Barriers to Industrial Digitalization: Q&A with asset55’s Conor O’Leary

With industrial digitalization lagging behind other industries, Cumulus Chief Commercial Officer Mark Litke decided to sit down with Conor O’Leary, Director at asset55. The two discussed barriers to industrial digitalization, pitfalls to watch out for, why paper usage persists, and more. 

Barriers to Industrial Digitalization

ML: Before we get going and jump into our topics, it’d be good to know a little bit about your background.

CO: I started my journey with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and spent 6 years in the pharmaceuticals industry. Then my relationship determined a change in my career and I moved to the UK and joined a journey for upstream oil & gas, as it was known back then. I was quite fortunate that I came from quite a technology-advanced background in pharmaceuticals. I could bring a lot to the table at that time.

But I did feel that there was a lot more we could do with technology. I made a decision 18 months ago to join asset55 and push the digital transformation from another perspective. I haven’t looked back since. And that’s how I ended up talking to the likes of you, Mark.

ML: My journey personally is quite a bit different. I came from the technical side as well, but I was outside the industry. We came from the more technology side, looking at operations from the owner perspective.

What we hear a lot is: where do we start? There’s a lot of digitalization efforts, there’s process improvement efforts, there’s metrics to be met for emissions reductions. But it seems to be kind of slow. Not only in energy, oil and gas, but also in commercial construction and other areas that are identified as being “behind.”


What do you think some of the main barriers are to industrial digitalization? Why is it so hard?

CO: There’s a number of barriers, depending on your perspective. Whether you’re an owner, EPC/contractor, or on the supply chain. The important part is gathering information from all stakeholders to find the solutions to the problems. 

The main barrier that repeats over and over for me is that driving change is hard. For a lot of leaders in facilities and in the industry, the inertia that they come up against is just too much. That’s due to status quo as accepted, why change? The strategy that they try to deploy is unclear, and because of its lack of clarity, they lack commitment.

The other one that we’ve discussed in the past is the right technology at the right time. We have a tendency to look over the fence to see what the neighbor has. It might not be fit for purpose. It’s understanding your business needs, making sure that you have the digital competence in your workforce to adopt the technology, and the data foundation. What is the maturity of your facility to be able to adopt these different technologies?

ML: I agree with you almost 100% on that, you’re spot on. As we’ve rolled out into the market, one of the things we push is systems thinking and systems engineering. We see a lot of “go digital.” Check the box. Find a technology that, like you said, the guy over the fence is using and do that, then claim victory. But it might not be the right thing.  

CO: There’s a famous quote that I hear quite often. When digital transformation is done well, it’s like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. But when it’s done badly, the only thing you get is a slightly faster caterpillar. And that’s so true. You can adopt a technology, but we cannot neglect the human-centric part of digitalization. People are critical. Leaders are critical to ensure that we have a digital transformation, which is not just technology. It is technology, people, and process working together to achieve an outcome.

ML: Let’s get into a little bit more detail on that. As we go and we talk to our brownfield world, what can people do that are in that are in that space? They might be a 50 or 60 year old facility, but they want to improve.



What are some digitalization challenges to look out for, and what are some suggestions? 


CO: Essentially, the first step would be to evaluate what the digital maturity is for your facility. That is in terms of legacy technologies and processes, and understanding what your objectives and business needs are. How do the processes you have interact, whether that’s through human interaction or data sharing?

For adoption of technology, something that we at asset55 are very passionate about is data foundation. Having a trusted foundation of data will enable you to adopt technology today, but maybe in 10 years’ time. You need to make sure you have a vision. What is your vision? Then you get the commitment from the people on site and the end user, and you engage with people. Engage with process owners. That’s where you will unlock the opportunity.

ML: I see that all the time as well. A central digitalization or technology strategy made in a corporate office and then when you get out to the facilities, it’s not fit for that world a lot of the time.


As you’ve rolled out and you’ve been in the market, what type of mistakes are people making?


CO: Without repeating myself too much, I still believe that the three main mistakes are the lack of a tailored strategy for the desired outcomes, lack of employee engagement, and lack of digital governance. When I say digital governance, that’s how do you get that cross-silo communication? I still believe they are the biggest challenges.

The lack of governance is critical for me. It’s important that we understand digital conflicts for traditional ways of work. But it’s imperative that we share experiences and share information and data in a consistent and standard way. Those are some of the fundamental mistakes that we make.

ML: Yeah that’s absolutely true as well. One of the things we see is the adoption of new technology is always perceived as a cost. Any work is being done today, even if it’s a heavily paper-based process or there’s rework, any new technology is perceived as a cost.

The perception of everything as an added cost versus just knowing how much you’d want to reduce and what levers you can pull to get there, then I think you’d be able to see a digital transformation a lot faster.


What do you think is so comfortable about paper? What’s so great about it?  

To hear the answer to this question and more, watch the full video Mark’s Q&A with Conor from asset55 below.



About Mark Litke

Mark is Chief Commercial Officer at Cumulus Digital Systems and serves on the company’s Board of Directors. Prior to co-founding Cumulus, Mark was a Portfolio Development Manager at Shell TechWorks responsible for building and managing the organization’s Downstream, Integrated Gas, and New Energies business portfolios. Before joining Shell, Mark led sales and business development efforts with government and enterprise customers at Aurora Flight Sciences and held engineering positions at Boeing and MITRE. Outside of work you can find Mark on the golf course, on the rugby pitch, or spending time with his family and dog, Scout, on the beaches of Cape Cod. Mark earned his BS in Aerospace Engineering from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and an MBA from Northeastern University.


About Conor O’Leary

Conor is Director of Operations for software company, asset55. Conor has a passion for liberating data and innovating with technology. He has a proven track record in the field of data driven planning with a unique reputation for taking ownership of complex critical line activities on major projects with great success.