PlantQuest CEO Ger Carton Talks about "Digitising the Brownfield"

July 10, 2023

Ger Carton, CEO of PlantQuest, is no stranger to the challenges andopportunities faced in digitising brownfield facilities. With over two decades of experience working within the lifescience and Oil & Gas industries, Ger shares his leanings and experiences in the matter. Having recently spoken at the Institute of Asset Management (IAM) Global Conference and at the IoT & Industry 4.0 stage at National Manufacturing Conference Ireland, where he presented his thoughts on "Digitising the Brownfield".

Ger also had a piece on the matter published by the IAM in their 2022 winter edition. You can view the column here.


What is a Brownfield Facility?

With no hard and fast definition of a brownfield facility, they're known as any facility where construction has occurred post-construction completion. Having been both a vendor and customer, I have released the constraints companies face in deploying nascent technologies into brownfield facilities.While there is extensive capital investment in new facilities across the globe,the vast majority of the stock of facilities is brownfield, meaning that the opportunity for both facility owners and solution providers exists in the existing stock. Brownfield facilities are old, having multiple owners in their lifecycle, and their information fidelity is well below that of greenfield facilities. Solution providers targeting the brownfield must do the hard things! Luckily for everyone involved, technology has made significant advances in the last decade, allowing brownfield digitisation to become more achievable.


The Steps in Digitising

In the face of these challenges, throughout my working on mega projects globally and as co-founder of PlantQuest, I have learned and developed a framework expediting the time from initial conversation to a go/no go decision on technology deployment.

The Discovery and Admin Layer (Rules)

A set of rules and regulations governs every business. This layer covers everything from raising a PO to integrating with a BMS system. At the end of this process, the optimum output is a document that can act as a charter to your various teams and vendors. In my experience, when companies have a solid understanding of the data structures, facility processes, infrastructure,security protocols and people involved, they are in an excellent position to roll out digital transformation solutions.


The technologies deployed are the building blocks of any solution.The focus must be on solving the problem, delivering value, and not selecting a technology because it 'looks cool' or is the latest on the trend as is what can happen. Practical considerations regarding technologies are their maturity and the true applicability of technology to the problem. Regarding technological maturity, it is a very fine line that is crucial to get right choosing a technology that is both too early and on the decline of the adoption curve exposes you to the risk that it could fizzle out. Where the technology stack will be deployed is often one of the first questions a vendor asks. Cloud? On-Prem? In an industry a srisk-averse as life science, the default answer is to look for a traditional on-prem deployment. This would have made sense even five years ago, but technology leaders now recognise that if they want the latest and connected solutions, they need to look skywards.


Having successfully created a company/facility-specific context,you can confidently apply a technology stack. Whether a company is developing solutions internally or acquiring them from external vendors, keeping the user and their pain as the center of attention is critical. In my experience, leading successful project can be conducted by considering the Problem/Solution Fit. As a manager developing a product, it is imperative that you challenge any assumptions that you have around the pain points that users feel as quickly as possible. The consequence of going on a "solo run" can have disastrous consequences in terms of product success.

Additionally, the Product/Technology fit must be addressed. The technologies used to build the product will, over time, dictate your product' success or failure. Technology is built around communities and champions, all vying for a piece of the enterprise solution market.



Applying this three-pronged approach that looks at the context,technologies and pain points will give internal and external product development teams a solid foundation to build off when looking to digitise brownfield facilities. To begin digitising the brownfield, a culture of innovation and willingness to change is essential. As bio and pharmaceutical companies have subsidiaries and facilities dotted around the globe, it is crucial to think'local first - then global'. By assigning a 'digital lighthouse', companies can trial a digitization project for a single brownfield facility with well-defined, measurable outcomes serving as a model for similar projects within the broader digital transformation initiative. This ability to get the product into the hands of users as early as possible allows for real insightful user feedback before spending valuable time and resources on scaling the product.


Additional Piece! Can it be added along the left panel as a footnote if needed?

Ger has recently spoken at the Institute of Asset Management (IAM)Global Conference and the IoT & Industry 4.0 stage at the National Manufacturing & Supply Chain Conference (Ireland), where he presented his thoughts on "Digesting the Brownfield". You can find a copy of one of his talks here.

Back to News