In Scotland, Viasat Energy Services rides a hot industry

Aberdeen team handles clients around the world for its managed communications products

View of Aberdeen Scotland with skyline in background

Aberdeen, Scotland is home to one of Viasat Energy Services’ offices.

While Viasat Energy Services’ (VES) home base is in Houston, its busiest and most influential offices are far from the Lone Star State. For international operations, the hotseat is Aberdeen, Scotland — an office with just over 100 employees that plans, installs, and oversees projects in Europe, West Africa, Qatar, Malaysia, and Singapore.

“Houston is headquarters, but the action really happens in places like Lafayette, LA and Aberdeen, Scotland,” said Lee Ahlstrom, president of VES. “Aberdeen is our biggest international office in the energy services business.”

A historic city of about 200,000 on Scotland’s North Sea coast, Aberdeen is known as the Granite City for granite buildings that sparkle in sunlight. It’s highly rated for safety, quality of life, and high wages with an economy that’s tied in large part to the oil and gas industry. Often called the oil capital of Europe, it vies for that title with Stavanger, Norway — where Viasat Energy Services has another busy office.

While Stavanger is the headquarters for international energy company Equinor, and the home office for a majority of Norwegian Continental Shelf oil operators, Aberdeen boasts the largest heliport in the world and an important harbor port serving offshore oil rigs. An estimated half-million of the jobs in Aberdeen are linked to the energy industry.

Viasat employees in Aberdeen Scotland

From left, Aberdeen, Scotland VES employees area manager Terry O’Shaughnessy, coordinator Hugh Fraser and engineering manager Kevin Simpson

It’s a logical base for VES, which provides advanced communications and network solutions to traditional oil and gas drilling rigs, platforms and industry-related vessels —and increasingly to renewable energy operations.

VES, formerly RigNet, has had an office there since 2005. Viasat acquired RigNet in 2021.

Aberdeen’s VES office is an operational center for its managed communications and systems integration business. The managed communications sector currently runs customer services to more than 40 sites and projects. Meanwhile, systems integration employees design and build the communications systems that are installed on oil and gas rigs and at other business sites.

“The need for data has just grown, and it’s going to grow more and more through digitization of the oilfield and increasingly moving people onshore in favor of remote control and artificial intelligence.”
Terry O’Shaughnessy

The office also has a technical services division to manage small projects and offshore maintenance, a meteorological ocean segment to monitor weather for offshore installations, and its own human resources, finance and other office-specific functions.

Designing systems on site

Senior engineering manager Peter Bruce, who oversees the systems integration side, says he enjoys the daily challenges his work brings.

“No two projects are the same,” he said. “Even when we do a clone of one vessel to another, it never comes out the same. There are always dynamic challenges that need to be addressed.”

Bruce and his team of 23 engineers build the equipment and cabinets that house the systems in the Aberdeen office workshop. Then they run factory acceptance tests to ensure the equipment performs as required.

“We have everything set up here to meet the client’s requirements before we send it anywhere,” he said. “It’s nice to see it all working before it even goes to the site.”

The team is currently working on five projects in Qatar, offshore projects in Singapore, Ghana, Brazil and Australia. They’re also designing systems for a carbon capture operation in Norway and a wind farm substation in Germany. They recently completed an initial engineering design for a floating wind farm in France.

“There’s a lot of merit in diversifying away from just pure oil and gas,” he said. “So we’re getting our foot in renewables and will be doing more and more of that.

“We are extremely busy at the moment. All of these operations need communications. Whether it’s a wind farm, or an oil and gas installation — the telecom is very similar.”

Keeping customers happy

Work is no less demanding on the managed communications side. Terry O’Shaughnessy oversees company operations throughout Europe and Africa, and is currently managing 42 customer requests ranging from minor requests — taking a day or so to supply hardware or upgrade\downgrade satellite services — to larger projects for a variety of offshore platforms.

In preparation for service from the upcoming ViaSat-3 global constellation, they currently are focused on a regional Ka-band migration for their customer base. That includes the office’s prime customer, a large offshore drilling and well-drilling company.

“My job is to really to pull together and manage the team in delivering all the customer requests for service from all aspects and ensuring the support is at hand to do so,” O’Shaughnessy said. “We look after the customer from the moment we deploy a system to the moment we stop or remove the service. That could be anywhere from months to several years. Whether things go right or wrong, we are on hand to help the customer with the service.”

Like Bruce, he enjoys the endless variety that comes with his work.

“I like that one day is never the same,” he said. “Different challenges arise, which keeps me and the team on our toes and focused.

“It’s very much people-facing and problem solving. You have deal with a whole spectrum of customers across different countries and cultures. You need to respect, understand and act appropriately to ensure that the customer needs are met – sometimes under tight or uncertain timelines.”

O’Shaughnessy is dedicated to conquering those issues and meeting the customer’s communication requirements.

“Our services are incredibly needed, and it’s very satisfying to see the teamwork happen and everybody pulling together to deal with any problems and successes we encounter,” he said. “That’s where I find the most joy.”

The industry is constantly changing, and that too keeps him and his team at the front of their game.

“The whole environment turned with the conflict in Ukraine,” he said. “There is a rush to oil and different sources of oil. And there is also the rush to renewables. All of it that is driving a lot of investment. The oil and gas business is cyclical, but it’s very market driven. And at the moment, the market is really buoyant.

“The need for data has just grown, and it’s going to grow more and more through digitization of the oilfield and increasingly moving people onshore in favor of remote control and artificial intelligence.”

Beyond current market fluctuations, O’Shaughnessy looks forward to the changes the Viasat acquisition will bring.

“I like the fact that Viasat has its own satellite network,” he said. “It also has technology leaders, visionary people that are already showing me we’ve got an exciting future ahead.”