However, most companies do not have the resources to implement sophisticated AI programs to stay safe and advance digital capabilities on their own. Regardless of size, available budget, and internal staff, all energy companies must manage operations and security fundamentals to ensure visibility and oversight through powerful digital tools to stay resilient and competitive. Achieving this goal is much more likely in partnership with the right experts.
MIT Technology Review Insights, in association with Siemens Energy, spoke with more than a dozen information technology (IT) and cybersecurity leaders at oil and gas companies around the world to gain insight into how AI is affecting their digital transformation and cybersecurity strategies in oil and gas. environments. Here are the main conclusions:
- Oil and gas companies are under pressure to adapt to dramatic changes in the global business environment. The coronavirus pandemic dealt a stunning blow to the global economy in 2020, contributing to a prolonged downward trend in prices and reinforcing the value of increased efficiency to offset market pressures. Companies are now forced to operate in a business climate that requires remote work, with added pressure to manage the environmental impact of increasingly strong operations. These factors combined are pushing oil and gas companies to embrace new, streamlined ways of working, making the adoption of digital technology essential.
- As oil and gas companies go digital, the risk of cyber attacks increases, as do the opportunities for AI. Businesses are adding digital technology to improve productivity, operational efficiency and safety. They collect and analyze data, connect devices to the Internet of Things, and leverage cutting-edge technologies to improve planning and increase profits, as well as detect and mitigate threats. At the same time, the industry’s collective digital transformation is widening the attack surface for cybercriminals. Computing is under threat, as is operational technology (OT) – the computer and communications systems that manage and control industrial equipment and operations.
- Cybersecurity must be at the heart of all aspects of companies’ digital transformation strategies. The implementation of new technologies affects interrelated business and operational functions and the underlying IT infrastructure. This reality calls on oil and gas companies to adopt a risk management mindset. This includes designing projects and systems within a cybersecurity risk framework that enforces company-wide policies and controls. Most importantly, they now need to access and deploy cutting-edge AI and machine learning-based cybersecurity tools to stay ahead of attackers.
- AI optimizes and secures energy assets and IT networks for increased monitoring and visibility. Advances in digital applications in industrial operating environments help improve efficiency and security, detecting attacks at machine speed amid the complexity of rapidly digitizing operating environments.
- Oil and gas companies are looking to external partners to guard against growing cyber threats. Many businesses have insufficient cybersecurity resources to meet their challenges head-on. “We are in a race against the speed of the attackers,” Repsol IT director Javier García Quintela said in the report. “We cannot provide all of the cybersecurity capabilities we need from the inside out.” To act quickly and address their vulnerabilities, organizations can find partners who can provide expertise and support as the threat environment grows.
Cybersecurity, AI and digitization
Energy sector organizations are presented with a major opportunity to deploy AI and develop a data strategy that optimizes production and uncovers new business models, as well as secure operational technology. Oil and gas companies face unprecedented uncertainty – depressed oil and gas prices due to the coronavirus pandemic, a multi-year market glut, and the drive to go green – and many are making a rapid transition to the digitization to survive. From moving to the cloud to sharing algorithms, the oil and gas industry shows that there are strong opportunities for organizations to evolve with technological change.
In the oil and gas industry, the digital revolution has enabled companies to connect physical energy assets to hardware control systems and software programs, improving operational efficiency, lowering costs, and reducing emissions. This trend is due to the convergence of energy assets connected to OT systems, which manage, monitor and control energy assets and critical infrastructure, and to the computer networks that enterprises use to optimize data in their business environments.
With billions of OT and IT data points captured from physical assets every day, oil and gas companies are now turning to specially designed AI tools to provide visibility and monitoring in their industrial operating environments. , both to make technologies and operations more efficient and to protect against cyber attacks in a broader threat landscape. Because the business models of energy companies are based on the convergence of OT and IT data, companies see AI as an important tool to gain visibility into their digital ecosystems and understand the context of their operating environments. Companies developing cybersecurity-focused digital deployments also need to adapt to emerging technologies, such as AI and machine learning, but spend less time on strategic realignment or change management.
Importantly, for oil and gas companies, AI, which may once have been reserved for specialist applications, now optimizes daily operations and provides critical cybersecurity defense for OT assets. Leo Simonovich, Vice President and Global Head of Industrial Cybersecurity and Digital Security at Siemens Energy, says: “Oil and gas companies are becoming digital businesses and there should be no trade-offs between security and digitization. ” Therefore, Simonovich continues, “Security must be part of the digital strategy and security must evolve with digitization.”
To navigate today’s volatile business landscape, oil and gas companies must simultaneously identify optimization opportunities and cybersecurity gaps in their digitization strategies. This means integrating AI and cybersecurity into digital deployments from scratch, without strengthening them afterward.
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This content was produced by Insights, the personalized content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by the editorial staff of MIT Technology Review.