Q&A: Vijay Desiraju, Global Energy Industry Lead at Celonis

Vijay Desiraju, Global Energy Industry Lead at Celonis
Celonis’ Vijay Desiraju sits down with Energy Digital to discuss how energy operators can improve liquidity, productivity, agility, resilience and revenue

Against a backdrop of commodity price surges and geopolitical and macroeconomic fluctuations, the energy sector faces uncontrollable variables and unpredictable outcomes. 

A process mining pioneer with bp, GE and Wien Energie as customers, Celonis uses AI to perform an X-Ray-like analysis of businesses and find where they are creating waste in their processes. 

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Its Global Energy Industry Lead is Vijay Desiraju, an energy industry executive with two decades of experience advising energy and utilities clients on strategic transformation initiatives. Since 2011, Celonis has helped the world's largest companies produce maximum business value for minimum waste.

The former Accenture Managing Director for Energy & Utilities shares with Energy Digital which process initiatives will deliver using process intelligence and AI. 

Q. What challenges do energy and oil & gas operators face when it comes to aligning their actions to improve liquidity, productivity, agility, resilience and revenue amid commodity price surges and geopolitical fluctuations?

Market volatility is piling the pressure on energy businesses to build their resilience and maintain profitability and a specific challenge that energy leaders face is dealing with hundreds of different systems ranging from asset management and hydrocarbon logistics to finance and supply chain. With large energy organisations dealing with business environments which involve multiple locations onshore and subsurface and transport involving everything from vessels to trains to trucks, improving revenue and productivity requires a way to find visibility across many different systems and siloed departments. 

Q. How does Celonis utilise process mining alongside AI to identify areas of waste in businesses, particularly within the energy sector and what unique insights does this approach offer to improve operational efficiency and profitability?

The top priority for our customers in this sector is frictionless integration between different functions due to the operational insights this offers. Process intelligence offers readily accessible and actionable insights, which can lead to immediate cash impact, highlighting opportunities to cut waste in operations. 

Connecting previously siloed functions and departments enables operators to identify areas of waste. For example, a process intelligence platform can uncover hidden value opportunities by aligning master data, labour estimates and material planning to reduce unexpected maintenance costs. Using the same ‘digital twin’ of an energy business, process intelligence can also be used to ensure that raw materials are high quality, compliant with safety standards and are being routed effectively to streamline warehousing and logistics for onshore platforms and subsurface locations alike. 

Q. In the context of uncontrollable variables and unpredictable outcomes in the energy sector, could you elaborate on how investments are being strategically ramped up to enhance resilience and secure longer-term value? How does Celonis contribute to this strategy?

The pandemic gave businesses in the energy sector a big push to automate key processes, with decision makers having to mitigate the effects of reduction in force by learning to do more with less. That has led to a sharp rise in automation investments. Energy leaders are now seeing success stories among their peers who have invested in digital transformation, and 60% of CIOs in the sector say they are dialling up investments in areas such as data analytics. 

Celonis can help to enhance resilience and secure longer-term value in many ways — for example rooting out delays in invoicing processes. For large energy companies, even a day’s delay in invoicing lead time can create millions of dollars in cash-flow impact. Process mining allows companies to ‘hone in’ on the causes of bottlenecks, which is crucial for organisations which can have multiple sales divisions as well as highly complex supply chains and product ranges. Using a process intelligence platform, every team involved in Order-to-Cash can work from the same real-time, end-to-end picture, with performance dashboards helping teams to secure long-term value. 

Celonis customer Neste, a Finnish oil refining company and the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel, boosted monthly cash flow using process intelligence. Process intelligence offered them visibility over supply chain processes and commercial processes and enabled Neste to hone in on waste, which included highlighting 20% of invoices being delayed. Process intelligence allowed them to cut their invoice lead time in half, with an estimated monthly cash flow impact of €55m (US$59.1m).

Q. Given the complexity of processes in the oil & gas industry, could you provide examples or strategies for identifying process initiatives that effectively boost profitability and address longer-standing objectives?

Maximising uptime has never been more urgent in the energy sector, where even just 3.65 days of unplanned downtime — a 1% rate — can cost energy businesses over US$5m per year. Maintaining uptime is not simple, though, with plant maintenance involving multiple teams, which often operate in their own silos including Inventory and Materials Management, Procurement, Work Order Management and Accounts Payable. Minimising downtime is extremely difficult using standard business process management (BPM) software. 

Process intelligence works as a force multiplier, mining business processes across the operation for insights and allowing business leaders to reimagine the same processes using generative AI-assisted process modelling. Process intelligence can orchestrate continuous process improvements, enabling business leaders to understand where maintenance delays are truly coming from and take immediate actions. Process intelligence enables energy sector leaders to answer important questions across multiple teams, including how delays in logistics and material procurement affect plant maintenance schedules and how maintenance operations are affecting production uptime. 

Process intelligence can also pull data from systems including Maximo, SAP and more to help energy business leaders understand why a scheduled adherence rate is low, for example. In-turn, businesses are empowered by having an overview into every variable that can affect the rate, including the real-time flows between work orders, purchase orders and material reservations and offering next-best-action recommendations. 

A process intelligence platform can highlight problems in far greater detail than BPM tools. For example, if material delays are one of the reasons bringing down an adherence rate, process intelligence can zero in on process-related causes of delays such as if procurement is taking too long to create a purchase requisition or a supplier is delaying deliveries. With AI-enabled action recommendations, there’s increased visibility and the opportunity to monitor plant maintenance processes in real time using process automation, which generates lasting, measurable value. 

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