The book of Xodus

The Xodus Group has achieved rapid growth since its three founding directors set it up as an independent consultancy in 2005. Now an international company, its employee base numbers 200 in the UK and 70 in Australia. Turnover in the 12 months to September 2009 was around £24 million, and is expected to reach £30 million this year. Meg Chesshyre talks to founding director Richard Heard and Graeme Rogerson, recently appointed subsea director for Europe.

Xodus Group is now a multi-discipline energy consultancy specialising in the independent delivery of development planning, strategic assurance and system optimisation services that support the upstream oil and gas and renewables sector. The group has headquarters in Aberdeen and offices in Edinburgh, London, Orkney and Perth Australia.

Why Xodus? Two of the three directors who set up the company, Colin Manson and Steve Swindell, came from the Genesis consultancy, and therefore refers to the next book in the Old Testament. The third, Richard Heard, had been with Andrew Palmer & Associates, later Penspen. Heard was initially head of the Xodus subsea division, but more recently has been responsible for the start-up of the London office, which has been in operation for just over a year. He is tasked with growing the subsea business and expanding further into the London markets.

'The reason we decided to form the company was because we felt that there was space in the market for an independent and more integrated service,' Heard explains. 'Where this really comes together for oil and gas is in field development planning, where you sit the process and facilities guy next to the subsea guy, next to the flow assurance guy, and achieve a much more joined up solution, or range of solutions, to offer a client.'

The company started with three divisions: subsea, process & facilities, and integration technology, which includes advanced simulation, flow assurance and dynamic simulation. Subsequently a technical safety and risk division was pulled out of the process & facilities group, and an environmental division was also added as an important part of the jigsaw.

'We have a client base right across the board, from the small independent oil companies to the majors,' Heard says. 'We have a lot of business from the smaller oil companies where we're providing probably a greater range of services, than for some of the majors, where the contracts are actually quite discipline focused.' He stressed that independence was a very important part of the offering, and had the added bonus of making Xodus an attractive place to work. 'In terms of being able to recruit people out of the bigger companies, it's been easier because we're a dynamic, fresh, energetic company.'

On the subsea side, Graeme Rogerson notes that Xodus has this year introduced four service lines in the areas of concept and front end engineering design, detailed design, project delivery and subsea operations support moving from capex through to opex based work, and that 12 high profile subsea professionals had recently joined the subsea team, covering a wide range of disciplines. In particular Xodus now has a genuine riser and flexible riser design capability to rival other key players, he adds.

FEED work is the core of the group business, and the detailed design arm has been reinforced with more manpower. 'Project delivery is a new service line for us, and what we are targeting is the niche area of flexible flowline systems,' Rogerson says. The company has already won its first work in project delivery. The operational support service line is also new, but is now on the radar in terms of being invited to tender for significant pieces of work. Both lines still need further staffing. 'Within the next 12 months we would like to see another 10-15 people join that subsea team.'

The additional expertise combined with the new service offering will support recently secured contracts which amount to £4.5 million of new business. 'We have strategically aligned our service lines to suit the requirements of the global energy industry,' Rogerson adds. 'Our integrated consultancy service now has some of the industry's most innovative subsea talent at its helm. Harnessing this unrivalled expertise, we will now deliver the complete subsea project lifecycle offering with a turnkey capability from concept and front-end engineering to project delivery and operations support.'

Newly recruited subsea specialists include Frank Smith, who takes up the position of subsea manager, based in Aberdeen, replacing Rogerson. An industry-renowned riser specialist, Smith has extensive experience in umbilical design engineering and analysis experience. Before joining Xodus, he was engineering team leader with MCS for 13 years, working in both Aberdeen and Houston.

Andrew Wylie has joined as a consultant responsible for developing Xodus' project delivery capability, providing assurance on critical procurement throughout the lifecycle of a subsea project and supporting the package management of umbilical and flexible riser systems. Wylie has also joined from MCS where he was riser delivery manager. Before that he worked at Technip.

Matt Kirk joins the group as a senior consultant to further develop the company's subsea operational support and integrity management services. With 12 years subsea construction experience, Kirk has joined Xodus from Acergy where he was group remote operations manager. On the integrity side, Afshin Motarjeni has come on board from DNV. Mark Murphy has been taken on to act as business assurance manager. Bob Conder's materials & corrosion team has been strengthened with the addition of three more materials engineers.

Xodus developed two web-based software tools, XTensor and XSmart, specifically for the subsea division, which enables clients to have easy access to the engineering. 'It's not black box stuff,' explains Rogerson. 'It's open for them to use.' XTensor covers pipeline upheaval buckling. 'It's not a new issue, but the difference here is we've got a tool now that provides continuity right the way through the stages of a project from the very early concept right through to in place analysis.' XSmart, a subsea manifold realisation tool, is looking at standardising manifold systems, which has been a big drive recently for BP, Shell and Statoil. It concentrates on standard functionality rather than specific bits of hardware.

The majority of work Xodus has secured in Europe is in mature fields in the Norwegian, Dutch and UK sectors of the North Sea. The group also has a strong presence across the Asia Pacific region, including Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia. The Americas and Middle East are the targets over the next couple of years, and Xodus plans to enter these markets through opening hubs and potential acquisitions.

Heard points out that the work out of Aberdeen, where Xodus started its business, is mostly brownfield, whereas the London market is more international. The international projects are often bundled up in large packages. Xodus can bring a number of skills, but also has an agreement in place with another contractor where expertise was required that was outside its core business. The work out of Perth, in contrast, is mainly mega-greenfield projects.

While oil and gas field development is a core business for the group, it is also involved in environmental & technical safety and risk management for a range of projects, from the testing of marine energy prototypes in the Pentland Firth to investigating ways to transport carbon from one location, such as a power station, to another for storage. It has recently appointed a director for its alternative energy business stream, Liz Foubister, and a new manager, Eric Doyle, for this service line. 'We've just split the alternative energy group out of our business to give it separate focus from our oil and gas people,' Heard explains.

The environmental division grew out of the purchase of Orkney-based Aurora Environmental in 2007, hence the office in Stromness, Orkney. From 12 staff at the time of acquisition, it has grown to 45 people in three years. The Orkney office benefits from having the EMEC marine renewable test centre on its doorstep, and Xodus Aurora was formed at a time when the marine devices were beginning to become reality in terms of prototypes and testing.

'We have successfully transferred into that part of the alternative energy market and some of our subsea team in Aberdeen is working on marine renewable projects at a technical level, in addition to Aurora working at the permits level,' Heard says.

Heard admits that part of the Xodus business suffered in the economic downturn last year. 'But because of the integrated model that we offer, other parts did not suffer as badly. Certainly our subsea team was a victim of the capex squeeze at the beginning of last year.'

There is no doubt about that, adds Rogerson. 'But we handled the downturn better than some of our competitors because of the integrated model, and then, when the market picked up again at the end of the last calendar year, and because of the work we do focused on the frontend, I think we were the first ones to see a response.' He adds: 'We were able to pick up some great personnel who were maybe still in consultancies and companies still down at the bottom of the trough.'

'We're continuing to grow in this climate,' Heard concludes. 'We grow our business by making sure that we continue to add to our team in terms of the quality of people, and we're seeking to expand into different and associated areas with subsea and renewables.' OE

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