Joint Business and IT Ownership Delivers Digital Success for BP Castrol

Customer-centered outcomes, planning and enterprise architecture support investments in agile and DevOps.

All oil and gas companies face the need to address a market whose near future will look very different from its recent past. Global oil giant BP understands very well the positive benefits of digital services. They are an opportunity to interact in new ways and move into new markets to diversify its revenue streams. Disruption, however, is the flip side to digital, and BP, like many other businesses, faces competition from digital players in markets that are seemingly orthogonal to its spheres of operation.  

The new landscape is one where experience and engagement have been shaped and raised by pure-play digital retailers and mobile app providers. Des Johnson, Global Marketing Director of Castrol, BP Lubricants knows that “meeting the increased expectations and the flexible engagement demands of our business customers” will not only help defend against competition but will allow his group to gain a competitive upper hand.

Any global organisation the size of BP recognises that long term survival belongs to those able to adapt. But where to start?

Digital success, the company felt, lay in business and IT collaboration, and Johnson spoke of the need to reset the dial. “The divided approach of old wasn’t going to cut it. From day one, business and IT engaged in the same effort. We managed and attended meetings together.” 

Given the multiple technology options vying for attention – from Mobile First to Cloud First, it is essential that a business knows what it is trying to offer and why and selects a solution accordingly rather than selecting a technology and imposing it on the business. “Start with the problem or the business requirement:  What does the customer want, what is their pain point and what would be a good experience for them? Then find the technology rather than the other way around,” says Johnson. For him, “transformation, rather than a general desire to be more digital, is about the business change required to make technology adoption successful”. Allowing customers to feed back quickly and acting on their comments was key.

While business leads, execution falls squarely in IT’s domain, with enterprise architecture playing a pivotal role. Niels Van Den Brink, senior global architect for downstream digital and lubricant business at BP states “Four pillars dictate our architecture for digital: customer-centred design thinking; build using a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) before you scale; use agile development and deploy using DevOps principles and tools which promote process automation and more frequent testing, along with a mind-set prepared for increasing the speed of software release.”  

There are many aspects to becoming an agile operation. A clear process for execution can help drive consistency across different parts of an organisation and, as Johnson notes, standardise external relationships, “We went fully agile from day one and we use the same processes and shared resources irrespective of the partners that we work with,” he says.

Bringing together relevant stakeholders (e.g. legal, procurement, operational services teams, functional specialists and experts) from across the business and IT organisation, whether in an advisory capacity or as part of the execution team, is good practice. However, “a capable and skilled product owner” is as Van Der Brink puts it “the difference that is required for doing agile development well.” In keeping with the business-driven ethos, product owners typically come from the business. This requires investing in their training so that they understand their role in the process.

Flexibility and speed come from not having to start from scratch with every new idea or business requirement. It is why Van Den Brink believes “being able to take advantage of technology foundations that are already in place requires a platform strategy”. This offers a common base for multiple products and services and a vital consideration when thinking about the architecture underpinning digital operations.

With open and connected the cornerstone principles of being digital, security must be taken seriously, and is “baked in” from the start to counter a continuously evolving threat landscape. A risked based pragmatism can help to balance priorities, especially when building a MVP. “We won’t build multiple layers of friction if we are only testing for 50 customers in one country that we will turn off at a moment’s notice,” says Van Den Brink. When scaling a MVP, the full weight of a detailed security review is then applied, although going after a “DevSecOps” process where automated security testing and validation is integrated ensures that security does not hinder progress.

With data the currency of the digital economy, data architecture and strategy are central to designing BP’s digital service.  Van den Brink highlights how a data and analytics role in the team is critical to finding out “how to build and structure the data and analytics in a way that will answer the questions you have.” Doing this even for a MVP helps when vetting for full scale operations.

BP Castrol has seen that successful change requires individuals that are eager to learn and willing to wear multiple hats. Investment in new hires and training is supplemented with valuing domain experience that already exists. Time spent validating that the business is ready and capable of accepting and working with a delivered digital product helps to strengthen the outcome. The business outcome is a proven upturn in customer satisfaction. Better still is a shift to accepting that a small fraction of MVPs scaled into production is a by-product of a good testing process. The group’s direction presents a model for the wider BP business.

Joint Business and IT Ownership Delivers Digital Success for BP Castrol >