Sunoco Inc.: Drilling for Oil in a Flat World

Dec. 12, 2007
Technology consolidation and standardization strategies are helping Sunoco get the most out of its tech investments.

It's an increasingly flat world, and perhaps no one is more aware of this fact than those who are in the business of drilling below the surface of it. Petroleum and coal products companies, such as Philadelphia, Pa.-based IW 50 Best Manufacturer Sunoco Inc., generate huge volumes of data on a daily basis, whether from the endless tech-enabled prospecting for new resource deposits or from the increasingly automated monitoring of their huge-footprint facilities. With worldwide oil and gas resources past peak, and the "big crew change" -- the retirement of baby boomers who make up a large part of the petroleum industry's workforce -- a new era is definitely on the horizon for companies in this sector. The big question for the future is, what tech tools and tactics will they use to continue to stay competitive?

For Sunoco, this increasing reliance on information technology to further core business processes required that it get its IT house in order. In early October, the company announced the consolidation of its engineering and other support services into some new office space in Tinicum, Pa. In a statement at the time, senior vice president Charles Valutas stressed that the company was, making these personnel moves for productivity's sake. "The new location will provide the opportunity to consolidate supporting services that are currently dispersed throughout the refineries enabling a significant increase in productivity," he said, noting that the new site will house 400 employees and contractors.

Beyond the home turf, this global company still had one Earth-sized headache to tackle, with 7,000 PCs (in 40 different models from different manufacturers) at 130 sites around the world, each with 35 different combinations of thousands of possible applications. According to Mark Quarles, manager of infrastructure services for Sunoco, this lack of standardization made for a mixed bag of competing, improperly configured systems that kept him and his team busy putting out fires -- not a good situation at any company, much less one that deals primarily in combustible products.

Sunoco Inc.
At A Glance

Sunoco Inc.
Philadelphia, Pa.
Primary Industry: Petroleum & Coal Products
Number of Employees: 14,000
2006 In Review
Revenue: $38.72 billion
Profit Margin: 2.53%
Sales Turnover: 3.52
Inventory Turnover: 35.26
Revenue Growth: 14.67%
Return On Assets: 9.86%
Return On Equity: 47.73%

"We didn't have a good way to put security patches out because we didn't have a robust distribution system," Quarles said at a recent Gartner Symposium. Even business units with similar IT needs were operating completely independently, refreshing systems at different rates, buying different programs, and using different versions of operating systems and office suites.

According to an October Network World story on Sunoco's IT transformation strategy, the IT team initially undertook thorough site evaluations of both hardware and software systems, often eliminating 90% of applications right off the bat. Once everything was simplfied into a single, universal instance, the team outsourced the help desk and PC support capability to Dallas, Tx.-based CompuCom Systems.

The result of all this front-end effort is an improved and standardized tech environment and a leaner, more innovation- and business-focused IT team that can help ease the transition to an environment of relative scarcity (both in terms of petroleum and human resources) that lies on the horizon of the flat world for Sunoco.

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