New drills help BP to save millions

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When a worker on one of BP's drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico has problems, he no longer has to ask someone to come out from the shore. Thanks to the latest in communications technology, he may be able to deal with the difficulty immediately by calling on the expertise of someone from the North Sea.

Equally, engineers working on a construction project for the company can use the technology to co-operate, despite being separated by oceans and time zones. Much has been made of the importance of "knowledge management" and "knowledge sharing" but few companies have gone as far as the international oil concern in demonstrating the financial benefits.

With one North Sea construction project saving pounds 3m in one year by sharing knowledge in this way, BP says it is already reducing its costs by hundreds of millions through investing in video-conferencing and related technology.

Kent Greenes, leader of the company's London-based knowledge management team, told a seminar that the initiative, called Virtual Teamwork, had delivered these benefits by creating "a high level of alignment between individuals and teams" and enabling work to be done much faster than was possible with traditional methods.

The desktop-based toolkit which, besides video-conferencing, allows users to send documents to each other's screens and to work on them together, costs about $5,000 (pounds 3,100) for a basic unit and $8,500 for a high-performance model.

But Mr Greenes stressed that the programme is not all about technology. Coaching and encouraging people to change their behaviour is crucial to success. The results achieved so far had been achieved by demonstrating to staff, suppliers and customers that there was a real business purpose behind the initiative, he added. The changes in methods of working are making the company much better positioned to create and benefit from opportunities in the future, he believes.

"We're touching about 5,000 people on the desktop so far, but saving millions and millions of dollars," said Mr Greenes. "Just think of what happens when we've got everybody on it."