, Singapore

Adopting new technology is key to attracting, retaining talent in the energy industry

Meanwhile, aspiring industry leaders must have holistic skills across the value chain, says Energy Strat Asia’s Tim Rockell.

Tim Rockell is the Managing Director of Energy Strat Asia in Singapore, which he founded in 2019. His clients include local and global companies that aim to develop and grow their footprint in Asia. For start-ups and scale-ups, he helps develop and execute his clients’ customer and investor propositions. 

Prior to this, he spent more than 20 years at KPMG establishing and building the Energy & Natural Resources sector practice, first in the United Kingdom then transferring to Singapore in 2012, where he launched the KPMG Global Energy Institute for the Asia Pacific. From 2000-2009, he was the sector’s global Executive Director, working out of London, then the Middle East. 

In his diverse roles at KPMG, he supported large energy companies as they interfaced with government, regulators, academe and investors, and led projects in strategy, risk, deal advisory and management consulting. He also coordinated relationships with industry bodies such as the World Petroleum Council and the World Energy Council. 

Rockell holds leadership roles in several industry organizations, including Management Board Member of the Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore; Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce, Energy & Utilities Business Committee in Singapore; Vice-Chairman of the Energy Institute (UK) Singapore Branch Committee; Committee Member of the Women in Energy, Asia network; and Board Advisor to Newcastle University (UK) and Research Institute in Singapore.

Rockell joins us as a member of the judges’ panel of the Asian Power Oil & Gas Awards. He shares some of his insights on technology disruptions in the oil and gas sector and what it takes to grow into a leadership role in the industry.

Can you explain your role as a Managing Director for Energy Strat Asia Pte. Ltd.?

Energy Strat Asia was established in Singapore at the end of 2019 to support innovation in the Energy, Infrastructure and Transportation sectors. Its goals are to support services companies with new technology offerings enter Asian markets and establish a foothold in the region, and to support the commercialisation and scale-up of Asian developed concepts.  

The company also has an advisory capacity in the Energy Transition and Low Emissions space. In short, Energy Strat Asia provides insights, connectivity, and innovation. 

Technology is transforming industries such as retail and finance. How is technology disrupting the energy sector, particularly oil and gas?

The world often takes energy access for granted and ignores the huge technological strides that the sector has made across the value chain over decades to provide the majority with reliable and affordable energy. Since the advent of the ‘digitalisation’ era, it is fair to say that the sector has not been recognised as prominently as say retail and financial services in adapting to innovation. 

Given the vast range of activities that the oil and gas and energy sectors cover, from Exploration to Trading and Retail, there are many innovative advances that have already made impacts across business units. This can be seen particularly in the nimbler players, but also in the larger international and national companies. 

Digitalisation as a concept went mainstream for the sector around six or seven years ago. I would say that it is only recently that digital technologies and associated innovative disruption has become integrated into the ‘business as usual’ from planning to execution and adopted more widely across the organisation. An example is the digitalisation of Asset Integrity Management which has created single platforms that consolidate huge amounts of data on performance. That data can now be analysed and, more importantly, acted upon for maintenance and operational reliability and predictability. There is no point in doing analysis and adopting AI unless an organisation can react and make decisions based on what the data is showing.

Transformation is more visible amongst the new divisions that have been established and the skills that have been hired into companies. Some of the recent M&A activity e.g. in Electric Vehicle Charging infrastructure has been undertaken with a view to aggregate these new technologies, bring in new skills and talent, and scale up the rollout to meet the demand for a new form of energy delivery.

What are the challenges that the energy sector, particularly oil and gas, experienced during the pandemic? How do you see these challenges as having a lasting impact in the industry and how can companies adapt?

The pandemic has seen a period of huge volatility in energy prices and the way that people interact. I would argue that Covid-19 and a fall in commodity prices in 2020 may have increased digitalisation but turned down the volume on innovation activity as projects got put on hold or pushed down the track. Take Teams and Zoom for example. We have been capable of communicating with video through our laptops since Skype was founded in 2003. Now video conferencing is mainstream. I would not call that innovation. Equally, I am worried that benefits from developments in areas such as low-code are slower to be adopted by the energy sector, compared to financial services, pharma, manufacturing and even, dare I say it, by the government.

With the industry pushing the transition to renewables, where should companies, especially in the oil and gas sector, focus on to maintain relevance?

In 2020-2021 companies have been able to take stock. They have reviewed their strategies in a transitioning world and reorganised. I have to say that this can be seen more extensively amongst the European-based majors and here in Asia where I am based. If we look at the world’s Western and Eastern hemispheres, I see a greater desire to adopt new technology from those based in the East. The Western approach is more conservative. International companies should be aware of this if they are to continue to attract and retain talent in a world heading towards net-zero emissions in the next few decades. 

One other area that needs to adapt is the central services of large companies. Whilst the world will still need oil and gas decades from now, and that message has been under-articulated by the sector, operating in a low carbon world means that business functions must be ready to bring in innovation fast. Building and operating renewable portfolios or growing end-user focussed, customer-centric businesses is very different from the megaproject supporting capabilities that have been built up in the past. 

As an industry leader, what can you advise the future leaders who aspire to follow a career path like yours?

The energy sector provides an excellent place to build a fantastic and richly rewarding career. This was true when I started in the sector at the turn of the millennium when everyone else was jumping into e-commerce. The world needs more energy and the challenges, including attaining universal access to energy, are great. The sector has been underappreciated largely because energy has been affordable for many and has been reliable. For many decades energy could simply be consumed and settled with a bill at the end of the month in industrial and residential settings. 

My advice is to join a professional institute that can provide a career-worth of development that you will need to move upwards and across organisations. The sector is seeking those with holistic skills across the value chain. Take a post-grad qualification or short courses once you have had some years of experience under your belt and decide which direction you want your career to take. Don’t be afraid to switch career pathways as the skills you learn in energy can be applied across different aspects of the sector. The array of opportunities available in an energy company is enormous. 

Finally, take an international assignment, take on ‘extra-curricular’ roles and responsibilities both within and outside your employer. Work for diversity and inclusion, take up opportunities, speak up for the sector and build organisations with high standards of benefits and care for all employees and contractors globally.  

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