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Bigger Isn’t Always Better: Harness The Power Of Small Business

Since taking on the business development role in 2018, I’ve had my eyes opened to the way our industry operates, in a manner that I hadn’t necessarily appreciated in my 20 previous years working for operators and service providers. Merlin, in common with many SME’s (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) recognise that it has an important function and different needs compared to the big players, that often prioritise “market share at all costs” above all else, to the detriment of themselves and the level of service provided to clients. Most of us will have at some stage had that ‘just another cog in the wheel’ feeling. Being part of an SME has been a real eye opener in terms of the speed of innovation, developing and implementing new solutions and that certainly brings a variety of benefits to the company and clients.

Merlin leadership team, left to right, Neil Armstrong, Stewart McGregor, Iain Miller, Ron Ramage

David vs Goliath

On the subject of clients, smaller operators are easier to work with, and the larger the client gets, the more interesting (not necessarily difficult) the interactions become. I’ve often heard peers opine that “Big companies like to deal with big companies” and that appears to be the case too. Out-with a pre-planned tender, accessing an opportunity can become an exercise in patience, imagination, and resilience in order to speak to the right person, at the right time, using the correct words, in the right order, to demonstrate capability and unlock opportunity. At least that’s how it feels when you are a David amongst the Goliaths of our patch.

It also seems like a lot of companies have taken the Swiss cheese approach to procurement risk management, which we are familiar with as drillers. Features of this are lots of organisational layers, a tight control of process, and hands-off interaction between providers and end-users until the contract is in place. As engineers, what we want to do is get the job done in the best way we can, and additional hurdles, whilst part of the system, are not always beneficial. But it’s all part of the checks and balances required to avoid trouble.

“It also seems like a lot of companies have taken the Swiss cheese approach to procurement risk management, which we are familiar with as drillers”.

The Value of a Proactive Risk Management Approach

We’ve all seen or heard of examples where the process of buying and selling has gone wrong in some way, either through error, incompetence, or wrongdoing – an outcome to be avoided. These events drive organisational goals which may not be aligned with the value proposition of the operator itself; to extract the maximum amount of hydrocarbons for the greatest amount of profit. Speaking as an SME, I’d like to see operators acknowledge the differences between a company like Merlin and one of the “big four” integrated service providers. What Merlin, and others like us bring to the table is hard to find in an industry where competency is increasingly hard to find.

Written by Stewart McGregor, Merlin Technical Development Director
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