Painting the future landscape at Shell Exploration

Interviewed for this case was Manjula Nadarajah, Senior Strategic Market Analyst for Shell Global Solutions - Shell’s Engineering and Technology solutions provider that spans various oil and gas business sectors across the Shell Group and external to Shell customers.

Shell is a global group of energy and petrochemical companies. Shell is active in more than 130 countries and territories and employs 108,000 people worldwide. Shell is committed to ensuring that the world’s oil and gas will continue to be extracted and delivered both profitably and in environmentally and socially responsible ways. Shell’s strategy and priorities for the future are “more upstream and profitable downstream.” Shell is focusing on delivery and growth, leveraging its existing portfolio.

Intelligence and the Strategy Process at Shell Exploration & Production

At Shell Exploration & Production, Competitive Technical Intelligence (CTI) is one of the key ingredients to the company’s strategy process. Understanding is required of both the prevailing technological trends as well as the long term future developments in order to come up with a comprehensive, forward-looking view of the company’s competitive landscape. The strategy process is supported by CTI that addresses topics such as business needs, market dynamics, key players, and in-house competencies.

Says Manjula Nadarajah, Senior Strategic Market Analyst at Shell Global Solutions: “Our intelligence activities provide us with the backup that we need to prioritize our strategic moves and to ensure that their timing will be optimized. Shell has a strong history in systematically analyzing its business environment, and we are strong believers in business planning that is supported by carefully analyzed information.”

Ms. Nadarajah also points out that the quality of the planning process should never suffer from some people leaving the company and others entering it. Systematic intelligence operation will be needed to ensure that the quality of the information that backs up strategic planning will remain stable or improve over time.

Maintaining and improving a Technology Intelligence operation that exists to cater to strategic planning needs is not necessarily rocket science, but it will easily keep a number of people busy on a continuous basis. Ms. Nadarajah describes the time-consuming process of actually setting up and managing the process: “Initially, one needs to develop a good information source portfolio, and this takes time. Collecting public information is the first step, but there are numerous expert networks, both inside and outside the company, that should also be established. Eventually, management will be able to consult networks of experts directly for strategic insights, but reaching this is a phased process that may take years.”

Described in the matrix below. is a systematic approach to developing an intelligence operation that Shell has been using. Ms. Nadarajah describes: “Initially we developed a fact base covering our major competitors and customers. After this we moved on to developing insights on business models, partnering issues and the industry value chain. Once done with the ground work, we were able to start painting scenarios of the future industry landscape.”

Ms. Nadarajah continues: “Over the course of the process, we came to the conclusion that essentially all three of the main success factors in this process had to do with understanding WHY we are building our intelligence capability:

  • Interaction with the key decision makers to develop actionable intelligence
  • Thorough understanding of the decision makers’ precise information needs
  • Preparedness for change in the intelligence operation based on shifts in strategic decisions

Intelligence framework for the technology strategy

The intelligence team at Shell Exploration & Production has developed a “Technology Play Mapping” concept for understanding the future of technology and key player strategies, illustrated in the graph below.

shell_technology play mapping

The Technology Play Map at Shell consists of building blocks described and commented on by Manjula Nadarajah in the following.

1. Issue Framing

“This is where it all begins. If we don’t focus on the right issues, we will not be able to provide good analyses and recommendations. It is therefore of vital importance to have a dialogue with top management to determine the key issues that will be in the center of our attention.”

2. Information Collection from Internal Sources

“We first collect information from our internal sources to develop the foundation of information on our focus issues. Typically we already have an extensive knowledge pool in-house of any specific interest area, but it’s really a question of tapping into this valuable information resource. The results of this phase are packaged into output such as Key Player Maps, and Overview of Thought Leaders.”

3. information Collection from External Sources

“Once done with the internal research, we tie in the results with information from external sources: Publications, internet research, IP research, and external expert interviews.”

4. Analysis

“Our analysis phase combines profiling, positioning, patent analysis, partner analysis, benchmarking, and 5 forces analysis into a consistent whole that at the end of the day provides a comprehensive overview of the existing and emerging trends, uncertainties and challenges, and movers & shakers in the industry. Based on the analysis we can identify competencies that we ourselves will need in order to stay on top of the industry developments.”

5. Workshops

“We use workshops that involve groups of people to verify and confirm the analyses, and to develop a synthesis of the challenges and uncertainties. Based on the workshops, the challenges and opportunities identified will be reviewed and updated.”

6. Strategic options

“The end result of the entire Technology Play Mapping process are Strategic Options that our management needs to evaluate and make decisions on.”

Case: Understanding the future

Through their systematic approach to developing an understanding of the technological business drivers, Shell has also been able to increase their insight into future developments. The graph below illustrates an analysis where the strategic focus of different oil industry players has been presented. Based on the analysis, strategic planning will be conducted in order to decide on prioritization and timing of Shell’s own activities.

shell_relative strategic positions

Lessons Learned

Elaborating further on the key success factors, Ms. Nadarajah lists out the following topics, all of which have been identified at Shell through years of intelligence work:

  • Interaction with key decision makers in order to understand their needs but also to receive their feedback on the work that the intelligence team has done. Dedicating time for structured dialogue with management is one of the key success factors here.
  • Making the link explicit between business drivers and technology developments.
  • Developing a forward-looking plan based on strategic insights. Examples of output are strategies for long term R&D, IP issues, and partnering.
  • Being willing and able to change based on the requirements of the business environment. Opportunities may be lost if the organization defensively sees them as threats, being resistant to change.

Finally, having been asked for the most important advice to an intelligence manager who wants to develop a world class intelligence operation, Ms. Nadarajah essentially highlights skills and dedication that are familiar from both good project management and good leadership: “Understand the company’s existing strategic needs, and get the decision makers involved at an early stage in the intelligence process that supports strategic planning. Make it happen through workshops, seminars, discussions or whatever form works best in your organization. Just make sure that the work gets done!”

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