In our previous post in the series, How to Spot an Expert, we mentioned that there is no “one-size fits all” integrity management program (IMP). In summary, if a consultant suggests that a pipeline operator follow a template or program without having conducted a thorough analysis of your operations, needs, and gaps, they are likely more interested in selling a widget or promoting themselves, than ensuring that you get the best risk assessment for your organization.However, it can be challenging to see through the numerous messages, campaigns, and ever-prevalent online content to (pardon the pun) mitigate the risks of hiring the wrong consultant. So, in our latest installment of “How to Spot an Expert,” we’re focusing on helping you dive deep in your search for expertise when it comes to Pipeline Risk consulting.
- Let’s look at this like a pyramid. First and foremost, your risk consultant should offer a significant educational and technical foundation, either individually or as a team. Seek out a firm that hires individuals with engineering and science degrees, and demonstrates the intellectual curiosity needed to stay abreast of ever-changing threats and failure mechanisms encountered in the industry. With the maturing of the integrity management industry, a risk approach based on engineering principles and lessons learned from experienced providers is not a nicety but a foundational element of success.
- The next piece of the pyramid is applied experience. Like any industry, real-life or on-the-job experience can say a lot about a person’s knowledge and skill on a topic. In the case of integrity management and pipeline risk, it is important to understand the projects the consultant has completed. Have they performed risk assessments on pipelines similar to your assets? Have they applied risk techniques to a wide range of assets and situations? Relevant, applied experience allows a consultant to tailor their approach to your organization, rather than provide generalized assessment results. Additionally, consultants must also demonstrate an understanding of the regulations and impacts to a pipeline’s compliance program and integrity management plan. Applying risk results to make actionable decisions that affect both your IMP and regulatory compliance status must include an adaptable process around implementation and sustainability. Consultants with experience in rolling out organizational plans based on risk results can successfully gain internal adoption and buy-in (see more about this in item 4!).
- Okay, so we’ve got the education, the technical know-how, and the boots on the ground experience. What more could we need? Focus. Don’t settle for a jack of all trades, master of none. To get the best risk assessment and consultation, look for individuals or teams that focus primarily on pipeline risk analysis. Often you’ll run across generalists that offer some exposure to risk analysis, or service providers that work in one of many areas of pipeline. However, they won’t be able to offer the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience necessary to properly analyze all of the potential threats and consequences posed by operating a pipeline as a dedicated risk engineer.
- The top two tiers of the pyramid are smaller, but still important. Keep an eye out for soft skills. Your risk consultant needs to have the soft skills necessary to help make the risk approach successful in your organization. Listening to and understanding the operator’s challenges across departments, identifying organizational issues, and assisting with internal sales needs are all important. It is not enough to generate the best possible estimates of risk – we also need to help our clients understand and integrate these estimates into their organizations.
- And, last, flexibility. Your risk consultant should not be forcing a single out-of-the-box model on you. Levels of offerings should be based on actual need and adapted to your organization. “Black box” models that are proprietary and not understood by the operator do not meet the expectations of the regulatory community. Your consultant should put you in the position of being comfortable with the results of your risk analysis, and being able to present and explain the results in the case of an audit.
Risk assessment is a burgeoning market. New companies are trying to get their share of the growing sales without the experience and know-how of an expert. Don’t settle for anything less than the best. To learn more about our risk and integrity management team and the work they do, click here or . Be on the lookout for our final post of the series next week discussing GIS.