Subsea feature – Technology versus Application of Technology

Computer generated subsea template image from Zenocean website

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BY James McLean, ABN subsea features writer & director of subsea consultancy firm Zenocean

OUR industry has developed massively over the decades – very often through the pain of trial and error, sometimes at great financial and human cost.

Technology can then take a quantum leap as a result. We are hugely fortunate as an industry that we are surrounded by a wealth of truly world-class leading companies in the +Aberdeen area, within Scotland in general and indeed the length and breadth of the UK who design, develop and fuel the market with cutting edge technology.

There is a huge reliance on technology within the subsea sector in particular and we constantly hear about how much more needs to be done in respect of technology to take us deeper, to sustain higher pressures, or to allow operations to extend farther from host facilities.

I do think though that it’s often the case there can be a blind focus on technology in ‘isolation’, rather than on the ‘application’ of that technology.

History has shown us that there can be a huge disconnect, in that developers are often distant from the application, somewhere down the supply-chain, and the ‘would-be’ applicators, who in fact may on occasion even find the benefits/advantages inconvenient, because a project or piece of work is perhaps made more efficient and shortened, thus reducing daily charges for rental of assets such as offshore support vessels, plant and personnel.

I have long-argued it’s necessary to understand technology in context – often, a concatenation of other events which has to occur before an invention can be widely accepted.

Type and style of contractual model can help or often hinder advancements. It’s often worth stepping back and revisit older/existing technology, which may then be repurposed or repackaged in new or different ways.

What is being described though is a perennial problem — the business-tech divide. It is fundamentally rooted in two totally different cultures: one that deals with complex informality, risk and uncertainty (the business), and one that deals with extreme formality and hard reality (the technical).

It is a truism that you cannot proceed from the informal to the formal by formal means, and this is where the divide cleaves organisations in two. What is required is a combination of translation (someone who can bridge the gap) in the short-term, and education (the two cultures learning about each other) in the long-term.

This is ever-recurring in entrepreneurial contexts in particular, where there can be a tendency to believe “if we build it, they will come.” (Kevin Costner movie ‘Field of Dreams’ when he built a baseball pitch in his corn field and several old ghostly greats appeared and played one last game).

The very best start-ups are laser-focused on a go-to market that is tightly scoped and a resounding fit for what they’re trying to do — be it a business idea, a technological breakthrough, or simply a personal passion. However, I have witnessed many taking a scattergun approach and getting nowhere at all.

Fortunately, it’s very easily resolved, if the business in question isn’t out of time and funding.

Within oil and gas, history shows us that there’s often a race to be second, where operators may not be keen to try out new ideas/tech until someone else does, and then due to the existence of federal contracts, may be more likely to employ the large, generally man-hour driven Engineering Houses, for screening instead of encouraging real technology advances by using smaller, more nimble specialists who can act as the Intelligent Interface between technology and application.








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