What’s Your Problem? (CIC Wants to Know)

At GE’s Customer Innovation Centre in Calgary, collaboration — along with access to a global network of expertise — is the key to overcoming business challenges

As benchmark light oil continues its dive below $50 per barrel, heavy oil producers feel the pinch of an uncomfortably wide pricing discount and face an acute need to reduce costs.

Innovation is the key to meeting that goal. And on this front, Canada’s producers have a valuable ally: GE’s Calgary-based Customer Innovation Centre (CIC), one of 12 GE hubs worldwide where industry, experts from GE’s global network and advanced analytical toolsets come together to solve business challenges in a collaborative setting.

Established in 2012, one of Calgary CIC’s current focuses is the GE’s Customer Innovation Centre in Calgary is helping businesses develop solutions in the SAGD sector through collaboration.

“We are here to help this industry get on the right side of the cost curve and reduce its environmental impacts,” says Gandeephan Ganeshalingam, head of the Calgary CIC. “The centre is an entire entrepreneurial organization that’s focused on helping industry solve its toughest problems.”

Ganeshalingam says SAGD operators collaborating at the centre generally have three priorities in optimizing their SAGD projects: improving uptime, generating more accurate operational forecasting for non-steady-state conditions, and achieving better control of steam chambers in the reservoir.

To deal with such issues, CIC employs a detailed four-stage approach that involves customer understanding to frame the opportunity, developing business concepts for proposed target markets, rapid prototype development, and in-market pilot projects.

The key ingredient in the mix, Ganeshalingam says, is finding the right expertise — from within GE and its partners — to bring to the table.

Another important aspect is to develop collaborative, rather than transactional, relationships in the problem-solving process.

“We immerse ourselves into everything about SAGD, including the regulatory framework,” Ganeshalingam says. “We lay that out… and plot out a path to validating the most critical assumptions.”

Ganeshalingam adds that there are always one or two engineers assigned to a project, and, importantly, its CIC agreements make it clear what all parties will bring to the table.

“We continuously work with the customer,” he says. “We keep a tight feedback loop on ‘Is this working? Has the problem changed as we’re working on it?’ We set a milestone of six months to pilot. If we can’t achieve that, we haven’t scoped the problem right or it isn’t the right one to solve.”

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