Opinion - I like the technology but it’s not how we do things here

Tuesday 03 September 2019

Dr Ruby Roberts
Writing for Energy by the Press and Journal, Dr Ruby Roberts, a research fellow and organisational psychologist from RGU's Aberdeen Business School discusses her research collaboration with the Oil and Gas Technology Centre.

This familiar phrase is often heard when trying to introduce new technology in oil and gas. The industry is built upon innovation and many people continue to work hard to make it more innovative, however in recent times innovation hasn’t been as prolific as it has in the past, and the industry now has a reputation for being slow on the uptake. Companies typically prefer to be the second, third or even tenth adopter of a new technology, rather than the first.

We know from consumer psychology that how people respond to, and interact with, innovations is a key part of getting new technology introduced and used, both at home and at work. Given that big and small technology decisions are made at an individual level, it is unsurprising that human psychology can have a powerful impact on technology adoption. There are countless anecdotes about how people can make or break a new technology in oil and gas (e.g. lack of trust, fear of losing your job, or personal agendas). Yet, there was a limited understanding of these barriers.

That’s where our research project at RGU in collaboration with the Oil and Gas Technology Centre, comes in. RGU’s Professor Rhona Flin and I are identifying and examining the underlying psychological factors that influence technology uptake in the upstream oil and gas industry. So far, we have done that in two ways. Firstly, by looking to see what similar research has been done through a literature review. Secondly, through an interview study with the people who work in technology innovation every day in the industry.

We found that five key psychological factors influence technology introduction in the oil and gas sector: personality; attitudes; social; cognition; and organisational level factors. Those who tend to be innovative and open to trying new things are more receptive towards trialling or taking a chance on an innovation. Having a positive attitude towards technology, recognising that it can add value to performance, safety and the business in both the short and long term, engenders more positive technology decisions. Leaders play the starring role, using their positions to prioritise innovation, influencing how and where money and time are spent. However, it is the huge supporting cast of managers, tech developers and end-users that make it successful.

So why does this matter? For technology to be harnessed, it needs to not only be technically competent but introduced in a way that organisations, leaders and end-users are receptive to it. Our project will use the research outcomes to direct interventions that support and assist the introduction of new technology in the oil and gas industry. People make technology successful, so let us build the future of our industry not on “that’s not how we do it”, but by saying “tell me more."

Dr Ruby Roberts is a Research Fellow and Organisational Psychologist at RGU’s Aberdeen Business School.

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