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The downstream sector thrives on change and challenge.

Technical collaboration is a fundamentally different approach that seeks out a broad range of perspectives.

christopher boulanger

Christophe Boulanger, Vice President, Strategic Customers, Shell Global Solutions

How does a technology licensor deliver better customer satisfaction? As vice president, strategic customers at Shell Global Solutions, this question interests me greatly.

Clearly, the capabilities and design of the technology are fundamentally important but a host of other factors are also highly relevant, including the skill levels and customer focus of the team delivering it, for the successful transfer of technology from an operator−licensor.

Reading this issue of Impact, I have had a chance to reflect on this question from a slightly different perspective.

Reading the interview about ‘Pushing catalyst boundaries’, it is clear that Robert Trout and Andy Gosse, presidents of Criterion Catalysts & Technologies and CRI Catalyst Company respectively, have an extremely sharp customer focus.

This fascinating discussion reveals why their organisations are investing so heavily in research and development.

The business landscape for refiners is perhaps more challenging than ever, with extremely small margins and asset closures dominating the headlines. Nevertheless, where there are threats there are also opportunities and we have several examples of businesses that have recently enhanced their competitiveness.

For instance, we report on Valero, which has increased its margins by installing new Shell hydrocrackers at two US refineries to produce high-value middle distillates.

The stories in this issue demonstrate what, in my view, is another crucial element for delivering customer satisfaction: a high-quality customer–supplier interaction.

Often, various solutions could  help a refiner to meet its objectives but there is evidence that solutions arrived at by combining the skills, experience and perspectives of the refiner, its strategic licensor and the catalyst supplier are often the most robust.

And that requires a high-quality interaction or, as we like to call it, technical collaboration.

For example, in this issue we profile Petrobras. Brazil’s state-owned oil company needed to adapt its units to make 10-ppm sulphur diesel but its extremely heavy crude slate intensified the challenge.

The fact that Petrobras achieved this through revamps at a fraction of the cost of grassroots units is a testament to its technologists, and it demonstrates the value of technical collaboration – these are highly complex, demanding projects.

Business guru Edward de Bono says that creativity involves breaking out of established patterns to look at things in a different way. And this is what  technical collaboration is all about: it is a fundamentally different approach that seeks out a broad range of perspectives.

So, whether we call it creativity or technical collaboration, I would add this as another key factor for delivering customer satisfaction, and one that is often overlooked.