When John Markus Lervik co-founded the industrial artificial intelligence company Cognite with Norwegian conglomerate Aker ASA in 2016, the companies set out to solve what they believed was an industrial data problem.
Now the Cognite chief executive believes AI is thesolution to the larger issues of industrial transformation and a profitable energy transition.
As Lervik told an online audience at the CeraWeek by IHS Markit conference in March: “Digital can make sustainability profitable by enabling cost cuts, improving efficiency and reducing environmental footprint — all at the same time — and in most cases, it comes hand-in-hand.”
The energy industry is on the precipice of great change. The digital transformation that was under way is experiencing a Covid-19-induced acceleration and a growing push to transition towards sustainable fuel sources like wind, solar, and hydrogen.
As a technology entrepreneur, Lervik naturally sees digital as the answer to the many intersecting challenges that the industry currently faces.
He holds a PhD in digital signal processing and software from Norwegian University of Science and Technology, where he was awarded the Esso prize for best overall PhD in 1996.
In 1997 he co-founded Fast Search & Transfer, an enterprise search solutions provider, and sold it to Microsoft in 2008. He followed that transaction by starting Cxense, an AI-powered data management and intelligent personalisation technology provider, in 2010. He left the company before it was sold in 2019 to Piano Software.
Lervik says that while he understands software, he is not the best programmer.
“I am better at seeing how to use software (to address) hard problems," he says. "And by far the largest and most important problem I've been part of tryingto solve is the industrial transformation and energy transition — and doing it all in a profitable and sustainable way.”
To fully unlock the potential of digital and artificial intelligence, the trillions of data points automatically collected by gauges and sensors need to be managed differently.
“Cognite was founded to liberate siloed data across industrial value chains and make it available for customers through open and standardised interfaces, so that they can move from being limited by data access to actually using the data to optimise and see results in real time,” Lervik says.
Following the flow of data through a process is difficult, as so much of it can be stored in different silos, with a wall between information technologies and operation technologies adding to the complexity of the problem, he adds.
“We believed we needed a new software category called ‘data operations.’ It was a software category that didn't exist when we started,” he says.
In the five years since the Oslo-based company’s founding, Lervik says he has seen an increasing number of companies trying to solve the data management problem internally, many coming to Cognite for a solution.
“It was the confirmation that our vision was correct. Now we work with some of the largest energy companies in the world, like BP and Aramco,” he says.
“They all agree that you really need to solve the data problem, because without data there is no AI. Data fuels AI, which transforms industry.”
Bridging the digital gap
Digitalisation, Lervik says, uses a three-step process to make the oil and gas sector more effective.
The first is enabling people to make better decisions by giving them the information they need.
“That is easier said than done, because the data can come from different systems,” he says. “It is the core of what Cognite brings to the table—liberating data from its core silo systems.”
The second step is optimising the decision-making process using AI.
“There’s a limit to how much complexity humans can understand. Using data science to optimise more complex systems, like those used in the oil and gas industry, for example, will help make the third step — the creation of an autonomous industry — possible,” he says, citing Spot the robotic dog as an example.
Aker BP and Cognite in November 2020 announced the deployment of Spot, the Boston Dynamics quadruped robot dog, to complete an autonomous mission onboard Aker BP's Skarv installation in the North Sea.
Cognite Data Fusion served as the data infrastructure for the offshore test, which collected images, scans, and sensors from robotics systems and then shared the data across Aker BP via a dashboard to make it actionable.
“It’s an example of how industry becomes more effective using an autonomous resource,” he says.
“You can't be green if your bottom line is red. It is one way digital can help industry be more profitable, so it can then invest in becoming more sustainable.”
That is critical for a successful energy transition: “The new energy sources have to be affordable as well," Lervik says.
"Yes, the government can subsidise for a little while to get them over some hurdles, but over time, it needs to be profitable. Digital can be used to significantly reduce capex and the time to develop new projects.
"Digitalisation is needed to operate these assets as autonomously and as cost-effectively as possible, to help accelerate the energy transition.”