Sasol – The Energy to Succeed
In the wake of recent challenges, Sasol, a global chemicals and energy company, has defined a path forward to long-term sustainability under a revised strategy, aided by digitisation.
Headquartered in Johannesburg, Sasol has a proud history of serving people in two strategic sectors, energy and chemicals, safely and sustainably sourcing, producing and marketing a range of high-quality products on a global scale.
The company employs around 28,000 people in 22 countries and was founded in 1950 in Sasolburg, South Africa. The plant was built on processes that were first developed by German chemists and engineers in the early 1900s. Today Sasol, building on this legacy, develops and commercialises technologies including synthetic fuel technologies, and produces a range of liquid fuels, chemicals and electricity.
“Sasol is an integrated energy and chemicals business. We are a global organisation with operations in 22 countries which include South Africa, USA, Germany, and Italy. In South Africa we are focussed on producing petroleum and other chemicals from coal and natural gas. Globally, the focus is on chemical products,” says Lungile Mginqi, Group Chief Information Office (CIO), adding that in line with the increased focus on sustainability, the company is now also looking into green hydrogen. Sasol is currently the world’s largest hydrogen producer, and the company continues to invest in innovation and research to drive the energy transition.
Lungile points out that the Group has recently faced unparalleled challenges in its 72-year history, which have accelerated the business’s transformation. “We chartered a path forward to long-term sustainability under a revised strategy and operating model. We have simplified and streamlined our previously complex and broad portfolio to a leaner and more market-focused business. Our revised strategy focuses on areas where we believe there are good growth prospects which are low-risk and with lower carbon intensity, reflecting evolving consumer needs and megatrends.”
Two Strategic Businesses
Sasol comprises two distinct market-focused businesses: Chemicals and Energy. “Our sustainability is underpinned by a transition to a lower-carbon future with net zero by 2050. Sasol’s 72-year track record demonstrates that the company has the capabilities and competencies to deliver sustainable value in these two core businesses,” Mr Mginqi.
He affirms that the combination of these two strategic areas creates a distinctive competitive advantage.” We produce synthetic fuel and don’t just refine product with a value chain of chemicals that can be produced. Harnessing our capabilities in both chemicals and energy businesses, not just one, differentiates us from others.”
The Energy Business is focused on the marketing and sales of all oil, gas and electricity products in Southern Africa, which have been consolidated under a single umbrella. In addition, this cluster oversees Sasol’s international GTL (gas to liquid) ventures in Qatar and Nigeria. This cluster is key to Sasol’s growth aspirations inside and outside South Africa and includes Southern Africa Energy and International Energy. Our newly formed Sasol ecoFT will focus on building sustainable business with our advantaged Fischer-Tropsch (FT) technology.
Sasol operates integrated value chains with feedstock sourced from its mining and gas operating segments processed at its facilities in South Africa, with associated assets in Mozambique and Qatar. The company employs its proprietary technologies that can generate attractive and sustainable margins from a combination of its low-cost feedstock, safe and reliable operations and attractive energy and chemical products.
The Sasol Business fulfils Group’s purpose of “Innovating for a better world” by offering a broad, state-of-the-art portfolio of speciality and commodity chemicals for a wide range of applications and industries, strongly backed by a track record of collaborative innovation with customers.
Sustainability Aided by Information Technology
Part of the Sasol Group of businesses is Sasol ecoFT, an aspirant world leader in the development and application of the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) technology (the means used to convert synthesis gas containing hydrogen and carbon monoxide into hydrocarbon products). The proprietary technology, know-how and expertise are leveraged to produce sustainable fuels and chemicals from green hydrogen and sustainable carbon sources, via the Power-to-Liquids (PtL) process.
Sasol ecoFT was set up to drive this ambition from a green hydrogen perspective, to produce methanol, ammonia and sustainable aviation fuels, and to this end has partnered with several companies from the EU and elsewhere.
Mr Mginqi points out that the pandemic has further accentuated the role digitisation and IT play in any business transformation towards sustainability, and this role is set to increase further. “Digital has made huge promises of value to be unlocked. While we have begun our digital transformation, there is more to be done to ensure that we are able to accelerate and unlock this value. One area that digitisation can help with is decarbonisation, an area of great focus.”
Sasol supports the Paris Agreement and its calls for higher ambition. In 2021, the company launched its 2050 net zero emissions ambition (“Net Zero”) and Future Sasol strategy, which places the company on a trajectory towards a significantly reduced GHG emissions profile, and is predicated on producing sustainable fuels and chemicals, using the company’s proprietary technology and expertise.
“When it comes to the oil and gas industries, we have all heard some of the negative comments and perceptions that have been voiced in the market. Sasol is striving to change this perception and Information Management (IM) has an important role in this,” says Mr Mginqi.
“The more efficient the plants, the better the perceptions. If we can transparently report and demonstrate improvements being made, this will help to change the perceptions that oil majors deeply care for our people, planet and communities.
