Is branch IT holding the oil & gas sector back?

Louise Davis

Is branch IT holding the Oil & Gas sector back? By Joe Bombagi

It is no secret that in recent years, the oil & gas industry has been enduring a period of economic slowdown that is showing no signs of improving. Although market downturn is often accompanied by the need to downsize and roll out cost-cutting measures, strategic investments that drive productivity and efficiency could help optimise existing resources rather than making cutbacks. 

It is in this current climate that the value of IT investment has become increasingly prominent. According to the latest oil & gas digital trends survey conducted by Accenture, 91% of IT leaders within this industry believe that digital technologies add value by helping them reduce costs, make faster and better decisions and increase workforce productivity. As a result, 80% of digital leaders plan to continue spending the same or more on digital technologies within the next three to five years, to manage the current productivity challenges in this low oil price environment. However, before companies can harness the full potential of these digital trends, they must ensure that they have created or enhanced the fundamental platform upon which these technologies are deployed and maintained. 

Is distributed IT holding organisations back?

Oil & gas organisations are defined by the distributed nature of their operations, which often includes offshore rigs and geographically remote locations. The traditional approach to providing mission-critical IT applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and collaboration tools to workers in remote locations, has been to deploy IT technologies such as servers, storage and security devices at the locations themselves. 

These sites are critical to directly contributing to the revenue of the business, however providing support for routine server maintenance, data backups and storage allocation can become a difficult task for any IT team. This means that companies typically have to deal with backup windows of over 24 hours, a period that can be further impacted by the need for the process to be paused to free up bandwidth for daily operations. As demonstrated by the findings of Riverbed’s Global App performance Survey, CIOs realise that business-critical data is certainly at risk without consistent and efficient infrastructure and operational procedures in place for remote IT. 

Embracing a software-defined edge approach

The motivation to provide less infrastructure and reduce IT complexity in the branch and data centre has led to convergence emerging as a key trend powering IT over the past five years. If implemented correctly, convergence can reduce the need for hardware, improve cost-efficiency for equipment and power, as well as lower demands on IT staff resources. 

A software-defined edge infrastructure can enable organisations to centralise distributed ROBO (remote office and branch office) IT infrastructure and operations, by virtualising and consolidating 100% of data and servers from these sites into the more secure on-shore data centre or even the public cloud. The reason this approach is ideal for the oil & gas industry is that typically, experts must be flown out in order to address IT issues on remote drilling rigs. The consequences of this are not only increased financial costs, but also considerable downtime and delays to daily operations. With a software-defined edge IT approach, all the remote infrastructure can be replaced by a single appliance, meaning little or no infrastructure at the branch. 

In short, through IT consolidation, organisations can benefit from higher reliability, seamless backup and immediate recovery. All can be achieved at a reduced cost, as IT teams no longer need to maintain costly servers and storage at branch locations. For remote oil & gas locations, this means that the costs associated with having to contract third-party IT support are also eliminated. 

Innovation through IT consolidation

According to GE, smart sensors and big data analytics will be key to helping oil companies extract an additional 80 billion barrels of oil around the world in the next three years. However, this will not be possible without data consolidation at the heart of a successful big data strategy. To run meaningful data analytics, the data being produced by enterprises from a vast number of independent branches must be collated at a centralised location. By consolidating IT back into a central data centre, data storage also becomes centralised. This not only improves security, but also allows organisations to have all the information they need in one single location. 

The basis for digital transformation

It is important to bear in mind that consolidation can only be considered successful when applications and data are easily accessible, with no degradation to performance, at branches and remote locations. However, when applications are hosted in central data centres and made available to branches, this can lead to slow-running applications, poor user-experience and a decrease in productivity. 

A comprehensive IT consolidation strategy must therefore account for these performance challenges. Fortunately, there are consolidation solutions available today that include integrated WAN optimisation technologies that enable companies to overcome the bandwidth and performance challenges that can arise at remote and offshore sites. 

A solution that includes WAN optimisation converged with intelligent storage-caching and virtualisation technology makes it possible to deliver applications in the most remote areas in the world. These locations could benefit immeasurably from centralising data for security purposes, whilst simultaneously having access to applications required to get work done on the rig. 

As low oil prices set to continue, now is the time for IT leaders in the industry to be making strategic infrastructure investments to ensure innovation, productivity and cost-effective business practices. By prioritising an IT consolidation and software-defined edge strategy, organisations can not only bring about immediate cost and productivity benefits, but also lay the foundation for future innovation contributing to digital transformation. 

Joe Bombagi is director of SteelFusion, EMEA and APJ at Riverbed Technology.

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