This is the Oil Sand Tech Podcast with Aaron Tschirhart. The Oil Sand Industry is the largest unconventional oil business in Canada and on this podcast we’ll be interviewing people who are building products and building services that can improve the oil sands. We tell the story of how to build products and bring them to market. The Oil Sand Tech Podcast and now Aaron Tschirhart.
Aaron: Welcome to the Oil Sand Tech Podcast and it is my pleasure today to introduce James McDonough. James is a Canadian entrepreneur currently based in Houston and essentially James is a problem solver. He’s worked in a number of different industries, ranging from oil and gas, mining, forestry, government, consumer goods and technology. James is really an expert at seeking out ideas and finding a way of implementing those ideas to solve problems. With that, James, I’d like to welcome you to the podcast.
James: Thanks, Aaron. Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Aaron: Thank you for coming on it. If you can introduce yourself as well. Tell us a little bit about you.
James: I’m a Canadian boy originally. Now I’m based in Houston. It’s probably the 10th country I’ve worked in now. I’ve spent most of my time in Asia Pacific, from Australia and all over that region. Currently I’m the co-founder and CEO of SEE Forge. I have background of growing up my entire life in heavy industry, from working maintenance shutdowns on the green chain up in Canada and forcing pulp and paper to then spend a lot of time in Asia Pacific. Took my MBA there and went to management consulting for a while in operational excellence across mining, construction, oil and gas, all the heavy dirty industries and then 3 years ago co-founded SEE Forge with my co-founder Chris Bjorklund and now have grown to the US and work currently is based in Houston, Texas. We did venture capital money and now we’re just growing into the oil and gas industry.
Aaron: That’s awesome, all of the get it done industries.
James: That’s right, the dirty, heavy industries that make the world go around. We love them.
Aaron: Yeah definitely. Before we get into the technology side, we want to hear a little bit about your personal journey as well. How did you first get your start in the oil and glass industry?
James: I grew up in the forest pulp and paper, obviously being grown up in the west coast of Canada. But after doing my MBA, I’ve gone into management consultant and I refocused back into operational excellence, so basically cost cutting, efficiency improvement, being six sigma, making things better, faster, cheaper out on heavy industry sites and did a couple of projects in oil and gas across Australia and Asia and that was kind of my first introduction to oil and gas, sitting on frock and drill and completion rigs out in the middle of Australia and companies like Halliburton and liaising with other operators etc. That was my first taste and now that SEE Forge has grown. We focus into the oil and gas vertical, providing a service to making that industry more efficient.
Aaron: That’s great. It sounds like you really have a pretty good breadth of experience in a number of all heavy duty related industries. Can you share with us what really drives you?
James: I’m an efficiency guy. If we can make it faster, better, cheaper with lots of resources, that’s been kind of my career focus to date but now that technology, with big data and data analytics and visualization, you can really start to go to a deeper level of continuous improvement, whether it’s from a cost perspective but also we have clients improving their safety and incident rates with SEEF orge. It goes to that level of making the industry safer, more environmentally friendly and eventually more efficient so that it can potentially move on to alternative energy sources, etc. We feel if we can improve the industry as a whole from a variety of different angles, then we’re advancing.
Aaron: It really excites me when I’m able to try to make an impact in terms of whether that is through business process improvement or just finding a way of actually leveraging technology to make an improvement in this industry. As you were mentioning, there’s so many opportunities to do with Big Data and so many things that just didn’t exist 20 years ago. We’ll get into talking about your product as well, which is a great example. But before we do that, I guess what oil and gas technology really excites you?
James: I really believe that oil and gas is a Big Data play. There’s everything from just the raw analytics and visualization but we’re focused on making the field more efficient and allowing companies to command and control their operations to better overall. That goes from just making everyday life on site to the guys and girls, having to do safety items or rig move checklist all the way to pump-arounds or refinery inspections, just making their life easier and more enjoyable where they can focus on higher value things. That’s rewarding at the end of the day. It goes from the field all the way up to kind of a high level industry. That’s what we’re excited about.
