What's SWOT got?

What's SWOT, security, strength-weakness-Opportunity-Threat. africa, oil, gasKeeping one step ahead of the bad guys is what security planning is all about; it's especially important in oil and gas Keeping one step ahead of the bad guys is what security planning is all about; it's especially important in oil and gas

Conventional Strength-Weakness-Opportunity-Threat analysis techniques form a key section within Visiongain's recent Oil & Gas Infrastructure Security Market 2011-2021 report*. SWOT crops up regularly at the annual Global Security Summits, too. This year in Houston (22-23 February) the entire North Africa region was presciently surveyed, just ahead of the effective temporary withdrawal of one of the top NOCs from the market.

Not even the world's leading security specialists could have predicted what followed on from that.

“Maximising the defence of critical infrastructure, personnel and intellectual property in a landscape of evolving threat” was the full title used for the Arena International conference in the world's energy capital this year.

SWOT Analysis – a business-school standby - is an essential tool for keeping the world's oil and gas lifeblood commodities flowing. Nowhere needs it more than Africa's petroleum provinces. At core it involves identifying the internal and external factors that will influence achievement of the security-of-supply business objectives shared by all energy operators here, very well illustrated by recent developments in Libya.

SWOT helps decide whether these are actually realistic as events unfold, and what development areas need attention to on a day-to-day basis. An obvious example right now is the impact of piracy in the Red Sea/Indian Ocean area through which so much of sub-Saharan Africa's imports – and divided Sudan's exports – currently move.

As well as being useful to oil and gas operators themselves SWOT techniques are widely employed by the military, including in this instance the world's generally co-operating naval authorities. Many non-profits like food aid agencies and environmentalists involved in SSA have a major stake, too. Right now Kenya's vital tourist industry is being hit hard.

For the corporates these desktop/discussion techniques allow specific factors to be lined up and realistically assessed. SWOT enables realisable objectives to be set, the current and forthcoming operating environment to be scanned, existing coping strategies to be examined critically, strategic issues defined, new programmes with Plan B alternatives devised, critical success factors defined, and detailed schedules prepared. Not forgetting the all-important monitoring of results. If needed a new business model can then be prepared that will match the circumstances that are expected to develop; more than one if various alternatives are examined under SWOT.

According to Visiongain's calculations total spend on oil/gas infrastructure security stood at US$27.2bn before the 'Arab Spring' stood the energy world on its head.  Other analysts predicted doubling of the market within just a few years; it must be much more than this now.

“With operational risk rising in many key regions and the propagation of contemporary threats that include terrorism and cyber warfare...the market is set to blossom over the next 10 years,” the outlook document says, music to the ears of global players like the specialised Olive Group and RSA, the security division of EMC Corp.

As listed in the new study the four main sub-sectors  of this market are currently: Perimeter security and surveillance, Maritime security, Access control and Cyber security. These are more or less agreed by the US Dept of Homeland Security which formulated the widely copied Chemical Facility Anti-Terror Standards (CFATS) as a means of coping. They keep a specially close eye on transportation workers, too, a notoriously weak link in and off the shores of the sub-Saharan environment.

The report lists the industries of North and West Africa as being amongst the top national O&G infrastructure security markets right now. In terms of conventional SWOT analysis and solutions it says the key issues here are:

  • Strengths: Ongoing civil unrest and tensions and the necessity of security services; Public sector support; An improving global economy; Adaptability of the market
  • Weaknesses: Not fully preventative; Expensive; Evokes hostile attitudes; Has no direct influence on O&G production
  • Opportunities: Increased security threats from growing hostility and terrorism; Regions currently without access to security services and technologies; Growth of the LNG market; Pipeline proposals; Technological improvements and breakthroughs; Rise in cyber attacks
  • Threats: Worsening economy; Public sector cutbacks; Evolving nature of threats to infrastructure; Shortages of skilled labour.

Each of these is examined in a regional context. Thus under the 'Threats' section, probably of most interest to Oil Review Africa readers, the key issues are listed as Terrorism, conflict and war; Sabotage and theft; Information and warfare; and Kidnapping and piracy. We have seen several examples of all of these through this exceptionally troubled year.

Perfectly illustrated by Africa's North, oil and gas installations are usually found across enormous areas of most producing countries, and are normally divided into on- and off-shore categories which have their own specific security risks. They are invariably connected by both especially vulnerable networks of pipelines and support facilities, and by global systems of ICT infrastructure, too. All  these components need their own specific security assessment audits and surveys, which must be constantly evolving to keep on top of the situation. Security risk and prevention measures need to be looked at in SWOT terms all the way from operating wellheads via oil- and gas-gathering plants, storage farms and separation facilities to the main processing/cracking/refining complexes, and right up to the point of product sale. Always including that especially vulnerable transport sector(s) too, of course.

Says O&G specialist  Security Consortium International: “There is a need for a complete holistic view of the security threats across a very broad area. It is also vitally important to identify single choke points of high risk where, for example, pipelines may converge and one single device can cause massive damage across the whole infrastructure network.” This business specialises in the identification of single 'points of failure' and the evaluation of counter measures needed to reduce the level of threat.

Say the organisers of this year's conference in Texas: “In a constantly evolving threat landscape the role of your security operations must constantly adapt to meet changing economic, geo-political, criminal and homeland security challenges...It's critical to stay one step ahead.”

As Egypt, Libya and Tunisia have all shown in 2011 taking effective action on the results of such analysis by O&G companies, as taught by most of the top business schools, can make all the difference.

* February 2011; 150 pages; US$2418; www.visiongain.com

Alain Charles Publishing, University House, 11-13 Lower Grosvenor Place, London, SW1W 0EX, UK
T: +44 20 7834 7676, F: +44 20 7973 0076, W: www.alaincharles.com

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