The boss of an Aberdeen-based marine operator is frustrated by the weak response to his launch of an innovation incubator earlier this year.
Ben Moore, owner and managing director of Attollo Offshore, said he hoped the initiative would create 20 jobs in the Granite City when the announcement was made in January.
Just two positions have been filled since then.
Mr Moore, 33, can’t quite put his finger on the reason for the poor uptake.
Founded by Mr Moore about five years ago, Attollo specialises in the operation and management of rigs for offshore accommodation and well intervention.
He wanted the incubator to accelerate the digital transformation of Attollo’s offshore operations using automation, data analytics and artificial intelligence.
Mr Moore — whose background is in shipping, having trained in the Merchant Navy before going on to work for BP — said it is “strange” more aren’t attracted to these disciplines, given the number of people who need jobs and retraining.
Attollo has been trying to hire “aggressively” in the north-east, but has struggled to find the required expertise.
Persuading people to relocate from Edinburgh-based financial services or technology start-ups is also proving difficult.
Oil and gas is “ripe” for digital technology adoption, but continues to “lag” behind other sectors, Mr Moore said.
The industry needs to catch up fast if it is to change the perception that it isn’t a serious player in these areas.
Doing so would help Attollo attract the new talent Mr Moore is after.
EV readers will know oil and gas will play a significant role in the global energy mix for decades to come.
But many young people with 30-40 years’ worth of career stretching in front of them might fear that starting off in a “dirty” industry is a gamble.
If the oil and gas industry can show that it is producing employees with digital skills which can be transferred to other sectors, then that issue is diminished.
Attollo is working with innovation centres like Censis to quickly attract more talent.
Mr Moore also intends to organise a series of night classes and create a “community” of people interested in learning more about digital disciplines.
Jared Owen, digital and entrepreneurship director at economic development body Opportunity North East (ONE), said digital activity had increased significantly over the past year, reflected in part by the launch of a £1.5m “Tech Hub” by ONE and Robert Gordon University, and ONE’s partnership with Codebase for a technology incubator.
Mr Owen added: “We are now seeing the real benefits of co-locating with partners, start-ups and established businesses in the North East and an increased awareness of digital business possibilities through our Digital Accelerator delivered in partnership with Elevator.”
Attollo currently has about 10 employees and an intriguing business model.
Clearly, starting up as a rig owner/operator is difficult at the best of times, and would have been nigh on impossible during the latest downturn.
Attollo’s approach is to operate a pool of marine assets, some of which have wound up with investment firms and banks following foreclosure — the legal process by which a lender takes control of a property after a borrower fails to make loan payments on time.
Mr Moore expanded: “We generally get involved in distress situations when a bank has foreclosed on a rig and does not know what to do with it.
“Operationally, they need someone to stand behind the unit, that means we can bring newer units to the market for our clients.”
It also means Attollo is “very scalable”, Mr Moore said, adding: “In 2015, when things were going to the wall, I would need to have raised $100-$200m, which was not likely.
“But there are people who have assets on their books – big investors and banks who have no idea how to operate them.
“Our job is to be the best operator we can be. We now have strong brand and track record that most would find difficult to build up in a few years.
“If I had wanted to build a rig from scratch, I would still only have half a rig in a shipyard at this point. We wouldn’t have the track record we have today.”
For Mr Moore, the distinction of being a “marine” asset operator is important – as the company intends to serve clients in renewables, as well as oil and gas.
“We do not say we are a drilling or jack up company because we do not want to be bound by that,” he said.
“If I said we were a drilling company we’d have gone under by now.
“So it’s about being agnostic and saying we’re an offshore marine operator. We can deploy most assets which energy companies will need offshore.”
Highlights from Attollo’s formative years include the mobilisation of the Atlantic Amsterdam jackup accommodation unit for Orsted’s Borkum Riffgrund 2 wind farm project in the German North Sea.
Attollo provided accommodation and construction support for the hookup and commissioning of the 450MW high voltage substation.
The work came on the heels of Attollo’s involvement in the UK southern North Sea Race Bank wind farm project.
A headcount of 10 sounds very small for a rig operator, even one that is dipping in and out of an asset pool.
Other companies who provide similar services employ hundreds, if not thousands, of people, but Attollo can stay lean because it is “doing things differently”.
Mr Moore said: “The projects we do are no different from those of a vessel owner. If someone needs a rig or marine asset we give it to them.
“How we’re different is how that rig is run. I look around and see companies with inappropriate financial and operational structures for the new reality, especially in the oil and gas supply chain, where rates are still going down.”
Attollo, which currently turns over £7-8 million per year, manages the assets from a control room at its base on Bon Accord Crescent.
Mr Moore said had favourably compared Attollo’s operating model to a “Formula One pitstop”.
People with every discipline required for operating a rig sit in the facility, which has received investment of about £200,000 over the years.
It means if an incident happens, there should be enough brainpower all in the same room to get the issue sorted out quickly.
He also said this did not always happen at larger firms who have “thrown money” at “sexy” control rooms, but don’t use them to their full extent.
The problem is that people are sitting in different departments and don’t speak to each other – they’re not “cross-functional” teams.
It means there is a big organisation onshore which isn’t adding much value.
“It does not always take millions to achieve change if you are smart and nimble,” Mr Moore added.