Sjoerd Hoogerbrugge never considered filling up his car at the petrol station to be a problem. It was just a simple task that he fit into his working week.

But now he gets his fuel delivered directly to his car: sometimes at work, sometimes at home.

"Many people are able to order their groceries and taxis online, so why not order fuel online too?" says Hoogerbrugge, who works as a facilities manager for a website sales company in Rotterdam.

"It's two clicks. You set the time, set the location and then it's done."

Hoogerbrugge lives and works in a region of the Dutch city where Shell is piloting a new digital service called Shell TapUp. Using an app on a smartphone, the service delivers petrol and diesel around the city directly to people's cars.

The rise of digital

The TapUp pilot began in May 2017 and is a response from Shell to the rise of digitalisation across all areas of the economy. From taxis to takeaways, hotel bookings to grocery shopping; new digital services have affected how we live our lives.

It is big business too. In the last decade, companies like Amazon or the ride-hailing app Uber have become multibillion dollar enterprises. Accenture, the strategy and consulting firm, estimates the digital economy now represents 22.5% of global gross domestic product (GDP). It expects that figure to continue to rise.

It is not just new players that need to embrace digital though. Established organisations must adapt or risk being disrupted themselves.

"There is no boardroom in the world today where senior leaders are still debating whether digital is important or not to their future," says Ron Adner, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in Boston, USA. "The question is, what do we do about it and when?"

Digitalisation in energy

Within the energy industry, digital is starting to have an impact. Shell recently set up a digital ventures team that aims to use advances in digital technology to produce innovative solutions for its customers.

"We're responding to digital disruption," says Roger Hunter, Vice President of Digital Ventures for Shell’s New Energies business. "We're aiming to make products that can be commercially successful and make life easier for the customer."

Hunter's team has created and invested in several ventures. They include FarePilot, an app in the UK that helps self-employed taxi drivers identify areas with high demand, and WonderBill, an online tool for residential energy customers, that allows them to keep track of all their bills on one website, and to find better deals from competing suppliers.

Shell TapUp delivery vehicle driving in Rotterdam
Shell TapUp says safety was their main priority in building the delivery vehicle

An eye on the future

The Shell TapUp idea also originated from Shell's digital ventures work, before being developed by its retail team. Since then, hundreds of engineers and technical specialists have worked on the delivery vehicle and the app.

"It's been an incredible adventure," says Erik Miedema, Shell TapUp's Managing director and a former fuel pricing manager. "We have sold out our first delivery vehicle. We're now delivering to a wide range of repeat residential and business customers."

The pilot has been set up to test the concept as well as the technology and to find out more about where customer demand might come from.

They are taking inspiration from the digital disruption culture of start-up companies.

Shell TapUp's workshop is in a rented warehouse in the industrial suburbs of Rotterdam, where the small team, comprising 15 staff and contractors, aims to generate a dynamic, entrepreneurial culture that can take decisions with speed.

"Having that freedom and autonomy makes us very focused," says Miedema. "You have to trial fast, but also stop things incredibly fast if they are not working. The only way to do that is to have a small, agile team."

Miedema hopes to expand the pilot across the Netherlands and then to other countries. His team is already working on ways to provide a wider range of fuels like biofuels, hydrogen or electric in the future.

"We don't intend to be a petrol site on wheels. We're really trying to build a new energy infrastructure," he says.

For Shell, the TapUp pilot is about adapting to change in the energy and digital landscape.

That's something that Professor Adner says is crucial. "Organisations must have a wider lens, and keep their eyes open to all the changes happening around them."

"Take the former camera company Kodak for example. They invested, but they did not recognise that their ecosystem was changing, which would change the fundamental rules," he adds. "Companies must recognise these changes and respond. How they react will shape their future. For many it may even determine it."


By Andrew Wilson 

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