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Q&A: 5 Questions with Innovation Engineer, Alvin Siow

DISCLAIMER: Thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely Alvin’s and do not express the views or opinions of his employer. Our discussion does not constitute an endorsement by Motiva Enterprises, LLC. or its affiliates of such content. Parts of our conversation were edited for brevity.


Cerebre: Hi Alvin, thanks for doing this. For starters, could you tell us a little bit about your background and your current role?

Alvin: Thank you for having me! I am a chemical engineer by training and work primarily in the oil and gas industry. I spent the first five years focusing on technical and design work, while the last few years I’ve focused on innovation, and embarking on the digital transformation journey - simplifying processes and implementing new technologies.

The transformation journey is now necessary for any company that is serious about long-term success, in an ever-changing world. With a dedicated team focusing on innovation and transformation, we were able to ask the right questions, challenge existing concepts, and leverage technology to perform tasks more effectively and efficiently. Throughout the entire process, coaching others to do the same. Most, if not all the automated processes eliminate human error while freeing up teams’ time for higher-impact tasks – improving decision quality and fulfillment in work.

Cerebre: Is it fair to say that is your definition of digital transformation?

Alvin: When it comes to digital transformation, I had my early beginnings, making statements like, “oh, instead of writing on paper, I can just type it in an Excel spreadsheet, or in a word document that has OCR on.” A few iterations later, I started asking, “Why do I need to write on a piece of paper at all? Why should I type it on a computer or mobile device? Why not design an algorithm for a camera and train the camera to read it?"

The idea of innovation or digital transformation was never going to work if everybody stayed in their silos. It is about collaboration with different people with varying specialties. It is a form of art in tying deep domain experts together and merging their ideas into one masterpiece.

That is what innovation is to me – a process of marrying different ideas together.

Cerebre: Right. There's always this tendency we see to say “Here's the new cool emerging technology. Let me go try to find a problem for it” versus letting the problem kind of drive the technology. When you come across these new technologies [either in your org or brought to you from a startup or vendor] how do you think about evaluating them?

Alvin: I think that depends on what kind of organization you work for. Some organizations are keen in evaluating what is on the horizon, what is cutting edge, and what is out there in the market years from now. And there are some organizations that would rather wait for more proven technology.

The question becomes: Are you a leader or are you a lagger?

That is something you have to ask within your organization. It is not going to work if you are trying to force a model, technology, or idea into an organization where it doesn't belong. You need to understand the constraints, such as, is the organizational culture ready for it?

As for us, we have different teams, including our own, that develop in-house tools and researches the market for new technology.

Cerebre: So in your position, how do you see Intelligent Transformation or digitization of P&IDs fitting into broader digitization efforts?

Alvin: In the context of digitalization efforts, they play a key role.

I mean - if you have to look up a particular piece of equipment, you must find an equipment ID. Then, you pull up a software, and key in the P&ID numbers, and then on the page search for the location to find out where the vessel is located. If further investigation is necessary, repeat the process and trace the P&IDs. It is a time-consuming iteration process. With all that, you fail to utilize your engineering hours wisely.

With a digitized and connected system, you can do all this while standing next to the operator in the field, troubleshooting the entire process on the fly. I think it is important.

Cerebre: Once you have your P&IDs digitized, what would be your next tasks or goals for this data? For example, what databases would you want to integrate? What would you like to do once your P&IDs are digitized?

Alvin: If P&IDs are digitized, the next steps would be to integrate them with a data connector, where process data is quickly accessible.

If I’m inspecting a P&ID and I'm curious what the process temperature is now or ten years or ten days ago, I can hover over it to view the process data on it without pulling another software out or trying to find another page that'll get me to the right P&ID.

Next, would be layering in work orders: How many existing issues? What is the failure rate for any equipment?

And, then the next step once you can do those is, can you augment it? Can you see it in real-time? It’s one thing to see the P&ID, it’s another thing visualizing it in three dimensions. There are companies out there doing 3D dimension scans and converting to P&IDs or isometric drawings.

Cerebre: So, how do you sell ideas or initiatives like this internally?

Alvin: That's an interesting one because every company is different. It’s hard to say for another company and not know who they are or what they are struggling with. So, you need more insight to understand, “what is the challenge?”

In simpler terms, you must tackle three things for any innovation work to take place. And I consider what you guys are doing in the innovative arena - P&ID Digitization.

  1. There is the strategic design. How do you plan to utilize your data for future purposes?

  2. There is the cultural system. Are people ready for it? Are they ready to adopt the technology?

  3. Third thing is political systems. It is to know who your stakeholders are. Are you talking to the engineer, team lead, CIO, or CEO? Everybody has different pain points.

It is interesting with innovation. I hear a lot of “fail fast, fail faster, and learn fast.” Yeah, you learn from failures, but it's about experimenting. You got to push the cultural innovation by experimenting, allowing well-designed experimentation, documenting, sharing the learnings, and doing your best not to repeat the same mistake. Smart risk-taking has tremendous upsides.

If your readers have couple extra minutes, they should check out “The Story of Ice” by Guy Kawasaki. It is a cautionary tale on evolve or perish. So again, are you a leader or are you a lagger?

Are you waiting for five years for the technology to be mature or are you ready to begin your transformation journey?


Cerebre kindly thanks Alvin Siow for taking the time to share his insights with our team and our followers. We look forward to bringing you more perspectives from leaders like Alvin in the future!


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