Driven by Data
Mr Mginqi is an expert in his field – he holds a MSc in Engineering from UCT and a certificate in Business Innovation from Stanford University in California. He has enjoyed numerous career achievements including being a Partner at Accenture, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Diebold and Chief Operating Officer (COO) at his own company before being appointed Group CIO a few years ago. Witnessing changes in the world as well as within Sasol has made him set clear priorities in his own area of responsibility, focusing on ‘Digital Enablement’, ‘Modern Ways of Work’ and ‘Cyber Security’.
He explains that ‘Modern Ways of Work’ aim to fundamentally reorganise the business with a key focus on the customer. To simplify engagement with business, to automate for more self-service, and upgrade and simplify technologies to enable the digital future.
Focus on the customer also drives the ‘Digital Enablement’ across both the Energy and Chemicals businesses. “We want to increase loyalty, improve customer interfaces, and transform the forecourt experience,” he says, adding that internally, Digital Enablement aims to achieve improved safety, optimised production and data access for real-time insights.
“Data and insights are a key focus now for many organisations. From the CEO to the operator on the ground, data is key. However, data alone doesn’t provide insights and we have invested in a Data Science team to extract those insights and provided bursaries to attract data scientists. Using data platforms in the cloud, we have enabled all teams to have access to the information when needed.”
He admits that Cyber Security, is a hot topic that keeps a lot of managers up at night. It is also a top priority at Sasol. “Any call from our Cyber Security teams keeps me awake – thinking the worst. The greatest risk for Sasol is ransomware on SAP at financial year end. Other risks include the manufacturing risk where threat actors can gain control of the production plant, and halt operations resulting in major losses of production, and Transnet impact on Sasol getting goods to port.”
“The difference between IT and OT culture may also be problematic and cause friction, but Sasol has done well to overcome these differences by having the CIO as the single point of accountability. However, there is the need to think beyond compliance – the vision is to have aggressive simulation attacks within Sasol, making sure the Cyber Security posture can identify, protect, and detect promoting readiness.
While information technologies play an increasingly important role in the business environment, it is people that continue to be the most valued asset. As a global firm with strong roots in South Africa, Sasol’s commitment to supporting communities where the company operates is strong. The support is global, and the recent pandemic has further reinforced the Group’s Future Sasol strategy that aims to balance people, planet and profit outcomes.
In 2021, Sasol invested R526.2 million directly into its communities and spent R23.8 billion through preferential procurement in black-owned businesses in South Africa. Priority areas include education and economic opportunities.
Considering the nature, location and scale of its activities, Sasol recognises its role in contributing to the improvement of labour market prospects for young people. Sasol offers targeted interventions that provide young people with core skills such as technical, vocational and work readiness training to enable them to be self- sustaining and to become positive contributors to local and national economies.
The scope of Sasol’s social initiatives is wide, ranging from providing bursaries to students, support to early childhood development centres and water and infrastructure projects as well as general wellbeing. In other words, the company wishes to promote healthier communities who will be productive, and in turn contribute positively to society and disability programmes.
A recent example is Sasol’s partnership with the South African Football Association (SAFA), and Wheelchair Basketball South Africa (WBSA), under which the “Live the Impossible” initiative was launched, to continue to drive interest and ongoing support for women’s football and wheelchair basketball in South Africa.
As part of this initiative, Sasol has created a series of activities to educate and empower the athletes and technical teams to help them continue to push boundaries as they live their passion for their respective sports. These activities will also showcase and spotlight athletes who are part of South Africa’s pride.
Internally, Sasol has improved its wellness and career transition services by rolling out Ntsika, an entrepreneur development programme. An isiXhosa word meaning ‘pillar’, Ntsika reflects the importance the company attaches to developing support programmes for its people, particularly during times of significant change. This will be important in the post-pandemic environment, in a market that is bringing new challenges.
Mr Mginqi agrees that the market is turning, and, again, highlights the role both IT and a well- trained workforce will be playing in the coming months and years. “With more people fuelling up to travel daily again, there is the opportunity in our fuel retail market to recapture the hearts of its customers through loyalty and personalisation. We want to be able to provide an experience that is digital.”
“This customer focus also extends to our commercial business and chemicals. With the customer at the front and centre, we can create improved experiences while engaging with Sasol.”
This can only be achieved with skilled, motivated and committed workforce. “The nature of our business relies on bringing top engineers into the organisation. Bursaries are offered to top students followed by employment under our Graduate In Training Programme that offers our engineers various opportunities and support. As we move towards digital, we are creating fast-paced working environments to further entice top talent into the organisation.”
Looking ahead, Mr Mginqi affirms that Sasol’s priorities are firmly set: “Sustainability will remain at the front and centre of our business. From decarbonisation to creating a business that will be here when the need for fossil fuels has declined.”
“As an energy company, we need to ensure that we are playing a role in the sustainability arena. We will deliver on decarbonisation, seeing ecoFT taking shape, driving the digital transformation with scaled-up benefits and value for both the Energy and Chemicals businesses.”