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Adaptation and innovation key to staying ahead for Oilfield

The 2021 Enterprise Transformation award winner rode the recent digitalisation wave to become more resilient to disruptions

"We are always looking at how we can better innovate. We also hope to patent something we can call our own that can better support the markets. Our overseas locations are still somewhat rudimentary, so we want to establish more manufacturing hubs in Singapore, and be a true multinational corporation." - Kenneth Loh, business development manager BT PHOTO: YEN MENG JIIN
"Since the pandemic, we have held more meetings than when we were at the office. It actually improved communication as people are more open to sharing their ideas. These recurring meetings allowed people to update one another on what their team or department was working on, so that people will be in the know." - Kay Ong, managing director BT PHOTO: YEN MENG JIIN

Having been in business for 22 years, Oilfield Services & Supplies Pte Ltd is always on the lookout for ways to innovate and improve their work processes and market offerings.

Now led by the second-generation management team, the manufacturer of drilling tools and components for the oil and gas industry is quickly adapting to changes in the industry and the increasingly digitalised business environment.

With the industry’s fluid nature and the impact of the pandemic, business development manager Kenneth Loh said that it is important for the business to adopt information technology tools to manage disruptions effectively, and mitigate the disturbances.

Managing director Kay Ong added that one aspect the company is focusing on is relooking at their business processes to see how they can implement autonomous solutions.

Since the company was considering ways to ride the wave of digitalisation, Loh said, they took the chance to think more about what else they could implement in order to help the company improve productivity.

Hence, they decided to invest more on software which enhanced efficiency, as well as scale up existing software to other areas of the business.

“Covid-19 is a black-swan event; we can’t just do things in order to survive. We need to do things to survive and, at the same time, position ourselves to be more resilient to such shocks in the future,” Loh explained.

According to Ong, Oilfield Services had started to adopt softwares which automated processes that were once manual – such as technology that helped manage production schedules more efficiently.

“It is very important for us as in our kind of high-mix, low-volume environment, we don’t have clarity on what jobs are going to be like in a month’s time, so we need tools that can help us manage this more efficiently,” Loh added.

Further, Ong said turning to such technology at the same time helped address another pressing problem that many companies were facing – manpower shortage.

This issue had prompted the management to think of ways where they could reduce
reliance on manpower yet stay productive as a business, leading to the adoption of
more technology.

Dealing with uncertainty

The pandemic had left its mark on many industries, including the oil and gas sector. Not only did Oilfield Services have to think about ways to deal with the constantly changing restrictions, the oil and gas market also saw “drastic swings” and increased volatility, said Loh.

“We were not so busy in the first half of the year, but now in the second half of the year, we see oil prices going up and we are rushing to get jobs delivered on time,” he added.

Ong also noted that while the past two months had seen the best demand of the entire year, it was especially difficult since the company had experienced a shortage of manpower due to border closures and restrictions.

Having to juggle the uncertainty with the lack of manpower, Loh said it led them to think about the future and consider how they could be more strategic.

However, despite the unpredictability of the situation, both Loh and Ong said that the pandemic had resulted in their employees becoming more digitally savvy, and facilitated communication within the company. This ultimately enhanced productivity within the company.

“Since the pandemic, we have held more meetings than when we were at the office,” Ong said. “It actually improved communication as people are more open to sharing their ideas.”

The increased check-ins among employees also established some structure on how things were done in the company, and fostered a deeper bond among employees, said Loh.

“These recurring meetings allowed people to update one another on what their team or department was working on, so that people will be in the know,” he added.

Since the pandemic, the duo also shared that one thing they missed the most was being able to travel and engage with their fellow customers and colleagues overseas.

“We used to travel overseas to find out how our staff and newcomers were doing, but we have not done that for two years,” Ong said. “Nothing beats the human touch of meeting them face to face.”

Plans to grow and diversify

With a strong overseas market presence, Oilfield Services has workshops all over the world, with the latest one in Balikpapan launched in July this year. According to Loh, about 60 to 70 per cent of the company’s total revenue is generated from overseas markets.

When it comes to venturing into overseas markets, Ong revealed that one of the biggest challenges was understanding the local culture and language. In order to adapt to the differences, he said that it was important to have a common ground to build trust so that misunderstandings can be mitigated.

“We also need to show them that there is a mutual interest and benefit, and be willing to open up and understand their culture and language. That is key, and also how we have managed well,” added Loh.

Ong further highlighted that some of the most important factors the company took into consideration when thinking about the next market to break into was the country’s potential as well as existing customers in the market.

Moving forward, the company is looking at asset-light expansion models, as opposed to their previous expansions that have all been heavy on initial investment, said Loh.

“We are looking at ways we can expand to the Middle East or Africa using an asset-light model, and working on how it can be feasible, as well as how we can provide value,” he added.

Currently, Oilfield Services is focusing on consolidating the businesses and markets they had started or ventured into over the past two years, and using their core competencies to diversify into other industries.

“We are always looking at how we can better innovate. We also hope to patent something we can call our own that can better support the markets,” Loh said.

Ultimately, the goal for Oilfield Services is to replicate the success they have as a manufacturing hub in Singapore in more locations.

“Our overseas locations are still somewhat rudimentary, so we want to establish more manufacturing hubs in Singapore, and be a true multinational corporation,” Loh said.

The E50 Special Recognition Award – Enterprise Transformation is supported by the Future Economy Council

This story was first published in The Business Times.

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