How can Africa overcome barriers to digitalisation?

Jack Salter
Jack Salter - Head of Editorial
Panorama of Oil and Gas central processing platform in twilight, offshore hard work occupation twenty four working hours.


Nigeria’s oil rig count has risen to its highest level since 2020, rising 116 percent between January 2022 and January 2023. 

Yet, this still doesn’t place Nigeria in the highest numbers among African countries. Nigeria has big ambitions, and there is significant opportunity for growth in the nation’s oil and gas market, but there is a long way to go. 

 What if there was more that could be done with the data already at hand? Digital uptake in West Africa’s energy industry is lagging behind, with businesses in the region spending up 50 percent of their time and resource locating information that’s burrowed away in silos.  

James Fisher AIS, the leading digital services provider, is championing digital adoption for oil and gas assets in Nigeria and West Africa through its digital twin technology. We speak to Adeshina Adebusuyi, Regional Business Development Manager (Africa and Middle East), about championing digital adoption and how Africa can overcome barriers to digitalisation.


Firstly, why is digital uptake in West Africa’s energy industry lagging behind?  

Adeshina Adebusuyi (AA): We see a real desire for digitalisation in the West African energy industry. An internet savvy generation is rapidly moving through middle-to-upper levels of management in many organisations, challenging and changing previous ways of working. These are still very much the pioneers, and while they assent to leadership positions, they are undoubtedly still the minority. Some of the human challenges they face range from the understandable fear of change amongst colleagues; convincing asset owners and leadership teams to invest seven-figure amounts upfront; and the apprehension of instigating and leading an initiative where 70% of programmes are reported to fail. Undoubtedly, macro issues from poor connectivity, patchy infrastructure to, a digital skills gap, and lack of central government incentives or policies further impact regional uptake.    

How is James Fisher AIS championing digital adoption for oil and gas assets in Nigeria and West Africa through its digital twin technology? 

AA: James Fisher AIS has been working in the region for years supporting the digital transformation of local and international energy operators through a supportive partnership model. As an example, through the pandemic, our teams were deployed to and visually captured six major oil and gas assets in West Africa. All of these were created as digital twin models, typically delivered within 12-16 weeks – and provided immediate value to the clients when their teams and contractors were unable to travel to site.  By creating digital twin replicas of oil and gas assets, stakeholders can remotely plan operations and activities, simulate and optimise the asset performance and predict maintenance needs. We consider it some of the first steps of the digital journey.  

Hand-in-hand over the following months and years, we’ve invested in training local asset teams (as part of a knowledge transfer scheme), mapped and modelled workflows to maximise the ROI of the investment, and connected numerous data systems (i.e. SAP, Maximo) to help eliminate data silos.  James Fisher AIS is actively promoting digital twin technology as a service to oil and gas companies in Nigeria and West Africa, allowing them to have access to the technology without having to invest in expensive hardware and complicated software. 

At the end of last year, we invested significantly in growing our team who directly support the region, based in Lagos. This team is fully focussed on building awareness of the power of digitalisation in the sector not only from a time and cost saving perspective but from an enhanced collaboration and personnel safety perspective.

Why will digital twins play a crucial role in accelerating the progress of West Africa’s energy infrastructure to reduce costs and increase outputs? 

AA: Much of the region’s energy infrastructure is remote and challenging to access – whether it’s offshore, in swamplands, or in isolated areas in-land. Coupled with personnel security challenges, energy infrastructure is often aged and in need of investment to keep producing at optimal levels. Digital twins provide a gateway to not only understand the foundations of that energy infrastructure but the real-time performance of that system, helping to prioritize scarce resources to predictively maintain the system, keeping it online and productive.  

How could Nigeria unleash digital capabilities to tap into its unused capacity and become a leader in oil and gas production in Africa?  

Initially, Nigeria will need to fully embrace the digital transformation across the oil and gas value chain and develop the digital skills of its workforce to use and manage available digital technologies. Nigeria must also look to improve its data management capabilities to turn acquired and available data into valuable insights without compromising data security and ensuring robust cybersecurity frameworks. Lastly, digital transformation requires collaboration between different stakeholders, including government, oil and gas companies, technology providers like James Fisher AIS and other industry players. If it does all this, Nigeria will foster a collaborative ecosystem that encourages innovation, knowledge sharing and partnership. 

What are the barriers to digitalisation in the region, and how can these concerns be alleviated?

  1. Limited infrastructure: The lack of adequate infrastructure, such as reliable power supply and internet connectivity, makes deploying and operating digital technologies challenging. As regional economies continue to develop, and rely more heavily on existing infrastructure, governments and stakeholders will need to invest ahead to provide the conditions for growth.  
  1. Limited investment: The perceived need for significant upfront investment has hampered the development and rollout of digital solutions. This is an especially challenging area given the sums previously involved. We often work with clients in the region to provide alternative commercial models that remove much of the upfront cost and share the risk profile with the client over a number of years. That way both parties are fully invested in resourcing and seeing the project successfully completed.  
  1. Limited technical expertise: Historically there’s been an acute shortage of skilled personnel with the interest and technical expertise required to design, implement and maintain digital technologies. Change here needs to see even greater efforts into training and developing the next generation of workers coming into the sector. At James Fisher AIS, we’re currently supporting the development of a local specialist academy in the region to pass on much needed digital skills.  
  1. Regulatory challenges: Stringent regulatory hurdles are frequently suggested as slowing down the adoption of digital technologies in the industry such as cybersecurity concerns, privacy laws and data ownership with intellectual property rights. In most economies, the speed of innovation in the sector outpaces the regulation, and for West Africa, the story is no different. This places an even greater need to invest in capabilities that allow digitalisation to flourish. This could mean greater engagement with countries that lead in the data security, privacy, and data ownership fields to help inform an approach for the growth years ahead.  
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By Jack Salter Head of Editorial
Jack Salter is an in-house writer for Africa Outlook Magazine, where he is responsible for interviewing corporate executives and crafting original features for the magazine, corporate brochures, and the digital platform.