Aaron: Great. Why don’t you tell us a little bit more detail about the product that you’ve developed and just tell us all about it?
James: Basically we’re able to, as I’ve mentioned before we’re allowing companies to control and command their field-based processes across the oil and gas value chain. So from upstream from drilling rig moves and frock complete etc all the way to downstream at distribution of moving and creeping around the refinery, within the refineries in itself. Structures from all the way up from upstream to downstream and what we do is we enable all of the field-based traditionally paperwork to be done digitally. We’ve created a fat finger app that flexes around any process. Think of it as a table where a client can say I do a JSA or a safety observation or an incident form from a safety standpoint and I also do a rig move checklist or a pump around or some other kind of operational documented process, we can do all of that from one app. A fat finger user, guys and girls on site with their big fingers, maybe non-technology background, from any device – so their iPhone, iPad, Android or computer can have an extremely easy, almost consumer experience with their device of choice and follow the workflow so they can fill out their safety item or their standard operating procedure and make sure basically that the data that the company requires to run operations is captured. Think of a fat finger app instead of paper. That’s the data capture element and standardizing the processes for the guys out in the field but then all that data goes into our workflow and analytics engine, so we can start visualizing the data that is captured on site, which basically is giving executives a real time window into their operations, so they know who is doing the items on site, who is not doing them, trends within their processes that they’ve never seen, alerts and analytics to any of the key items or KPIs that they’re following as a business. It’s solving basically two problems of the capture but also the visualization and the workflow behind the scenes.
Aaron: That sounds really appealing. When you described the product, what I immediately think about is safety, being out in the field and actually I guess identifying let’s say like a small spill of some liquid on a floor somewhere where somebody could be falling, result in quite a serious injury. Not having to go through the paperwork trail that can sometimes get lost and having like immediate results, that sounds really effective.
James: Yeah so we automate that entire process. If you think from what happens after a spill or an incident of any type, whether it’s a maintenance item or a safety item, they have a standard work capture, so what happened, who did it, the time, etc. We capture that with photos and GPS location and follow that customized form or app for what the company wants and then we automate the process end to end. After that’s been submitted, do certain people need to be alerted, that record is kept for compliance reasons and then also is populated into the dashboards. The month later or even at that time they can see their KPIs being changed as they go. We go, I guess not only from the capture but all the way to the end of the process, all automated.
Aaron: You’re mentioning like, for example your product can be integrated into SAP or Oracle?
James: Of course. We understand that clients have enterprise systems like SAP or Oracle or SharePoint, whatever it is, and our vision is to become the fat finger frontend to those systems. Out of the box, yes you can customize. If you show me through your workflows, we can set that up in a few minutes and the way you go with your fat finger app and your charts and customized KPIs dashboards all ready to go but we understand that sometimes that data wants to go to other places, to some niche systems, and we’re open to them passing that real time perfect data that’s coming from the field into those systems. That SAP gets there, system of record populated; basically we’re enhancing our clients’ current IT infrastructure investments.
Aaron: My experience with using SAP is that if there’s ever any kind of change that wanted to be identified, it was like pulling your hair out, trying to actually have I guess a change to the forms or kind of like workflow, because the system is so big. Is there implementation issues like how long does it take you to get setup once you decide “okay, we’re going to use your system.”
James: That’s the exciting thing about Cloud and being a SAAS product, is when we go to an oil, whether it’s a super major independent owner operator or it’s a service provider from a drilling frock trucking company, when we’re demoing for a client we’re actually building their workflows. They bring their safety observation card or they had JSA or their field ticket for keeping track of their work, we build that in front of them and really they can walk out of that meeting setup and ready to go. And that’s the power of the Cloud and kind of what we built and blows clients away of being able. You’ve basically implemented. Obviously we have, we call them success coaches, who will hold out clients hand through the implementation. Basically it’s a support role of this is how you setup more users and use more in depth functionality but really that’s why it’s an exciting time as clients can start using SEE Forge immediately.
