Digital Innovation: The opportunities for the Nuclear Industry

27 July 2016

We are living in the age of digital innovation/ digital disruption; the internet of things, Big Data, social media platforms, cloud etc. They may be buzzwords, but the transformation of how we work and live is one of the great megatrends we believe will shape the world in the 21st century. Indeed, in our recent Annual CEO Survey, 81% of those questioned identified technological advance as the single most important challenge for businesses to address, greater even than demographic or climate change, or the shift in the balance of global economic power.

So how does the nuclear industry cope with this deluge of digital? The industry’s traditional heavy engineering focus, the need to safely manage operational processes and 'keep the lights on', legacy IT systems and restrictive information security protocols means that the nuclear industry is not typically seen as a place ripe for adopting digital ways of working.  Indeed the industry’s Safety Culture is predicated on conservative decision making which is difficult to align to digital culture, where conventions are challenged, experimentation is encouraged and taking reasonable risks is rewarded.

However we believe that digital offers great opportunities for nuclear and the industry should be actively pursuing operational improvement strategies that embrace digital solutions. Whilst one driver is the expectations of new “digital native” recruits coming into the industry to replace an ageing workforce, the primary reason is that in these times of uncertainty where capital is constrained, digital solutions can significantly reduce both opex and capex costs. 

The industry has traditionally had a risk averse approach, but digital technologies, with safeguards, are available to aid in the transformation of nuclear organisations; for example there are now “secure” private clouds commercially available for managing information rated above Official Sensitive which reduces on-premise IT infrastructure costs. In addition, prototypes can be rapidly built within days and iterated within weeks using “agile” techniques, therefore saving significant IT application development costs when compared to the usual “waterfall” project methodology.

We see opportunities across the asset management lifecycle for nuclear organisations to utilise digital solutions. We have selected 2 examples to demonstrate the art of the possible:

  1. Improving Programme Delivery through Analytics - the average cost overrun for nuclear projects in our 2013 review was 157%. Poor insight on the status of projects was common, due to multiple legacy systems that were fragmented across the supply chain and a plethora of manual processes yielding poor quality data. However the new breed of analytics technology can transform this situation so that reporting is no longer backwards looking or manually intensive to produce. PwC’s “Mission Control” solution has been developed to dynamically integrate data from multiple and varied data sources ranging from traditional programme control and functional systems to smart assets and telemetry. Within 6 weeks we can create a trusted, single source of programme performance which gives managers - at their fingertips, on any device - a clear view of the programme at all levels through the entire delivery lifecycle. Very large capital programmes using “Mission Control” have saved 5% of their budget and reduced their schedule durations by up to 20%.
  2. Increasing Productivity of the field force - Field force productivity is a key metric for many businesses but especially in the nuclear sector where there can be thousands of workers on site during construction projects or during station outages. Mobile and digital channels are a key enabler to improve the efficiency of such work management, by providing the workforce with access to all the relevant data and relevant system functionality in an accessible platform. This enables faster completion of tasks and reduces safety risks. Indeed we have seen the use of such mobile tools improve plant safety as the workforce have been immediately able to detect when the expected facility configuration information does not match the ‘as found’ physical state.   Working with one large utility company, PwC built a mobile engineering scheduling and “expert in hand” app in 6 weeks which has now been rolled out across the workforce and has delivered an almost immediate 68% improvement in performance.

But these are not the only areas where digital can improve performance; there are a plethora of other practical examples such as using Virtual Reality solutions for training of plant engineers, deploying social networks for knowledge management or using analytics tools to analyse OT data to predict plant failures. A number of these can be found on our World in Beta website.

So if you’re interested in any of these solutions but are not sure of the next steps to take then we can help in two ways:

  • We can conduct a “Digital Fitness Assessment”, to assess your organisation’s digital maturity in relation to its size and industry, identifying gaps and opportunities for improvement.
  • We can run “Protothon” events to rapidly identify solutions to your specific business problems, through a joint, cross-disciplinary team, and to rapidly prototype solutions within 48 hours.

Matt Leedham | Director

 View Matt Leedham's profile



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