Thor Olavsrud
Senior Writer

ConocoPhillips goes global with digital twins

Case Study
Oct 03, 20238 mins
CIODigital TransformationIT Leadership

Initial forays into using digital twins across its major fields has inspired the multinational hydrocarbon exploration and production company to further adopt the technology across its entire portfolio.

Credit: ConocoPhillips

With demand for low-cost energy ever increasing, along with competition from renewable sources of energy, ConocoPhillips is leveraging digital twins to optimize the safety and efficiency of its assets.

The Houston-based company, with origins dating back to 1875, is on a path to adopt portfolio-wide digital twin technology following successes across its major fields. Dubbed the ConocoPhillips Global Digital Twin Program, it’s earned ConocoPhillips a 2023 CIO 100 Award in IT Excellence.

Oil and gas is a volatile industry rife with sudden and significant fluctuations in prices. At the same time, the current regulatory environment makes it challenging to explore for new hydrocarbons, putting pressure on companies like ConocoPhillips to maximize extraction from existing assets.

“We’re constantly looking for ways we can improve efficiency and optimize the production of our assets,” says Nick Purday, the company’s IT director of emerging digital technology (EDT). “One of the things we’ve been doing over the last few years is to optimally staff our facilities, and, where possible, transfer staff from the facilities back to the office. This makes sense because it helps with safety, costs, and ultimately GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions.”

Nick Purday, IT director, EDT

Nick Purday, IT director, EDT


Shifting people away from production facilities to an office has required new tools. That, Purday says, is what led ConocoPhillips’ Norway unit to start investigating digital twins, which are virtual representations of physical assets. They help solve basic questions like, “Where is this piece of equipment?” and, “What’s the maintenance history of this asset?” The company also leverages digital twins to answer more complex and data-intensive questions such as, “What are the optimal production parameters to maximize the profitability of this facility?”

Still, seemingly trivial tasks such as finding a piece of equipment becomes a significant challenge at scale. Some of ConocoPhillips’ larger facilities have more than a million asset tags, but with a digital twin and handheld device, an operator can simply type in a tag number and receive walking directions to the equipment in question — a capability that helped the Norway business unit achieve 80% to 90% reductions for select maintenance and inspection tasks.

“That was the genesis,” Purday says. “How can we improve efficiency and put a digital footprint on the way we do our business? Digital twins are a foundational layer, and provide a platform to accelerate digitalization.”

Grand unified digital twin strategy

Every ConocoPhillips business unit understood how digital twin technology could help them, but each was heading in its own direction, looking at different vendors, Purday says. Historically, that’s been standard practice at ConocoPhillips: Individual business units have been empowered to select their preferred technology, which has led to a diverse yet expensive IT portfolio that’s complex to maintain.

CDIO Pragati Mathur decided to take a different tack with Global Production, ConocoPhillips’ Global Digital Twin Program, which would establish global standards supported by teams that helped business units deploy the technology. By funding the program centrally, Global Production would enable the rapid deployment of an expert team and remove any delays around budget cycles with the business units.

“Because digital twin is such a hot topic right now, every supplier we work with was trying to sell us their version of a twin,” Purday says. “That drove us towards the next step: Can we identify a solution that we can deploy globally and make a consistent, supportable, low-cost environment?”

CDIO Pragati Mathur

CDIO Pragati Mathur


The Alaska business unit had already done an extensive evaluation of the technology. EDT took that evaluation, shared it with the company, and had the various business units submit their requirements.

“We were very fortunate that of the 10 different solutions we looked at in partnership with our business units, we aligned on one that has scaled to a global deployment,” Purday says.

For her part, Mathur says EDT’s proposal to adopt a digital twin felt like a “no-brainer” because it would lay the foundation for even further digital transformation.

“My background is in aerospace and automotive,” Mathur says. “Every time you build a car or a plane, you have a virtual representation of everything, whether it’s a 2D or 3D design, and I equated that to a digital twin.”

She notes that ConocoPhillips segments its digital twins into three categories: visualization, monitoring, and simulation.

“With visualization digital twins, we’re providing a compelling interface into data and work processes; monitoring that digital twins deliver real-time context; and simulation digital twins enable predictive behavior of our equipment and potentially whole facilities,” Mathur says. “Ultimately, digital twins help us accelerate digitization across our business and gain even greater insights and value from our assets.”

Growing the vision

The major challenge of the project was aligning the organization around a common platform that could then enable rapid deployment. To address that challenge, Mathur and her team decided to develop and fund a global program, align the organization around a common platform, and build a community that shares best practices and supports one another.

The team started by building a digital twin of the company’s Australia Pacific Liquified Natural Gas (APLNG) facility located on an island off Queensland, Australia, that cost $8.5 billion to construct. It has a long-term contract to supply natural gas to the state and export to Japan, and took the team a month to go from data gathering to a working minimum viable product (MVP). Within six months, the facility was actively using the digital twin to support operations.

The company attributes the speed of delivery to a combination of a global focused team in the business unit, a consulting group with decades of experience building digital twins, and a software vendor committed to the project — all delivering in a scalable cloud environment that enabled access from anywhere.

The team moved on to develop a digital twin for the company’s Alaska fields and is researching how to build digital twins for its unconventional fields in the US’s lower 48 states. Major projects and expansions are also planned in Canada, across Norway, Alaska, and at the APLNG.

To select a single software solution for digital twins, ConocoPhillips partnered with Global Supply Chain to conduct a request for information/request for proposal (RFI/P) process. Multiple business units provided input on the selection criteria to ensure alignment around the preferred technology. Once the company selected its preferred technology, Mathur and her team developed a common data integration layer. The team built and deployed the digital twin technology in Microsoft Azure, which helped provide global access, performance, scalability, and lower cost than if it hosted in-house.

As far as community and best practices go, the Norway business unit pioneered the company’s use of digital twins and developed the technology for most of the company’s North Sea platforms. That team shared the business benefits of digital twins and held knowledge-transfer sessions with each group. The global team leveraged Microsoft Teams to support the global community, posting regular progress updates and hosting information sharing sessions across business units.

To date, ConocoPhillips says it’s been seeing up to a four-times ROI for its digital twins, though individual examples have had a significantly higher impact. Early successes have led to an explosion in demand as well.

“Whatever you think you’re going to do with your digital twin when you start the program is not where it’s going to be when you get there,” Purday says. “In one of our business units, they had 10 use cases they thought they could potentially use, and of those, they focused on three. Now they have a list of 100 use cases that could be positively impacted by using twin technology. Having access to a digital twin spurs creativity.”

Mathur says she’s now looking at how digital twins can be connected to other parts of the company for further digital transformation.

“A digital twin, by itself, is one thing, but digital twin connected to other data and systems becomes much more powerful,” she says. “That’s the goal we’re trying to achieve — not just to have digital twins, but to be able to connect other systems and technologies so that a technician or field worker has access to all the relevant information on a portable device.”