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Reigniting our industry’s ability to innovate – and the team behind it

An interview with Archie Kennedy

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Archie Kennedy

Archie Kennedy

Four years ago, working in partnership with a talented team of six, our Chairman and its Board mapped out an ambitious plan for the Oil & Gas Technology Centre – to reignite our industry’s approach to technology and innovation. We spoke with Archie Kennedy in the final few weeks of his time at the OGTC, reflecting on his early aspirations and a journey that has delivered real results through the power of collaboration.

It’s hard to believe that four years have passed since you were first involved in the OGTC. Can you tell us about those early days and how you became involved?

It was the Autumn of 2015 and I was speaking with Sir Ian Wood who, by that time, had established the concept for the OGTC and was working on the Aberdeen City Region Deal. Mike Fleming and Paul de Leeuw (fellow OGTC Board members) were developing the funding proposal and there was a real air of anticipation about what was happening.

I was approached initially as Vice-Chair of the Advisory Board, but with the aim of taking on the Chairmanship. Having worked in the industry for many years and personally witnessed the need for a refocus on technology development, I knew straight away that I wanted to get involved in the OGTC.

I have many fond memories of the early months, particularly recruiting the team. We had a nucleus of six to eight exceptionally talented people who helped to establish the foundations of the OGTC, from setting our goals, through to basic process and procedures. Those early years were fast paced but good fun.

The early years were clearly exciting, but was there anything you found daunting? Did you have any concerns or were you quietly confident?

I’d start off by saying that I’m an optimist! However, the industry was still in turmoil from the crash of 2014 and I was initially worried that collaboration would be an issue when the focus was so clearly on survival.

Despite innovation underpinning our success in the early years of the North Sea, we’d lost our way a bit. From the early days of our engagement with industry, we recognised that there was a huge appetite to bring this back and solve today’s problems.

We focused our efforts on asking industry; what problems do you want to address and which do you want us to focus on first? I believe that approach helped us to bring them fully onboard.

And that response is demonstrated through the way we’re funded. For every pound the OGTC funds, industry must match this. Today, we’re closer to 60% industry funding, so any apprehension around that was soon alleviated.

You’ve mentioned the oil and gas industry crash of 2014. Six years on and we’re making the transition to a low carbon economy while facing the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Would you draw any parallels between then and now?

The parallels are enormous. We turned to technology in 2015 as a means to improve productivity and solve problems. Today, we are doing the same.

Back then, however, lack of cash was the main overriding challenge. This time, we face financial pressure, together with a changing energy landscape and a global pandemic. Industry is stepping up to meet society’s demand for a lower carbon future, however COVID-19 and social distancing adds another layer of complexity which is going to take great ingenuity to overcome.

I’ve seen us overcome adversity during previous industry cycles but there is no doubt that this is a greater challenge and will require some risk, particularly if we’re to develop cutting edge solutions.

However, I am confident that we have the talent, capability and most importantly, willingness, to deliver, accelerate and stimulate new technology development. The results of the last four years are proof of that.

And what role do you see the OGTC continuing to play in that?

We’re not a talking shop. Our ability to deliver new technology has underpinned our success to-date and that core capability remains. So, while industry, societal demand or the global landscape may change, the OGTC will continue its commitment to transform through innovation and realise the potential of the North Sea, delivering benefits for the sector and region.

In some ways, this presents a turning point for the OGTC to step-up rethink our role. A challenge is often an opportunity and I couldn’t think of a better team to tackle it.

You talk a lot about the team and how proud you are of them and what they’ve achieved. Are there any specific moments in time that stand out for you?

There are so many proud moments, I’d genuinely struggle to pick just a few.

For me, it’s the overall professionalism and dedication of the team that shines. I often see this at our events, from the launch of our Innovation Hub at Queens Road, through to the recent technology showcase at Offshore Europe last year. You can see it all coming together, how we’re exciting and inspiring others and supporting them to make a difference.

Fundamentally, we’ve helped the oil and gas industry to put technology back at the centre of their business. They’ve always been at the cutting edge, but over the years, we lost our risk tolerance around introducing new technology and that’s something we’ve changed.

A perfect example of that is our entrepreneurial accelerator programme, TechX. Watching graduation day and seeing the energy and enthusiasm in the room, with industry sponsors realising just how good these small companies are, brings a great deal of satisfaction to the whole OGTC team. In our first year, one of the participating companies was developing a laboratory on a microchip. When you combine astounding technologies like these with our collaborative approach, you see our industry stepping up to support them, from funding and mentoring through to field trials. That’s not something you’d have seen barely five years ago.

Your journey with the OGTC is coming to a close – what are your plans for the future?

My big plan was to travel the world…..but I’ll have to hit pause for now! However, I won’t be a stranger and I’ll look forward to staying in touch and supporting the OGTC where I can, as it continues to evolve and embrace a new era of the energy industry.

Read more about Archie’s time with the OGTC, and his successor Martin Gilbert’s appointment as Chairman, here.