News

Learning alongside our clients: a Q&A with Paul Grimshaw, Sennen CTO

17th August 2022

Everything is a work in progress – including the way we work with clients and the modules we develop to answer their problems. We sat down with Paul Grimshaw, co-founder and CTO here at Sennen to ask him about the early days of the business and the experience gained from working alongside the team at London Array offshore wind farm.

Let’s start with some context. London Array is to this day one of the largest operating offshore wind farms. When did you start working with the team?

Yes, that’s right. The wind farm has been in operation since 2013 and I got involved in 2016.

It began with a couple of small projects and proof of concepts around weather windows visualisation. In 2017, we started to tackle some issues that really run to the heart of the control room.

Paul Grimshaw, Sennen CTO

What was it that created the momentum in these projects?

The impetus came from a range of converging factors. It was clear that because of the sheer size and complexity of the operation, managing contractors was becoming a major challenge.

Planning wasn’t optimised. The planners could not marry up the work orders, the weather forecast, the tides, while also ensuring personnel had the appropriate qualifications, restrictions were acknowledged etc. and produce plans that would take all of these (and more) into account.

In addition, what we were seeing was that, on a given day, if a vessel didn’t sail, it could have potentially been an issue with the contractor. However, roll forward to the end of the month and that same issue was attributed to the weather. The operating team didn’t have access to sufficient data to challenge and prove the weather was fine when a decision was made to call off a piece of work.

Then we started looking at tracking. The work orders were not linked to the tasks on the day. So the team in the operations room were unable to trace back what activity had happened on the day with relation to a given work order.

Making that link is key. Without it, they couldn’t say how much work had been done or how long the team were out on site. All they could do was open and then close the work order without knowing when the visits for this work were made or how long the contractor was out on site. 

Paul Grimshaw, Sennen CTO

What did you do to solve that problem?

What we enabled with the system was tracking all the way through the process. We imported the work orders from third party systems and we tied them to both the plan for the day and the record of activity in the Live Manifest. This means there is a link between the systems and what happens out at sea. Now the operations team has oversight. They can view progress on work orders and have the ability to analyse the data. 

Safety is of course a critical issue. The workflow we created meant that anyone who was to be sent offshore had to be placed within the system. Not only that, they had to have a work order and have their qualifications checked in advance. The only way for a contractor to board a vessel is if they are acknowledged as on the vessel with the system.

Additionally, transfer-of-control of assets under Wind Turbine Safety Rules, are recorded on the Live Manifest.

This means we have a complete data set, right down to any last-minute changes on the day. The engineers end up with the kind of cloud data that otherwise they could only dream of! This is a goldmine for the operator and unlocks the possibility of really driving market-leading optimisation in operations and maintenance.

Paul Grimshaw, Sennen CTO

How did you go about making these improvements with London Array?

We spent more than a year with the team in the control room, sitting alongside the engineers week in, week out. I was there, seeing what was holding up works and working very closely with key people in the operations team.

Together, we mapped out the then current workflows, identified bottlenecks and looked for ways to improve the process and remove inefficiencies. We identified where data was missing and made changes to capture what data was needed and integrate that back into the workflow.

The vision was to enable the operation to run fluidly – and the only way of getting there was by sitting with the team and being there every day to hear the real-world issues.

We then created early versions of solutions and went through a process of constant iteration and improvement. We talked with the team at London Array about how the changes were running, what further improvements were needed and over time we rolled out further iterations. It wasn’t an overnight process. We had to see where we were coming up short and then refine the system to what it has become today.

I believe the only way to succeed is by being really close to the team on site. I was fortunate to have that opportunity.

Paul Grimshaw, Sennen CTO

What early wins did you have?

The first big step forward was with the weather windows. The weather forecast information was tabular. This formatting can be hard to follow, especially regarding different wave height conditions and water depth across the site. The operations team were faced with the challenge of taking this data and manually calculating what weather windows were available for 175 turbines for a range of different craft, all with their own individual wave height limits and vessel drafts.  Additionally, cross referencing the forecast with the actual measured conditions was cumbersome. Unsurprisingly, the team were not making best use of weather windows to get necessary work done. 

