Swelling data volumes in oil and gas make enterprise planning essential, says Knut Møystad
Every year oil and gas companies undertake a huge number of data-rich projects, with increasing reliance on automation and the application of advanced computer analysis to the ever-growing amount of digital information. With this in mind, and coupled with operational, financial and regulatory processes more complex than those found in any other industry in the world, it is a matter of supreme curiosity as to why many oilfield service companies continue to overlook solutions that can not only help to simplify these projects, but also offer significant improvements in productivity.
The complexity of offshore projects is being exacerbated by the swelling data volumes tied to them. Each piece of equipment, as well as its context, is vital to the successful delivery of a project. It is not enough to know what this equipment can be used for – if managers are to ensure the smooth running of a project potentially worth millions of dollars, they must know precisely what each piece of equipment has been used for and what it may be used for in future. Most essential is to deliver projects in an efficient and reportable way (the latter becomes more important as cost creeps up), taking into account all actions for both the equipment and the workforce.
Obsolete systems are not much fun
Projects in the EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) industry live and die on this information; so having it kept in a Word file on a laptop on an offshore rig is probably not ideal, especially given that the information will need to be analysed and reported. Poring over such documents to do this can charitably be described as ‘not much fun’, or, more realistically, as an unnecessary drain on time and productivity, costing oilfield service companies a great deal of money. With this in mind, it becomes even more baffling that companies have not all turned from a document-based system, to one driven by the benefits of a database.
Yet many companies do still rely upon document-based systems. Industries such as retail and marketing, which have arguably less strenuous data demands than EPC, are seeing widespread adoption of database technology to tackle the data deluge. With EPCI, where complexity is a given, one must wonder what needs to happen before implementation of enterprise resource planning (ERP) technology becomes the standard.
Simplification is spelt ‘ERP’
ERP is a tool that covers business processes across a wide range of enterprise functions, from projects, to enterprise asset management (EAM), to document management. By implementing ERP oil and gas companies can tie all engineering and asset data together, ensuring that any revisions or updates are linked to the equipment needed for the project. This provides traceability and the context required to successfully run a project, without necessitating the many hours of poring over Word documents in order to define and/or analyse these changes. If you have an asset comprised of 10 pieces, such changes are easily recorded, but in a project with hundreds of thousands of components (which is the case for most EPC projects), the amount of data is insurmountable unless tied to a sufficient database. Whereas EAM is a vital tool for oil and gas companies when keeping record of all equipment (maintenance, reliability and more), ERP is a multi-purpose suite that can tie all this together and provide other functionality, too.
ERP can also empower mobility capabilities, a useful commodity for workers who are seldom settled in one place. Mobility is especially useful in ensuring that reporting meets the standard required for multi-million dollar projects, offering increased accuracy of information as all communications are up-to-date. With mobility, workers do not have to enter complex information into a laptop or desktop that could be many miles from their initial location. This can play an important part in the smooth-running of any project.
It seems that many oilfield service companies are resolutely loath to update legacy systems. This is understandable – old habits die hard, as they say. However, for those willing to make the change, there is an opportunity to overhaul a system that is not only outdated, but is easily replaceable with systems that can help to perform complex projects more efficiently while providing a clearer overview. In an industry so rife with complications, a little simplification can go a long way.
Knut Møystad is global director of Oil and Gas at IFS.