Aaron: Really the SAS model or the software as a service is pretty appealing by the sounds of it. That’s awesome. I guess now could we maybe move on to or can you just walk us through from idea to execution, like how the idea was conceived for the product and then how you actually went about building the solution and kind of working towards commercialization.
James: Yes. The journey of SEE Forge has been like any technology company. Chris Bjorklund started actually in his garage/spare office in Perth, Australia and he was working on some similar technology, ideas, had a custom development software company that was doing quite well and I was consulting at that time for I think an oil and gas company and we said “wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this” and we think we can really solve the problem. We’ve seen this a lot. We start talking to people in the market and they said “yeah!” And this was 3 years ago. People are starting a lot of…from the enterprise standpoint, there was no iPads. They’re getting their first iPhones to various senior management. Blackberry is still predominant. It is in some places still. Really just went to market and start initial customer interest in shaping the product and we raised some initial capital there which allowed our team to build an alpha beta product and just the normal progression of from idea and vision to where we are today where we’re backed by the Mercury Fund in Houston as well as Surge Ventures, which is the only oil and gas vertically focused accelerators. They take about 500 companies a year apply and 10 get in, which they get mentorship from all the super majors, our investors into Surge Ventures. And so they get mentorship from people like them as well as successful technology oil and gas entrepreneurs kind of surround you and help slingshot you into the market here, as well as correlation ventures and about eight other expert oil and gas advisers, investors as well on the team. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have attracted some very high caliber talent in technology in oil and gas that are behind the vision of the company.
Aaron: I’ve heard about the surge accelerator and spoken to a couple of different people. It seems like a very worthwhile accelerator and so focused. I don’t think there’s anything else anywhere in the world that that’s focused on the oil and gas business.
James: Yeah it’s truly unique and the caliber of people that are in Surge, their investors and the people backing Surge itself are industry people and the super majors and the large service providers as well. It’s not just investment focused. It’s actually an industry focused drive innovation in the oil path and we’re right in the middle of that, which has been fantastic for us as a company.
Aaron: Yeah, gets me excited. So many opportunities for building products within this industry. That’s why I’m launching this podcast to hopefully highlight some of the innovative products just like your own here. So maybe now we can go back to the actual product and talk about it a little bit more. I’ve just been kind of thinking, a product like this where you have essentially a handheld device and you can enter information into like an ERP, can you use it for project management as well?
James: We’ve had a few used cases for project management, basically status of the project where guys and girls or the engineers that are sitting in Houston want to know how a project is going in Columbia or somewhere else in the world or offsite, somewhere where they can actually touch and feel it and having the inspections or the status of the project, having photos of that and also the GPS location and all the details taken from the field rep and having that real time with the rich data for maybe an engineer sitting in the office, it’s been really valuable for them. We’re not a project management software where we task out the project end to end with different activities and resources. We don’t do that. We allow, obviously there’s a specialized software that does that, but we can do the frontend field side of it, so maybe a quality control or product status update, all the processes that they have to do on site to make that project happen like safety or inspections or quality control, etc.
Aaron: The instance that I kind of thought about it just during like a major maintenance event or a turnaround, where staying on schedule and kind of like communicating when a task is finished as soon as it’s finished so that you can plan and manage kind of the workforce appropriately. For example, is it possible to hook the backend on the information into something like Primavera, like a project management software, like that?
James: We have an open API that we’re open to giving the data to whoever needs it in whatever format they need. Whatever system they have, we’re open to pass that data. It’s not like we hold that hostage within SEE Forge. They can export it in Excel anytime they want or we can do custom connection to whatever products they need. And what that allows is we see the industry right now with the turnover issues it has, as well as people coming into are very junior, you may not want to or clients are seeing to train someone on a heavy duty project management software, ERP, safety software, that’s a lot of time and energy to train up those users and the field users a lot of the time don’t need to be power users. They’re essentially just capturing some basic information on site then they’re back on the tools or back on to making whatever their job is on site happen. We become that fat finger frontend to multiple processes that then can pass that data to multiple systems in the background. The field guy only needs to see one app which can then feed multiple systems like whatever it is,Primavera, ERP, XYZ.
