtual reality/mixed reality
- for visualisation and simulation of construction sites at pipelines and compressor stations
- for training employees, e.g., for virtual welding
Collected data from corporate sources are used:
- for forecasting tools, for example to determine gas volumes and price trends
- to set up a digital twin of a compressor station, for example. This is used to test and simulate cloud-based network control
- for the visualisation of pipeline data collected, for example, via satellites or drones
Internet of Things/digital sensor technology
Decentralised collection and analysis of sensor data to detect anomalies:
- in the technical infrastructure at pipelines and compressor stations
- in IT (cyber security)