Technology Not the be-all-and-end-all

New technology for integrated operations not only brings changes that speed up the amount and quality of information available to operators, but also inevitably changes the way in which people work. Companies that integrate advances in information and communication technology and processes with workforce-related solutions will be on the cutting edge of the industry’s “quiet revolution.”

Clearly the movement to use real-time data and information technology is changing the way we work.  However technological changes cannot be regarded as strictly IT projects. Ignoring the other elements of an Integrated Operations (IO) implementation leads to failure rather than transformation.  It may come as a shock to some, but technology is an enabler, not a final destination: one which forces a change in the way we work but does not by itself define the success of a project.

 

Connecting people to real-time information fundamentally alters an organization in a number of ways:

•          It speeds up the work process

•          It provides data and information that crosses traditional historical boundaries

•          It connects locations that are geographically remote

•          It allows teams with different backgrounds to collaborate on the same assets.

 

So what is it that has driven these changes? Firstly, we are looking further and deeper for hydrocarbons, in frontier areas that require better technology and better ways of working in order to minimize risk and optimize production.  Many operators previously associated with the heartlands of oil and gas production – the Gulf of Mexico, NSCS and Alaska for example – are venturing into more remote geographical areas, with little or no infrastructure, which by their very nature require innovation in both technology and working practices.

 

Secondly, there has been much discussion in recent years about “crew change”.  It is undeniable that the demographics are concerning – it is estimated that fifty percent of Oil and Gas personnel are due to retire within the next decade, and they will take with them perhaps eighty percent of the knowledge.  It is no longer feasible to staff a project in the traditional way – not only is the personnel not available, but the increase in remote and inhospitable locations quite simply reduces the number of people willing to go.   If we want to attract and retain young engineers we have to embrace IO, or they will simply go elsewhere.   With that in mind, the All of this makes the utilization of technology, and more importantly the way we use it, becomes daily more relevant.

Multi-Disciplinary working

One significant challenge facing the industry today is the lack of personnel familiar with both digital IT technologies and the needs of the industry.  Data Management has long been a hot topic in Oil and Gas, and the need for good quality data and incubating new functions can be a challenge. Finding dedicated data managers or digital engineers – someone who understands not only the engineering, but also the data and IT sides of a project – can be difficult. The use of IO can help capture the ‘brain drain’ that is occurring in the industry, through the encouragement of sharing information within multi-disciplinary teams.

 

Only by moving towards multi-disciplinary teams of work can sustainable, value-added capability be brought to the process.  Production optimization teams that include reservoir people, petroleum engineers, operations and facilities engineers and commercial experts, enables a lot more options in the way that information flows between the different groups.

 

However this in itself needs to be approached with caution.  Expecting people that have worked a certain way for twenty years or more to work in a multi-disciplinary team can be a hard sell.  We are all resistant to change, and too much change all at once can be hard to accept.  So how do you manage that?  The simple truth is that innovations in an organization, the way people work and the organizational processes are difficult to implement, but the ultimate increase in bottom line results together with reduction of risk on a personal level makes the challenges inherent in an IO implementation worth the effort.

Change is Here to Stay

It has to be noted that all of our organisations are very different – while the fundamental focus for an operator is to find more oil cheaply, safely, and quickly, we are by nature different in the way we do things.  More specifically perhaps, IO is dependent on the operational value opportunities available, and these vary across a portfolio of assets.  IO is not a “one size fits all” solution – it’s a broad and multi-faceted collection of skills, encompassing automation, system integration, IT, discipline process knowledge, people and organizational change management to name but a few, and it is unrealistic either to expect one company to take on all of these without support, or indeed to find a single vendor that can supply all of these skills in one hit.

 

While there are a significant number of challenges facing the proponents of Integrated Operations, the future of Oil and Gas that is IO is here to stay.  As we become more comfortable with a new way of working, so the benefits will become clearer and worth the effort of managing change within the workplace.  The only way to deal with the challenges of deeper, more remote environments whilst coping with a growing shortage of people with deep-seated experience and problem solving ability is to take on the challenges of the digital oilfield, to use whatever is needed to persuade opponents of change that the new way isn’t the wrong way, and make the most of whatever technology is available to us, whether it is rooted in Oil and Gas or borrowed from other industries.  It won’t be long before the bottom line confirms that our investment in integrated operations has been worth every penny.

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