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How AI alerted companies to a significant energy industry event

(Image credit: Image Credit: Enzozo / Shutterstock)

Uncertainty is commonplace in the energy sector. Companies with more than 5,000 employees experience roughly one corporate crisis every year, according to research from PwC in late 2019. From PR missteps, to unforeseen environmental disasters or geopolitical developments, the main determining factor in how well your company manages a crisis is how quickly and effectively you can respond.

You don’t need to look far to see that a single event can cause a ripple effect, and the business impact from a crisis can be immediate, significant, and widespread. Companies which return to normal operations successfully and minimize the unpredictable impact are the ones with corporate security teams who are one step ahead when it matters most.

Recent research from Dataminr found that the average time between the earliest indicator of a potential crisis, and the peak of public discussion totaled 23 hours and 13 minutes. To put it simply, if companies have the right tools in place and are able to use the right insights to inform critical decisions, they could gain nearly a full day to plan their response to a potential crisis before the impact of the crisis on employees, customers and your own brand reaches critical mass.

The world is more digitally connected than ever. Every mobile phone is a sensor, and nearly every other device in our orbit is embedded with software that captures and yields valuable bits of information. Being able to leverage these connections to stay on top of breaking events is crucial for a modern security department.

Expecting the unexpected

In late 2019, one of the world’s largest companies experienced this first hand. A major national petroleum and natural gas provider was reminded of both the challenges and opportunities of today’s digital realities.

It was before daybreak on a Saturday in mid-September.

The drones streaked low and fast over the desert, equipped with missiles and a singular focus: Destroy one of the world’s largest oil processing plants. On the horizon: The lights from the factory town of Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia—home to Saudi Aramco’s largest oil processing facility.

Shortly before 4 a.m. local time, the drones attacked, hitting multiple targets with surgical precision and sparking massive fires across the complex.

The attack didn’t get picked up by a major news outlet for five more hours, when Reuters published a two-sentence article, stating Saudi Aramco had contained the fires. Furthermore, the attack briefly cut Saudi Arabia’s oil production in half, spiking the price of Brent oil futures by 14.6 percent—the largest single-day gain in the contract’s history.

Getting time on your side

This event had a significant impact on the operating landscape of energy organizations across the world.

A brand’s reputation can be ruined or salvaged in five hours, and as minutes and hours elapse, the cost of not being aware of an ongoing crisis can grow exponentially. Indeed, the impact of corporate crises can stretch beyond the initial spike of public interest. A 2018 study commissioned by Aon suggests that the average company sees a five percent decline in its share price in the year following a major crisis.

Ultimately, the consequences of a delayed response will be unique to each company, dependent on the people, assets, and suppliers they have in the impacted region. It will also depend on the company’s tolerance level for risk, usually hinging on its level of preparedness. Regardless of the end decision, the need for the most real-time and comprehensive information on emerging events has never been more critical.

This is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) is having a real business impact in the world today. By using AI which is designed and trained specifically to pick up signals of unexpected events and deliver alerts in real time, one energy organization had discovered the drone attack while it was still in progress, based on public social media posts and live videos.

The AI advantage - making sense of data

As the volume, variety and types of public data grow, the challenge turns to figuring out how to parse through the rapidly expanding universe of public data, to surface the most relevant and valuable events as they are taking place.

It is impossible for one organization, let alone one team or person, to manually process billions of daily data points generated in aggregate. Organizations that increasingly rely on immediate access to information for decision making must consider using AI to find relevant, real-time events — and be among the first to know when a local event with global implications could affect their people, assets, and operations.

To unlock this potential, this capability cannot just sit with the security team. The initial alerts to a crisis might flow into a global security operations center, but they should be quickly distributed to key teams throughout the organization, and turn into collective and coordinated action. Corporate crisis management is transitioning from a tactical program to a strategic priority that protects corporate reputation and limits long-term impacts to the brand. Because of this, it requires sponsorship at the highest levels of the company.

With this in mind, the old adage, “knowledge is power” has never been truer than in today’s age of increasing uncertainty. The world is becoming more unpredictable while information moves at faster speeds, making the need for real-time information more important than ever.

Tim Willis, Director, EMEA Corporate Security Sales, Dataminr