Interview - Amor Bekrar, president IFS France

Is IFS really the ‘leading provider of EAM software to oil and gas?’ IFS claims its Apps suite is a leader in asset management. A niche activity that is proving rather resilient in the current downturn. Bekrar outlines recent advances in big data driven ‘operational intelligence’ and the promise of AI.

We were surprised that Arc Advisory found IFS to be a ‘leading provider of EAM software in oil and gas.’ Isn’t that SAP?

We do compete with SAP and also with Oracle and Microsoft. All three are multi-billion giants, but they are also generalists. With we are specialists in enterprise asset management with our IFS Apps suite. We have 3,300 employees and a turnover of $400 million. We have been classified by Arc for the last five years as the leader in the oil and gas asset management niche. Others like SAP are more focused on finance and operations, our focus is on maintaining assets in optimum operating conditions. Along with oil and gas we operate in other asset-intensive industries like defense and automobile.

But we cover SAP pretty extensively and report frequently on majors like Total and ExxonMobil which are big SAP shops.

Sure, but the majors have, to a large extent, outsourced much of the activity that we support. Our offshore operations and marine services solution targets the service providers that work for these major operators. We also support oil country manufacturers and service providers like TechnipFMC and Songa Offshore.

This activity must be suffering in the downturn…

This is a cyclical business that depends on the oil price. Opec has little respect for quotas and US shale has revolutionized the business. Our outlook is pretty pessimistic out to 2021-2022. Companies are preparing for the day when things pick up. This does give us a good target as clients’ focus shifts from investment to maintaining equipment in an operational state.

But presumably, operators are replacing kit less frequently.

Yes, there is not much new equipment being bought. Focus is more on maintenance and on extending asset life time. This is a real market opportunity today where our software fits in with the new Internet of Things paradigm. Each of Songa Offshore’s fleet of six rigs will have around 600 sensors that connect into our software via the IoT business connector.

So, you offer a big data framework like GE’s Predix?

Well, you have to be careful to distinguish between the promise of a technology and the hype! Our experience from outside of oil and gas has shown three key concepts, big data, IoT and what we call EOI, enterprise operational intelligence. The latter is not just marketing but reality. The IoT is producing more and more data and bigger and bigger databases. We know how to exploit this stuff. Prediction is a reality that helps prolong life of asset. Maybe not at 100% of the promise/hype, but real none the less.

We see big data as being on a spectrum from situational awareness (i.e. not so much smarts) across to artificial intelligence and machine learning. Where are you?

Clearly the IoT provides awareness. AI today is part real, part promise. For instance, we are working on sentiment analysis, piping unstructured text (and soon voice) operational records into an analyzer that identifies words and phrases used by operators describing equipment behavior. In oil and gas this could be deployed to avoid breakdowns and/or to bring tech support to into play in a timely fashion. But for sure, we are only just starting on this kind of work.

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