– Interview with Emmanuel Thomazo, Deputy Director Strategy, Total EP –


A few years ago (since 2014), before it became a hot topic, I wrote a few articles on industrial digital. Several of them concerned the TOTAL house and more generally the Oil & Gas industry. In these articles I talked about platform strategy, uberisation of oil & gas etc. Since then, the major players in the sector have created innovation departments, and then directions for digital transformation. Other actors have invested (sometimes a lot of money) in setting up platform strategies. Five years later, what evolution can we observe?

We are on May 27, 2019, once again at TOTAL. I am pleased to meet Emmanuel Thomazo, Deputy Director of the Strategy, Growth and Research Division of TOTAL’s Exploration & Production (E&P) Division to prepare a conference for the Executive Committee in a few weeks. During this interview, we talk about innovation, digital, but also some other trends.

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Today I begin with the end to illuminate some strong messages from an unusual perspective. Indeed, when I put my final question to Emmanuel Thomazo “who are your heroes”, he answers Me Mother Teresa and Jean Vanier, two known and recognized humanists. Interesting!


Innovation: constraints and motivating ambition

Sustainable development has become the top priority. It is at the top of TOTAL’s strategic agenda. TOTAL is not only concerned with the reduction of CO2 emissions related to oil exploitation, but also related to the use made of TOTAL products. Reducing CO2 emissions is of course a constraint. A market constraint (TOTAL’s customers must themselves reduce their carbon footprint), a societal, political and regulatory constraint. But like any constraint, this one is beneficial for the innovation, and thus beneficial for the differentiation and thus the market shares – first positive effect. In addition, the high priority of sustainable development in TOTAL’s strategic agenda is reflected in ambitions for technological development that are extremely motivating for the group’s employees – the second positive effect. Indeed, as we have explained in many articles, the aspirational mission (or motivating ambition, which speaks to the guts) is a specificity of modern organizations. Motivating ambition is absolutely key for TOTAL to continue to attract the best talent and make sense of their work.

At TOTAL, this motivating ambition has a very concrete impact on TOTAL’s strategy: the end of heavy oils and coal, significant investments in less polluting natural gas, renewable energies (in particular through its subsidiary Sun Power), a R&D aimed at reducing CO2 emissions representing 10% of the total R&D budget etc. Very few actors can boast of investing as much. And we must not hide the face: global energy consumption is not ready to decline …


Digital Industrial: those who stand out from the game … and the others

Then comes the question of digital. Emmanuel Thomazo confirms what Gilles Cochevelou told me a few weeks ago: 3 years ago the group knew that digital was a subject, but did not really know how to address the issue. There was also the falsely naive question of how Exploration & Production could be uberized …

Today, at TOTAL, digital has become a very clear topic. The question is posed differently according to the branch of TOTAL that one considers. In the Marketing & Service branch, digital is essentially synonymous with customer relations (how to propose user-oriented innovations). In the Refining & Chemicals division, digital is understood as industrial digital, that is to say how to gain operational efficiency thanks to digital (industry 4.0 etc.). Finally, digital at Exploration & Production includes both industrial digital and data sciences (for geosciences).

Two axes therefore to the E&P, the digitization of the operations and the data. The digitization of operations aims to improve the efficiency and monitoring of operations. As Oil & Gas is a dangerous industry, one of the critical aspects for TOTAL is to continue to reduce risks, especially on oil platforms, thanks to digital, especially by relying on predictive maintenance and on platforms increasingly automated. The data, meanwhile, more and more numerous and from a multitude of sensors, sources, in a variety of formats etc. to be exploited must be cleaned, structured etc. This is the role of data science.

Finally, to the question “should we fear an Uber of E&P?”, The answer, with hindsight seems to be definitively no. I often quote in my articles and conferences the very interesting case of General Electric (GE) and its platform PREDIX. This case interested me a lot in the past because GE has tried to implement an infrastructure platform strategy, ie a development environment that allows third parties to develop applications to add a layer of service in addition to its industrial equipment – a strategy equivalent to well-known strategies in the B2C field (for example the Apple AppStore, which enables more than 200,000 non-salaried Apple developers to develop applications for the iPhone) . A strategy that has proven itself in B2C, perhaps because end users are not overly concerned about the use of data and the terms of contracts that are signed with a click without reading them. A strategy that seems much more complicated to implement in a B2B context. Because indeed, the customers of GE, of which TOTAL is a part, wish to remain only masters of their operations. Which would explain, at least partially, the failure of GE, despite the millions invested.


Return of science and systemic issues

Emmanuel Thomazo then spontaneously talks to me about the type of R & D TOTAL E&P. The focus has been for several years rather on short-term development in the service of the field. There has recently been a renewed interest in TOTAL for real research with a longer time horizon. For example, a research program in quantum computing and another on genetics (!) Were recently launched at TOTAL.

Readers of the blog know that there are two recent trends that we see in our customers, and therefore in a variety of areas: the return of science and systemic issues. TOTAL E&P is in the mix for at least one of the two … (and both if we consider the TOTAL group as a whole :-)).


First published on Forbes France