One of the early wins was taking all the data including vessel data and visualising it to show weather windows and with it what was accessible, what wasn’t and when. So the team, who are often under pressure, could pull up our screen and instantly see what windows were available to them. As a result, they could plan much more effectively. Managing a daily schedule of wind turbine visits is a time-consuming task, but our system helped to centralise and consolidate shift plans for multiple contractors quickly and efficiently. These detailed shift plans can be adapted as circumstances and weather change throughout the day.

That initial prototype in 2016 won the trust of the team at London Array. We had worked together to integrate several data sources and created real-world improvements for the operations team.

Paul Grimshaw, Sennen CTO

How did you go about rolling out further innovations?

A lot of thought had to go into the underlying architecture of the system. That was something that we obviously had a vision for, but our challenge was dealing with all the different types of data sources. We had to work on numerous integrations, each of which had subtly different APIs or methods of data transfer. 

While some data feeds like weather forecasts have an established API, when looking at Siemens work orders, for example, we had to pick up the information from a pushed email and then take the data up into the system. This is detailed work and takes time to develop into a robust system.

Another challenge was to move the manifest off spreadsheets and into our cloud-based system. We didn’t want to fall into the trap of simply digitising a spreadsheet. We had to go back to the basic principles of shift planning and came up with a whole new solution. The success of this area of the project really benefited from that close relationship with the team. Not only were we able to understand what was required, but we had buy-in from the team in terms of adoption. This was crucial when it came to rolling out the shift planner to live operations because we were then asking not just the London Array team to use the new system but also all of the contractors. The rollout went smoothly, everyone really took to it and now today they cannot imagine working any other way.

Paul Grimshaw, Sennen CTO

How has the relationship with London Array developed over time?

Once we had those early successes, we really had the momentum to work further with the team at London Array and take on yet more challenges and optimisations. We got to a point where we had so much data integrated through Sennen that areas like marine coordination became a natural extension. So we extended our system to cover the marine coordination aspect. We didn’t rest on our laurels – we worked with the team to take advantage of benefits like tying in SCADA data, faults, vessel positions, live movements of people, tasks currently being undertaken, vessel motions and other data sources. 

The control room benefits from this rich data set that has never been seen before in an offshore wind farm. Tying this all together has become a real Eureka moment. Now we have complete visibility, we know where everyone is at the click of a button, we can see what people are doing, we know where the vessels are, how rough it is on deck, we know what the turbines are doing, etc.

Today, Sennen is a system that powers the whole control room. You walk into London Array and most of the screens are Sennen dashboards as the team goes about their daily work.

We didn’t stop there. The operations team still had questions that needed to be answered. For example, we had all this work going on but some of it was still either not completed or cancelled. Why was that task aborted? Why did that team not sail?

We’ve built a whole process around that. We looked at every time a piece of work was cancelled or aborted. We created a workflow that captures the answers to a number of key questions, including when work was halted, what the conditions were at the time, who made the call and why. This has in turn created a further highly valuable data set, as now there is the opportunity to really understand the key reasons and trends for why work is not being carried out. 

The end goal here is to improve the relationship between operator and contractor, have a shared understanding of what is happening on-site and work together to create a more efficient operation.

Paul Grimshaw, Sennen CTO

How has Sennen changed over this time?

The business is very different from 2016. We’ve had to scale up our own operation to match the ambition of our clients. It is no longer just me and a couple of developers. We’ve had to create our own internal processes as we have grown our development team. We’ve adopted agile methodology, created teams of developers and have brought in operations, a system architect, a product manager and account management to support our rollout. 

Today we have a total of 15 engineers in the business. We are focused on creating market-leading solutions that can scale. We are ready to solve more problems for more clients.

Paul Grimshaw, Sennen CTO

What does the future look like?

One of the good decisions we made early on when working with London Array is that our technology was born in the cloud. We are not encumbered by any legacy systems.

That approach gives us both agility and technical ability to really best serve our clients. We can respond to client needs, we can develop functionality at pace and we can access very high-performing applications. We are not worried about huge quantities of data.

We are focused on never losing sight of that advantage. Rather than just selling a tool and walking off, a key part of the Sennen proposition is that we want to work closely with clients to configure the tools to align with what they really need. This is why we will always work very closely with every client – it’s how we believe both parties can win.

We are excited about the future. I see success as when a client is heavily using Sennen. When they put their faith in what we have provided in order to get the job done, that’s the gold standard for me.

Paul Grimshaw, Sennen CTO