By Geoffrey Cann
This is hands-down the best way to transfer leading edge technology between unrelated sectors.
When I was growing up, there was a story making the rounds in the school yard that Tang, a sweet orange-flavored powdered beverage, was invented for the US moon landing program in the 1960s. It sounded plausible — a powder that turned into a beverage could only have been invented with space travel in mind. Of course, the story is incorrect. Tang was invented before the Apollo program but it was in fact popularized by one of the astronauts.
This was my first exposure to the idea that a technology (in this case, a product) developed for one sector could be transferred for use in another.
As it is, a number of technologies from various space programs have migrated their way from NASA and into commercial use.
Scratch-resistant lens for eye glasses originated in space helmet visors.
Hand-held battery operated tools like vacuums and drills started out as devices for collecting samples from the lunar surface.
Solar panels were invented to provide power while in space.
Water filters for the space program are now everywhere thanks to Brita.
Air purifiers, originally intended to cleanse the air in the International Space Station are now commonplace in aircraft and hospitals.
Transferring technology between sectors should be easy, but actually it’s very challenging. Even where cross sector pollination has clear potential, there are often quite hard and impenetrable lines between sectors. For example, the unique terminology and abbreviations that are endemic to any sector hinder cross-sector communications. Different sectors have their own rhythms and pressures, and may not see the value in investigating what others have done to improve their fortunes. The features of a technology that make it well suited in one sector may not be valued in another, and some perceived critical feature may be absent. It’s not clear what technologies are even worth transferring. Timing might be everything.
Aside from NASA, there are relatively few high profile and successful examples of technology transfer, a fact I verified by asking my spouse who also struggled to name an example.
Of course, the vast majority of forums where experts convene are usually aimed at narrow specific sectors. That makes sense—it’s easy for conference organizers to specialize in a sector, and equally easy to advertise to that sector. The oil industry, where I spend most of my time, has ADIPEC, CERAWeek, and the Global Energy Show. Birds of a feather like to flock together.
But there are precious few forums where true decision makers from a range of sectors can convene for dialogue on the art of the possible, and to consummate real action with real deals.
One such forum, perhaps the only one, is ConvergX, a conference dedicated to the idea that there are meaningful and plentiful technology transfer opportunities between sectors. The sectors involved include energy, military, technology, agriculture, mining, construction, aerospace, defense and security, and finance. Success is measured by deals being inked between innovators in one sector and customers in another. To be in the room, you need to be able to make deals happen.
I attended the last in-person ConvergX conference in Calgary back in February 2020, just before the world broke. Here’s a summary. What I learned is that top-of-house decision makers across all industries are hugely interested in the macro shifts impacting whole of planet.
Cross-cutting technologies and solutions have intuitive appeal. Imagine you’re in a maritime defense unit and charged with monitoring the national maritime border. Your interests will likely overlap with those companies operating off shore oil platforms and mining companies prospecting on the ocean floor, who concern themselves with marine hazards such as tsunamis and ice bergs. The oil industry, for example, has developed technology to closely monitor weather events, which could be quite valuable to you, and of interest to mining businesses and aquaculture.
Similarly as a maritime defense service, you have developed specialist capabilities to detect small vessels carrying refugees, a capability that could be of interest to shippers concerned with pirates, and aquaculture businesses worried about their unsupervised facilities.
Surfacing the Issues
With a goal to get to solutions that can be manifest as cross sector deals, the forum must discuss the most pressing common issues of the day, and not just those of narrow sectors. This is what distinguishes ConvergX from the typical industry-driven event—the rich dialogue in a huge range of subjects.
Here’s a snapshot of the kinds of topics that ConvergX will cover.
GLOBAL DEFENSE AND THE NORTH
In the past year, the defense profile for nations with exposure to the Arctic has changed dramatically. Only a few nations have lands in the arctic zone (including Russia, Canada, Norway, Greenland, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and the United States), but many nations have interests (such as fishing and shipping). With Russia now in a hot war with Ukraine and increasingly isolated internationally, collaboration on arctic matters is at risk. Finland and Sweden have both applied to join NATO, and if admitted, all but one arctic nation (Russia) will be part of NATO.
