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GCC Refiners Value Digital Technology’s Ability to Spring Untapped Potential

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 03 March 2020

GCC refiners are realizing the benefits of digital, but further progress is needed to evolve on par with International Oil Companies.

MANAMA, Bahrain, March 1, 2020 - Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) refiners are turning their attention to the transformative benefits and growing necessity of digital applications to advance in the digital age, according to a survey conducted by Gulf Downstream Association (GDA) in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Despite only a few GCC regional oil companies industrializing wide-scale investment in digital technology, 88% of GCC refiners surveyed acknowledge that non-investment poses risks such as a lack of ability to improve margins and lower competitive advantage.

“The study highlighted that 67% of GCC refiners hope that digital technologies will solve their top two challenges: reliability and product optimization,” said Audah Al-Ahmadi, Secretary General - GDA. “Additionally, 19% of respondents believe digital can improve knowledge retention, with cybersecurity (10%) and safety (4%) rounding out refiners’ expectations of digital to solve challenges.”

Despite industry-wide awareness of digital transformation in the refining sector, the lack of integrated digitalization strategies, and a fear of the unknown are the two key barriers preventing digital adoption. Of these, investment in current digital applications is perceived as a challenge; with 50% of those surveyed stating a lack of proven technology is the largest challenge to investment, followed by difficulties in estimating a robust business case upfront (25%), and a lack of short term benefit (25%).
“Unlocking digital requires pinpointing the most important areas to apply digital technologies, and these are maintenance, operations, and production planning,” said Mirko Rubeis, Managing Director and Partner at BCG. “The shift from being aware of digital use and piloting digital applications to industrialization is slow in maintenance and operations, despite 20% of respondents expressing awareness of more than ten digital applications. In production planning and economics, only 12% are aware of more than ten applications that could enhance this aspect of their business.”

“Globally, the report highlights IOCs are pursuing digital in six key areas: advanced market-driven operations, next-gen planning and scheduling, asset management 4.0, safety and field productivity, trading / commercial plant interface, and support functions excellence,” said Yousef Ali, Chairperson – GDA Industry Trends Technical Committee and Team Leader – Value Chain Optimization, KPC. “Successful digital adoption in these fields globally is setting a precedent for regional oil companies to leverage future growth via digital.”

“Traditionally, many GCC refiners have taken a conservative approach when it comes to leveraging digital to enhance operational excellence,” said Samuele Bellani, Deputy Chair – GDA Industry Trends Technical Committee and Principal at BCG. “For regional oil companies to compete on the digital front, they will need to realize how to minimize their investment challenges by developing digital technologies in the areas of maintenance, operations, and production planning to reap the immediate benefits of applying digital to boost their business and their bottom line.”

The full survey report is now available on the GDA Knowledge Hub:

About the Digital Refining Survey
The Gulf Downstream Association (GDA), in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), conducted a survey of GCC refiners about their use of digital technology in operations. The survey took place in late 2018 and early 2019 and was designed to illustrate that digital refining has begun in the Middle East, but still offers untapped potential. The survey queried twelve refineries owned by nine GDA-member companies operating across the GCC. This survey follows a previous industry survey conducted by GDA and Boston Consulting Group in 2017

About Gulf Downstream Association
The Gulf Downstream Association (GDA) was established by its Founding Companies from Saudi Aramco, Kuwait Petroleum International (KPI), Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO), Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC) and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). GDA is a pioneering, non-profit association and “point of reference” for all downstream players including industry professionals, corporate executives and legislators seeking to foster excellence and drive advancement through mutually beneficial engagement and industry collaboration. The Association was established to aggregate the scattered wealth of knowledge that lies across the global downstream industry in order to accelerate development and serve as a catalyst for strong and sustainable industry growth in the Gulf region and worldwide. GDA takes a leading role in supporting the local, regional and international industry through sharing of knowledge, experience and best practices. The approval on the establishment of the Gulf Downstream Association (GDA) took place at the Cabinet meeting in the Kingdom of Bahrain held on 11 July 2016. For more information and membership inquiries, contact +973 1711 6000 or visit the Association’s website at

About Boston Consulting Group
Boston Consulting Group partners with leaders in business and society to tackle their most important challenges and capture their greatest opportunities. BCG was the pioneer in business strategy when it was founded in 1963. Today, we help clients with total transformation—inspiring complex change, enabling organizations to grow, building competitive advantage, and driving bottom-line impact.

To succeed, organizations must blend digital and human capabilities. Our diverse global teams bring deep industry and functional expertise and a range of perspectives to spark change. BCG delivers solutions through leading-edge management consulting along with technology and design, corporate and digital ventures—and business purpose. We work in a uniquely collaborative model across the firm and throughout all levels of the client organization, generating results that allow our clients to thrive.