The Intelligent Refinery, Accenture’s second annual study on digital technology in the refining industry, is based on a survey of approximately 170 executives, functional leaders and engineers at refiners globally. In addition to addressing the financial benefits that digital technologies can provide, the research also suggests that refiners are not investing sufficiently to address the increasing number of cyberattacks resulting from the proliferation of digital technologies. 41 % of respondents reported that their company can now determine the financial value of using digital technologies, including 30 % who reported that the technologies increased their refining margins by more than 7 % in the last 12 months. One-fifth of respondents said digital technologies are adding 50 to 100 million US$ or more in value to their business, with another one-third of respondents citing between 5 and 50 million US$.
This tangible financial benefit may explain why 59 % of companies surveyed are spending more or significantly more on digital technologies than they were 12 months ago. Additionally, three-quarters intend to increase spending in the next three to five years, up from just over 60 % in last year’s survey, indicating that demand for digital technologies remains strong.
Likewise, 48 % of refiners now rate the use of digital technologies within their company as mature or semi-mature. At the same time, however, most refineries have yet to move beyond deploying well-established digital technologies, such as analytics.
Indeed, when asked to identify the digital technologies driving the greatest margin improvement in refining operations, respondents most often identified advanced process control and advanced data analytics, cited by 61 % and 50 % of respondents, respectively. These are also the technologies to which refiners expect to allocate the largest proportion of their digital budget over the next 12 months. Cutting-edge technologies that could unlock additional value — including internet of things sensors and edge computing, mixed reality, mobility and blockchain/smart contracts — are only seeing partial adoption or pilot programs and are likely to receive less investment than the other well-established technologies over the next year.
In light of this, there is a need for more effective management of refiners’ digital strategies. In fact, 43 % reported that this lack of a clear digital strategy is a barrier preventing further adoption of digital technologies in their refineries.
With a growing number of cyberattacks, there comes the associated need to constantly upgrade cybersecurity resilience and response. Indeed, 28 % of respondents said they are seeing more or significantly more cyberattacks than last year. Most worryingly, at a time when operations are becoming increasingly connected and exposed to these kinds of threat, one-third of respondents said they don’t know how many attacks they are experiencing. The need becomes more pressing considering that 38 % of respondents said they see data security as a barrier to adopting digital technologies in their organisation.