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How BP is using ServiceNow to transform into an ‘integrated energy company’

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez October 8, 2020
BP has said that it wants to be carbon neutral by 2050. Key to this is also rethinking IT and digital, where it has adopted a common data model using ServiceNow.

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BP is one of the world's most well known and largest oil and gas companies, with a 110 year history in the industry. However, the company is changing under the guidance of newly appointed CEO Bernard Looney, who has set out his ambition for a wholesale reinvention of the organisation into an integrated energy company. What does this look like? Well, it includes a goal of being carbon neutral by 2050 and over the next ten years reducing oil and gas production by 40%, investing $5 billion in renewables and developing 50GW of renewable capacity.

Unsurprisingly, IT and digital is going to play a huge role in supporting this massive change in approach over the coming decades. Roddy Barnes, Head of IT Strategy and Planning at BP, was speaking this week at ServiceNow's Now at Work event about how the company has rolled out the Now platform to create a common data model, introduce automation and democratise IT for BP's 80,000 employees.

For all of diginomica's coverage from Now at Work, check out our dedicated events resource hub here. For a link to the event itself, click here.

Barnes explained ServiceNow has been rolled out over the past three years to create a ‘digital system of work' that gives employees more control over their work and also real-time information about how they're performing. Commenting on BP's new strategy, he said:

It's a very exciting place to be and frankly also scary. As you can guess, IT and digital are going to play a big role in that. I'd go as far as to say we can't do that transformation without digital transformation going along with it. That's about developing new digital first business models and it's about getting more efficient, more safe, more reliable about the way we generate, deliver, trade and sell energy.

The old way of doing IT, a large IT department running big monolithic applications, which change slowly over time in response to a set of customer requirements - just ain't going to work. We realised quite early on that we needed to be much quicker to value. We had to try things quickly, cheaply. If they don't work, throw them away and don't cry over it. If they work, be able to scale them quickly, efficiently, safely, securely.

We needed to democratise digital. Everyone is an IT professional now. Our employees, they expect more. They expect to be able to do stuff themselves. They don't want to go to an IT person and then a year later get a shonky application they didn't really want. They want to be able to have a go at this stuff themselves, in days.

Changing personas

When BP began thinking about what IT and digital should look like within the organisation, it started by looking at the persona of a digital product manager. Traditionally, this person would have been an IT manager, responsible for running apps for the business. However, this needed to change into a genuine product manager that is building, running, enabling and selling digital products to people all the time.

So, what does this new digital product manager need? Some things include:

  • An understanding of their financial position in real time, and the consequence of the choices they make

  • To be able to manage the supply and demand of skills in their squads

  • Understand their operational performance and what's driving it

  • Know how their delivery pipeline is performing

  • See how their products depend on and influence others in the digital ecosystem

  • Manage the risk in their digital assets

Barnes said that the root of digital transformation at BP is enabling people to do the digital transformation themselves, which is underpinned by three key philosophies: 1) connecting people, 2) building in flexibility, and 3) automating everything.

Connecting people

Barnes explained that the reality now is that everything in an organisation is interconnected, reliant on an interdependent network of products and services. Integration across people, platforms and networks is more pertinent than ever. He added that realizing this a couple of years ago for BP was like a "lighting bolt". IT shouldn't base its model on traditional towers and boxes, but as a network of thousands of nodes. Digital needs to embrace the complexity and connect everyone across the organisation. Barnes said:

That means you've got to model it properly and that's what we use ServiceNow for. It's about using a really strong, single underpinning data model that holds everything together. Everything refers to that one data model, one way of doing things, one single data model.

That has some quite interesting implications. One of which is transparency. Once you compare apples with apples, once everybody is in the same data model, in the same system of record, I can compare how I'm doing with my budget to how my friend is doing. And I can compare how much work is in my backlog and what my time to value is. It's terrifying, right? Or it's really exciting. Either way, I think it's good for business. And I'm doing that in real-time. I can course correct, I can change. And that comes from understanding your world as this network.


In addition to connecting people, the second pillar of focus is around flexibility. Barnes notes that organisations change all the time, particularly in big corporates. They typically undergo a big reorganization every year or two, but this isn't ever really acknowledged when building systems and processes, he added.

Companies hard code their structures into their processes and their systems of work. BP didn't want to make this mistake this time around. Barnes explained:

We were absolutely determined that we would have a robust operating model, but a flexible one that expects change. So that network changes every day. The fact that someone provides some product to someone else, that stuff changes all the time. And then every so often, like we are going through at the moment, everything changes and all the structures are different and the products change.

The underlying IT assets don't change, you map those in the right places, that's what we are trying to build here. Again, the interesting implication of that is the control - is this ability for our product manager friend to make his changes in real time, to make changes to his product set, to what his offerings are, what the cost of them is, to adjust how they do business.

Automate everything

The final pillar BP is prioritising is regarding automation. And whilst automating processes takes out cost, and has enabled BP to run a lean IT shop, for Barnes it's more about enabling self service for 80,000 BP employees. He said:

We want everyone to be able to build their own power app or do their own data analysis or build their own machine learning model. We want them to be able to collaborate effectively. Stuff that was unheard of for a non-IT professional to do just a couple of years ago.

So this means automation first and foremost, an automation engine. It also meant a really nice front door. Also it meant real robustness, because if you're letting everybody loose, you need to be really sure that this thing holds together well. And it needs an interface that is easy to pick up and easy to use.

A single digital system of work

So, what does this look like? Barnes shared the below IT operating model, which is instantiated in ServiceNow. Primarily it's about using ServiceNow as a common data model, a common system of record, which is allowing BP to "compare apples with apples".

An image of BP’s IT operating model
(Image sourced via BP presentation)

Barnes added:

It took us a year to build that [common data model] well. And then around it, we have an API layer that we built in ServiceNow, it's an automation engine that we built in ServiceNow. Those two things enable us to do all those joins between a whole bunch of different systems and applications. It's taken us about three years to get to this point and is by no means finished. We started with IT service management and the final one of these big blocks that went in this year was the financials using the ServiceNow IT business management module.

Over this time, Barnes said that BP is pushing the limits of the Now platform and has since built up to 60 applications in ServiceNow.

However, the new approach hasn't come without its challenges - namely getting people to change the way they work, with a focus on real-time adaption and taking responsibility. Barnes said:

Not everybody wants to do their own work. Some of those product managers thought it was beneath them, frankly. They expect to be given a PowerPoint every quarter to tell them what's going on. And now we're saying you've got to be on top of your numbers in real-time and you've got to make changes yourself. Some of them see it as an administrative burden. And, frankly, I think it's time they changed. I don't think that works anymore. I think the effort and the pain and the inefficiency that that old method causes is not supportable anymore. You just have to run leaner, this stuff doesn't work on a quarterly basis anymore.

However, benefits are already being reaped. He added:

It has helped us take out a huge amount of cost, primarily as we talked about through automation. We are quicker to value. We are delivering in days, not years. A lot of that is to do with agile practices and DevOps, which we've adopted wholesale. But it's also about how you join this stuff up. It's about automating just boring processes and getting rid of them. And we're more reliable. Getting this right with a combination of modern approaches to delivery and operations joined together in the right way like this, you can square the circle of being cheaper and you can be quicker and more reliable. I don't think there's a trade off there these days.

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