Russia’s unpredictability is now casting an uncomfortable eye on the defensive posture of NATO in the Arctic. Early warning and detection systems may need to be strengthened.
Beyond defense questions, general arctic development occupies a place of prominence. The Arctic is rich in resources, but is environmentally sensitive, under critical threat from climate change, and home to unique societies that have survived its harsh climate for eons.
Since energy is a critical national resource for every nation, ConvergX will discuss a number of key issues that are of cross-industry interest. These include:
Energy security and reliability, formerly confined as a topic to the non-OECD nations, but in light of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, now a topic globally.
Energy transition to new energy products and services, such as hydrogen.
The decarbonization of legacy energy consumers, and the concurrent rise in clean energy.
The expansion of power infrastructure (generation, transmission, distribution) to cope with a doubling of energy consumed.
The adoption of clean tech throughout industry, especially in the energy sector itself.
INDUSTRIAL CIRCULAR ECONOMY
More and more industrial activity is aimed at closing the loop between industry and impacts on common resources. The conference will review latest developments in such areas as carbon reduction, emissions reductions, waste and recycling, and materials science. I’m keen to hear specifically about plastics recovery and recycling.
SUBSURFACE TO SPACE
The common tool that links together the subsurface (underground and under water), surface, and space is telecommunications. Very soon, the planet will be enmeshed with high-speed, high capacity connectivity through low earth orbit satellites. The impacts of ubiquitous reliable connectivity are still being discovered, the most recent example the arrival of Starlink terminals in Ukraine, which have given Ukraine an advantage over the invaders.
Advanced telecommunications services and infrastructure will be strongly featured.
FOOD SECURITY AND SUPPLY CHAINS
Food security is no longer something isolated to a handful of emerging economies. Climate change has brought drought to societies unaccustomed to water scarcity. European rivers have completely dried up, and many ski hills didn’t open this year because of a lack of snow. Famine is back in North Korea and parts of Africa. But innovations in agri-tech continue to allow farmers to outpace the demand for farm produce, and generational change in farming is opening up opportunities for farms to digitalize and modernize. Aquaculture is supplanting high seas fishing.
Rapid advances in technology tend to overshadow some of its risks and impacts. Cyber threats such as denial of service attacks, ransomware, and theft of resources are common to every enterprise. Talent models are having to react quickly to innovations like generative AI, remote working, robotics and industrial automation.
CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE AND RESOURCES
The topics I’ve outlined already hint at the kinds of critical infrastructure that cross sectors. These include telecommunications, water and waste water, energy, and the construction and maintenance of related installations, and in particular, installations in sensitive areas such as the Arctic.
The recent round of bank failures has put global finance under a spotlight, but high interest rates are having the desired effect. Capital expenditure plans are starting to pull back. Looking beyond the at risk banking sector, the conference will talk through the current state of venture capital, the on-going development of non-sovereign currencies and NFTs, and fintech. There is still a huge amount of dry powder (funds yet to be allocated to ventures) awaiting the right opportunity.
If you’re a decision maker, and you can make commitments, you should come. There’s no forum like this.
The next ConvergX event takes place in Calgary April 17 to 19, 2023, and I’ve been invited to chair the conference. I can’t wait.
Check out my latest book, ‘Carbon, Capital, and the Cloud: A Playbook for Digital Oil and Gas’, available on Amazon and other on-line bookshops.
You might also like my first book, Bits, Bytes, and Barrels: The Digital Transformation of Oil and Gas’, also available on Amazon.
Take Digital Oil and Gas, the one-day on-line digital oil and gas awareness course on Udemy.
Take the one-hour Digital for the Front Line Worker in Oil and Gas, on Udemy.