Innovation is giving ideas VIP treatment and then setting those ideas up for a lifetime of success. That was the premise for the launch of Total Exploration & Production's Best Innovators contest 20-plus years ago.
Its innovations evolve with the challenges of the time and the current technological base, while fostering an immutable characteristic — pioneer spirit — and a desire to move forward by tapping into the enthusiasm of Total's people.
Although innovation is plainly a growth driver, it is first and foremost a natural business accelerator. It gets people, technologies, ideas and methods moving, as suggested by the word's Latin roots1. It accelerates progress.
Spotlight on the Total Exploration & Production Best Innovators 2018 Competition
Total's Exploration & Production segment has understood and acted on this fact for over two decades. The in-house Best Innovators competition was created in the mid-1990s to recognize employees, irrespective of profession, who had implemented innovative projects in their jobs.
The contest has two aims. By nature, it promotes new technologies and ideas that will save time and money, improve safety or shrink the company's environmental footprint. But it also wants all E&P employees to identify with the winners and boldly innovate, in turn fostering a genuine culture of day-to-day innovation and demonstrate the pioneer spirit that Total has always claimed as its own.
"Things that no longer change are already dead," claims Benoît Mathis, E&P innovation officer at Total. "In an increasingly fast-moving world, propelled in particular by digital technology, you have to respond and adapt by innovating."
The Best Innovators' contest is very popular with E&P employees. More than 100 proposals are submitted each year. "Every entry is scrutinized according to specific criteria: the spirit of innovation, technical contribution, simplicity, whether it can be reproduced elsewhere and cost consciousness," says Mathis. Contest entries reflect all aspects of Exploration & Production, including the ones with the lowest technological content. Submissions have included competition research and digital technology surveys, for example. Secondly, the number of people casting ballots and attending the awards ceremony is on the rise. "We can all identify with the innovators and, at the end of the day, the Best Innovators contest helps drive our segment's performance," adds Mathis, who is pleased with progress.
The types of innovations submitted to the Best Innovators competition have changed since its inception. Today, the focus is on ideas related to safety, the environment, robotics and digital technology. In fact, two Jury Chair awards have gone to safety-related innovations. One was HELPER drone, which provides invaluable support to search and rescue teams at sea. "Digital technology is now part of our practices and continues to be incorporated into them," says Mathis, "along with the associated work practices: more collaboration, networking and agility. Artificial intelligence and robotics also won awards last year."
Another thing the innovation officer notices is that E&P employees are "more responsive to the big changes in our society. On the one hand, they're part of the broader community and naturally champion the major issues it embraces, such as protecting the environment. On the other, they're inspired by the strategic vision presented by management. The 2°C trajectory integrated into Total's growth is inspiring, and we see a connection between that strategy and the many proposals we receive."
Mathis sees humility as one of the great virtues of the innovation process. He considers it impossible to predict what future innovation will be like, pointing out that, "In the last 10 years, no-one predicted anything that has happened in the energy field. So, it behooves us to remain prudent and modest." But he also thinks that "innovation is mostly driven by restrictions, whether of time, resources, cost or other factors."
Such shifting constraints often lead people to think outside the box and come up with disruptive solutions "by deconstructing what exists." One example is the work already being conducted in the area of unmanned oil and gas rigs. To make it happen, you have to be ready and equipped to cultivate innovation. "We're opening a twin of our Paris-La Défense Booster incubator3 at the CSTJF4 center in Pau soon, " says Mathis. "We're building an innovation network and Total is on the move, giving its employees all the tools they need to be increasingly innovative."
The Best Innovators 2019 contest is expected to confirm that sentiment.
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1 "Innovare" is comprised of the verb "novare" from the root "novus," meaning "change" and "new," plus the prefix "in," indicating a movement toward the interior.
2 Subsea PRocessing and Injection Gear for Seawater.
3 Created in February 2017, Booster is a laboratory to spur innovation and jump-start innovative projects in all of Total's businesses.
4 Centre Scientifique et Technique Jean Féger engineering and research center in Pau, France. Its 2,850 employees work to continuously improve Total's exploration and production methods so that oil and gas are produced responsibly and sustainably.
5 All the well completion tasks that enable production, injection or observation wells to be brought on line optimally.