Executive Spotlight — Ondaka

Original article was published on Artificial Intelligence on Medium

Executive Spotlight — Ondaka

Recently, we’ve been exploring the theme of digital transformation, and what this process really entails for companies going through it. Two challenges that companies face with the digital transformation process, are:

1. The value created through the transformation process needs to be higher than the cost of implementation.

2. The digital transformation process itself isn’t easy and, therefore, digital initiatives need to be introduced incrementally and should be well-thought-out.

One company that is helping its customers to excel in digital transformation, is Ondaka. Ondaka focuses on empowering their customers through visual and industrial intelligence, providing them with mission critical information in both a timely and efficient manner. We spoke with Ondaka’s CEO John P. Joseph for the first time, to learn more about the company as well as how they are helping customers on their digital transformation journeys.

John is a serial entrepreneur with many start-ups to his name.

The origin of Ondaka came from an interest I have in AI and visualization technologies, and I wanted to explore how these technologies could help different verticals. The industrial sector is still developing its digital maturity, so this looked like an ideal vertical to focus on.

How have you merged AI and visualization technologies for the industrial sector?

“We created a collaborative platform centred around a high-fidelity 3D model to help asset owners start their digital twin journey. We wanted to help them make their employees more efficient by allowing them to access information quickly in the office and on location.

We started by working with partners to capture brownfield facilities. What we found is that there are many industrial facilities where CAD drawings or plans for those sites simply don’t exist, at least not any that are easy to find. This is a common problem for both mid-sized firms and supermajors we’ve had discussions with.

We believe that seeing is at the heart of understanding, so the visualization element is important. We use photogrammetry and drone footage which we then quickly convert into a high-fidelity model, which users can instantly recognize as their asset.”

Before we explore the AI element, can you explain the value that this platform generates for the users?

Many of our clients (e.g. upstream and midstream operators), have multiple assets spread over a large geographical area. Many of these assets are field engineered, which means a Senior Engineer has physically gone to the location at some point and designed how that location will be built based on their experience not based on a set of specified drawings.

This then creates a significant challenge after an asset is built when operating and maintaining these assets. Subcontractors are commonly used, and before they start work they need to plan how to do the job, which means they need to know what is actually there now.

Until now, the solution has been to travel between offices and remote locations. Travelling to these locations means that contractors can familiarise themselves with what is there, and allows them to plan how they’ll do their work.

Ondaka eliminates the need to travel between site locations. Our customers tell us that we have reduced their man hours by 30%, just on the travel time alone. In addition contractors who are given access to the digital twin platform are able to plan all of their work in advance, creating even more significant savings.”

Q: How does the platform help with planning?

“We help in a few areas:

First, workers are able to familiarise themselves with a worksite before they’ve even physically stepped on premise. This means that they can identify the processes and equipment they’ll need to work on ahead of time. Contractors will often identify pipes and the direction of flow through the software, and this wasn’t possible before they had the platform — they would have to drive to the site and physically spray the pipe. Our platform can also display live, real-time sensor data on the model so they are able to work remotely.

Secondly, the fidelity and realism of our models make them accurate enough for experts to understand the site and believe it because it’s not the “cartoon” render that was designed — it’s the reality as built. This means contractors can measure assets, equipment and pipes in advance and plan for the tools and equipment that they’ll need.

Finally, teams, especially those working across office and field crews, including any number of sub-contractors, can efficiently and effectively collect and organize the critical documentation required for the project while using the platform to communicate, collaborate and execute the work together. The Ondaka platform eliminates the problem of identifying what work needs to be done, where it’s to be done and by whom. We’re seeing amazing results as managers, inspectors, and contractors use the platform to plan work and communicate between themselves to ensure they’re all aligned and understand who will do what.

Additionally, for QA purposes, the asset owner will often include procedures and check-lists for the contractors to follow. These procedures are loaded into the platform, and field workers can work through them onsite through a mobile device.”

Q: How are you using AI?

“You may have already seen a lot of the features that we have discussed elsewhere, so we’re differentiating in a few additional areas. While our models look great and realistic, we’re not a 3D modelling company. We are actually an AI company.

Our first innovation area is Augmented Reality — users can access our software on their phones and view their facilities in new ways. We can project the as-built 3D model of their facility onto a conference room table, their desks, the floor or even on site, allowing them to inspect the asset in greater detail or visualize it in context.

Our next innovation is training our AI to automatically recognize elements of the as-built model. We’re using datasets to train the model to classify objects e.g. “that is a valve”. Once the user adds the tag information, we can then quickly link this to other data, so users can easily pull up specs, procedures or other information on brownfield equipment.

Once the AI model recognizes an object, the next time we see that component anywhere — at this location, at a different location or even at a different facility, we will instantly recognize it.

We can understand what this component is, and that opens up a whole world of possibilities. Imagine a scenario where you are walking through a facility. You have your phone, a tablet or even a HoloLens (we are device agnostic, it can be anything). The device you’re using will be able to identify what the user sees automatically.

Users then tap the screen to get data such as operating plans, maintenance records, procedures, certificates or whatever other information they choose to make available.

That’s our focus right now; training our AI and building up our recognition capabilities to add value to the customer’s as-built 3D models quickly. As I said, we aren’t a 3D modelling company, and the beauty of our platform is that we don’t have to create the models. It’s an option we offer, but our platform and AI will work on models from third-party service providers, not just our own.”

Q: A key challenge with digital twin technology is keeping it up to date, how do your customers maintain their digital twins?

“Our system is designed to not only be simple to use, but also simple to maintain. We’re aiming to develop the platform so a user can take a photo of an area that has been modified and instantly upload it to the platform. We’ll then process, automatically classify the objects in the picture and update the 3D model in real-time.

Right now, updating the visual model is available — it’s the auto-classification and recognition that we’re working on.”

Q: How has COVID-19 changed things for your customers?

“Well, firstly the platform has helped most of our customers to continue accessing their information during the pandemic lockdown, as it’s available remotely and securely over the web.

Secondly, we designed the platform to be intuitive, so users could navigate it with zero training. You don’t need training to use Facebook, and our platform is the same. This has proved very useful as companies have still been able to quickly onboard new users while they are working from home.

We have also recognised the economic impact to the human side of things for our customers, and the effect that oil price has had on businesses. We are part of that community, and we wanted to help. We have allowed businesses that were suffering as a result of COVID-19, or the low oil price, to use our platform while waiving licensing fees, onboarding fees, and have helped to negotiate good rates with our partners.

If we can help companies to operate more efficiently during these times, that’s good for everyone, right?

We’re already seeing that as companies adapt to the new normal, the interest in Ondaka has become even stronger than pre-COVID-19.”

Q: How do you see the market changing in the future?

“ The current market conditions are building an appetite for change. Older employees are leaving the industry, and younger ones are harder to find. This next generation of employees has grown up with technology, they don’t want a job with tedious processes and antiquated systems.

Looking ahead, I think we’re at an inflection point where the industry is about to adopt a lot of new things. The events of this year have fortified the industry’s commitment to change and crystalized the urgency for the need for digital transformation. I think digitalization is going to accelerate, it’s going to open up new efficiencies, and make the industry more profitable. I also think it can happen in a way that doesn’t take away jobs, changing how we work without making jobs redundant.

Ondaka is in a good position, as we can help companies to deliver their digital strategies without a significant upfront cost. Our system allows companies to digitally mature and expand their capabilities at their own pace. Our focus is to continue developing the intelligence and automation behind the scenes that will make this process even more efficient.”

Thank you to John for another layer of insight to digital transformation, and a key view on the customer experience.