​‘You can’t scale your analytics without cloud’: Woodside’s Schuman

Mike Schuman discusses why cloud is the foundation for digital transformation at Woodside, and how iterative customer engagement provided better business outcomes at WA Police.
Woodside's Mike Schuman: “A couple of guys with propeller hats sitting in a dark room is not where innovation comes from.”

Woodside's Mike Schuman: “A couple of guys with propeller hats sitting in a dark room is not where innovation comes from.”

“I’m now officially the dumbest man in the room when we have meetings at Woodside,” said the organisation’s new transformation business advisor, Mike Schuman.

Schuman – the former WA Police CIO who started at Woodside in April – told the audience at last month’s CIO Summit in Perth that one of the things that fascinated him about the oil and gas giant and drove him to come on board was its data science group.

Woodside built a data science capability from scratch in one year, which can be used by staff across the organisation. The company uses IBM’s Watson to tap its historical and streaming data stores to improve operational efficiency, and predict and avoid potential issues in its production facility.

And data analytics, as Schuman puts it, simply cannot be scaled without the cloud.

“Cloud is the entire foundation for digital transformation; you cannot scale your analytics without the cloud. We are doing some of the most fascinating work [at Woodside] I have ever seen … we are just inundated with a bunch of clever people and in order to let those ideas come to the fore, we need the scale of the cloud, we couldn’t do it otherwise.”

CIOs are now “cloud herders” for their businesses, he says, adding that digital transformation supported by cloud infrastructure requires new skills and there will be some people who are resistant to change.

Schuman said he’s had conversations about his love of the ‘server hugger’ but cloud services obfuscate the need for this type of IT specialist.

“We still see that … people who go down to the server room to watch the lights blinking and get that warm feeling while they hug their piece of kit. At the end of the day, there will be other things that we need,” he said.

“We will need data scientists, mobile app developers; people who understand cloud orchestration, which I can tell you is still relatively hazy.”

Cloud access security broking is still a fledgling concept and Woodside needs to find people who have this skill set, who can understand, manage and put together a holistic strategy around it, he said.

Cloud services can take on a life of their own and Schuman is now working to industrialise and standardise cloud services.

“And there are so many services – if you think your organisation isn’t consuming cloud services, I can guarantee that you are,” he said.

Engagement key to innovation success

During his presentation at the CIO Summit, Schuman also discussed innovation programs that were rolled out when he was IT chief at WA Police. As part of its Frontline 2020 initiative, the agency used the IdeaScale portal to select and promote new ideas from its workforce of 8,000 officers and public servants.

“We used enterprise social networking really effectively … and had a 60 per cent engagement rate using this portal. That level of engagement comes from the core business, not it comes from IT. It’s not about cool tech, it’s about business outcomes,” he said.

“Every station has a Twitter account and they have multiple Facebook accounts so they are definitely fully engaged in social media to achieve business outcomes – there are real gains to be had by leveraging these services,” he said.

Schuman said using an iterative process of continually developing solutions and bringing in people from the organisation to sanity check what is being created, is key to transformation success.

“If you are developing something in a vacuum, chances are it’s not going to hit the mark, or you are going to spend a lot of time on it, you’re going to deliver it, and it’s not going to be fit for purpose,” he said.

“A couple of guys with propeller hats sitting in a dark room is not where innovation comes from.”

Innovation is doing things differently and more efficiently to meet the organisation’s objectives, not just rolling out technology for the sake of it.

He said WA Police’s ‘advanced traffic management vehicles’ provide officers with enormous amounts of data, sometimes too much to deal with.

In 2014, WA Police abandoned technology used to detect unlicensed vehicles because officers couldn’t cope with the high number of alerts the system was providing.

This technology – which scanned number plates to provide officers with an alert if a car’s registration had expired – replaced car registration stickers in the state.

It was proving to be a headache for officers because it didn’t differentiate if a car was unregistered within a time during a ‘grace period’ or for several months.

Technology was also so heavily integrated in a previous generation of cars, that if it failed, the car would be inoperable, he said.

“If the car is inoperable, it means officers aren’t on the street, which is bad. So the job was to segregate the equipment – the technology – from the vehicle so if it [failed], it could be removed from the vehicle,” he said.

WA Police actually cut down the amount of technology that sat in the boot of its next-generation of cars, which provided officers with more space for operational equipment, said Schuman.

“The best thing about it was we were able to do this for half the cost of the initial implementation,” he said.

“My innovation guys told me, ‘Mike this isn’t innovation, we just cobbled together some tech, this is boring.' And I’d say, 'we’ve met the core business objective, which was to come up with a next generation vehicle where technology doesn’t impact on operations and did it for half the cost, which makes the executive director a happy man.'"