Introspection at OKI

After more than a decade in business, the oil-platform subcontractor looked on as competitors entered its arena and stole market share, then James Field led an 18-month company-wide self-exploration to turn things back around

On one of his first days at Offshore Kinematics, Inc. (OKI), James Field called a meeting. The company was already 13 years old when Field accepted the position as director in 2012, but he himself had been in the oil industry for nearly 40 years, having started in the design of offshore platforms. There was something on his mind, and he felt he needed to say it, so he closed the door and called the meeting to order.

OKI had seen plenty of success by that point. The company, which primarily designs and supplies specialty equipment for the float-over installation of offshore oil platforms, had developed unique methods for preventing costly damage during installation. Between 1999 and 2006, new projects—and revenue—came quickly as OKI developed and proved its technical excellence.

OKI Milestones

1999
Offshore Kinematics, Inc. is born as its founders set out to provide equipment that protects offshore production platforms from damage that occurs during installation

2003
The company completes its first float-over project

2005
OKI provides the mating equipment and project services for a major project near Venezuela: the world’s first open-water pontoon barge float-over

2006
Seven years after its inception, OKI completes its eighth project

2007
Dockwise LTD, a marine transport company headquartered in the Netherlands, acquires OKI

2011
The company achieves ISO 9001 certification

2013
Royal Boskalis Westminster, a large maritime construction-services company, acquires Dockwise

2014
To date, OKI has completed 20 projects, performed 160 custom installations, delivered 200 units, and provided services for 15 of the world’s largest offshore projects

But then something happened. As the demand for float-overs grew, competitors started to enter the niche market, and OKI found itself competing less on technology and more on price. The competitors had since continued to drive prices lower and lower, and OKI had begun to lose its market share.

This is what Field wanted to address upon his arrival. With his staff gathered, he had just one message to deliver. “I told them that the way we’ve always done it won’t work forever,” he says. Field walked OKI’s employees through a presentation on the evolution of the offshore industry from the 1970s to 2012, examining the changes in approach and technology. “It wasn’t just to give a history lesson,” he says. “It was to ask one question: ‘why?’”

The question of “why?” started to drive Field’s approach as he analyzed Offshore Kinematics’ practices and examined its clients. “The market is always going to be evolving, and no company can stand still, pointing to the way they’ve always done things,” he says. “Clients want to do things bigger, better, cheaper, and faster.”

In the weeks that followed his presentation, Field and his team decided they needed to reevaluate everything. They wanted to scrutinize all steps in every process and each bullet point in every procedure. “We kept asking why we do things the way we do,” Field says. “We wanted to know if there was a better way. We wanted to know what was necessary and what wasn’t.” The self-exploration became an 18-month project, during which the team implemented new and efficient processes and enhanced and streamlined its methodologies. OKI identified specialists to act as subcontractors and consultants to collaborate on better products, reconfigured the quality-assurance process, and added rigor to its technical analysis.

Then, Field focused on improving another critical aspect of the business—a critical aspect of any business, really: communication. “I’ve seen throughout my career just how important strong internal communication is in any team,” Field says. “It’s especially important when you’re working on large-scale, complex projects where safety concerns are key.”

OKI has developed a reputation for technical excellence, and in the process, its leaders have learned to rely on the varied skill sets of their talented employees. “We all have to work together across all areas to solve intricate problems and bring innovative solutions,” Field says. “We can’t do that unless everyone contributes, and that can’t happen unless we all communicate.”

Now, with its restructuring complete, OKI is in the position to evaluate and seize new opportunities. “This 18-month processing … has made it easier for our people to ask questions and assess problems for our clients,” Field says, adding that he has also instructed teams to focus on communication and teamwork. Additionally, the company is tackling new and complex projects, including one in the North Sea, and OKI leaders and engineers are working to apply company technology to a new market: offshore wind farms.

Field has been in the industry since the 1970s, in positions that have taken him around the world, and through it all, one thing has stuck in his mind. “I’ve learned how important flexibility is,” he says. “There’s not just a single way to do things.” A nimble company can adapt to an ever-changing market, and it’s that flexibility that Field has helped bring to OKI.