Aaron: Great. Jumping over to the analytics part that you’ve mentioned, I guess my experience writing analytical reports from SAP is a little painful, just in terms of sometimes…
James: Your words, not mine.
Aaron: Can you tell us a little bit about your…how does your analytics work within SEE Forge?
James: It starts with…we have a kind of drag and drop almost app builder, so let’s say for example safety is a common thing, a safety observation has 10 fields or 10 questions, like what was the risk level and what cause, what was the root cause? Was it working in heights or was it a body position? Was it personal protective equipment, for example? When we build that on SEE Forge, automatically the KPI or the dashboards have been built just by building that workflow and so the client is already setup and tracking any data point that is put through SEE Forge and so they can see now a real time graph or visualization of what data has been put through. If that person is a safety manager and they really want to see what are the causes of all of our safety observations, that is already being built and available. And so they can see that graph just by creating that workflow. Our vision is to have SEE Forge been used end to end. It’s not just the data capture. That is certainly of important element but you’re capturing that data for a reason and you want to be able to take actionable…you want to have your insights to create action, whether it’s a targeted training exercise or to follow up that individual or whatever it may be, that happens automatically in the product. Basically customized dashboards are available for that type of user, that role that they’re in.
Aaron: Can you tell us about the intrinsically safe cell phone product that you have? I understand with the product that you sell, you’re able to use like an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S4 in the plant?
James: Yeah of course. We have a number of products that provide you take a iPhone, iPad, iPad Mini, Samsung device and a few others. They’re all on SEE Forge.com but enter a classified area, and so they’re waterproof, dustproof, vibrations. They’re rugged eyes but now they’re classified and they come with the certifications that you can actually go into those classified environment and do your work. That blown oil and gas traditional industry where electronic devices, you couldn’t get in there or is cost prohibited because you have to have like a $5000 computer. Now you can take your iPhone or your iPad or your Android, whatever device you’d like on to site and now use some powerful enterprise applications from those pieces of hardware that you already have in your pocket. You get very strong interest from that and it’s an exciting part of our business.
Aaron: Yeah I can immediately see the advantage if you’re able to use your iPhone out in the plant or whatnot.
James: Yeah, so you use them as the phone and all the traditional stuff but clients are excited that now that instead of paper, they can have real time data, look at their standard operating procedures, collect that data all from a device that they love to use anyways, that’s simple, has a beautiful user experience and now they can use it a serious business tool because they can take it into those environments.
Aaron: Yeah definitely. It’s interesting too how the iPhone’s really kind of evolved from essentially being a toy to being a real business product.
James: Of course.
Aaron: What is the best way for our listeners to get in contact with you?
James: With SEE Forge, SEE Forge is spelled as S-E-E-F-O-R-G-E.com. You can check us out online. We’re on the app and Android store. You can look at a few sort of SEE Forge there as well. You can always hit me directly at James [at] SEE Forge.com or ping me at LinkedIn. I’m always happy to talk to people to other people in the industry or explore innovation. Obviously we love customers from the owner operator to the service provider. Feel free anyone to reach out anytime.
Aaron: Yeah that’s great. Thank you so much for coming on to the Oil Sand Tech Podcast and sharing your story, your journey. Before we finish, can you provide one piece of advice for our listeners who’s looking to leverage technology in its current operations.
James: I think it’s really…clients demand a beautiful user experience now, which is not only extremely easy to use but powerful. I think a lot of oil and gas traditional software has been clunky, hard to use and limiting and now with the changes in industry, people demand a fantastic experience end to end. I think selecting products that your people actually want to use and get value so they can focus on their core role and do a better job at the end of the day, a safer job, that’s our tip and what we live by.
Aaron: Good words to live by. Thanks again for joining us. I look forward to talking to you again soon.
James: Thanks again, Aaron. Loved it. Anytime.