Book review—Integrated operations in the oil and gas industry

Norway’s ‘world leading,’ digital oilfield initiatives described in 400 page volume discussing pros and cons of remote operations centers and implications for situational awareness and safety.

Integrated operations in oil and gas industry (IOOG*), subtitled ‘sustainability and capability development’ is a 400 plus page large format, multi-authored publication, with contributions from (mostly) academia and industry. In their introduction, editors Tom Rosendahl of the BI Norway Business School and Vidar Hepso (NNTU) relate integrated operations (IO) to projects like Chevron’s i-Field, BP’s Field of the future and others. While most oil and gas companies have some such initiative ongoing, according to Rosendahl, Norway’s IO initiative is ‘regarded by many as the world’s most advanced.’ The essence of IO is the migration of operations and personnel from the offshore to the onshore, thanks to the deployment of information and communications technology (ICT) and remote operations/collaboration centers.

In his introduction, Rosendahl summarizes some of the ‘issues’ around IO. At the turn of the millennium there was an ‘overoptimistic belief’ in the IO and its potential benefits. Much of the early work was technology based, remote control was ‘heralded with enthusiasm.’ At the same time, others argued that IO is all about ‘people and processes’ and not about technology. For Rosendahl, both views have proved wrong. Successful IO deployment requires restructuring of work processes and management, particularly management of change, is the key.

This is where the ‘capability development’ terminology of the book’s subtitle comes in. This Rosendahl defines as a holistic approach involving human skills, work processes, governance and technology to effect change. On which topic, IOOG acknowledges the role played by Tony Edwards and his Step Change Global consultancy. Edwards is mentioned 48 times in IOOG and is said to have introduced the capability framework into Norway.

Despite the ‘holistic’ claims, IOOG is really about the soft side of managing technology. It is also weighted to an academic viewpoint. An early chapter introduces the ‘capability platform,’ an information ‘ecology’ and more key buzzwords. Both people and technology are required for success. Network centric design ‘moves the center of gravity of the organization to the edge’ and enables ‘generativity’ of new ideas. Statoil’s IT is discussed but there is curiously no Statoil authorship in IOOG.

The ‘pinnacle’ of IO is the collaboration room, an onshore facility where operators and experts direct operations. But Norway’s large offshore facilities are still manned—requiring the collaboration room to be replicated offshore in what has come to be know as the ‘glass cage.’ An anonymized (but you know who it is) discussion of IO at a Norwegian oil company found a dilemma in that while the onshore/offshore teams have good shared situational awareness, sometimes offshore leaders ‘spend too much of their time in the glass cage.’ Email is reported as a ‘time thief’ and is showing no signs of abating. Overall the impact on safety remains moot. Moving workers onshore improves their personal safety but lessens their ‘situational awareness.’

Remote operations’ impact on safety is complex. Removing operators from an offshore site moves them away from danger, but even with a sophisticated remote operations center, it is hard to achieve the ‘situational awareness’ of being on-the-spot. In fact we misread the title of the penultimate chapter ‘IO as a contributing factor to major accidents.’ Surely there should have been ‘avoiding’ in there? But no, the authors take a hard nosed look at the risks induced by moving command away from operations.

Oil IT Journal has been following developments in Norway’s Integrated Operations initiative since 2004 and in particular, the Integrated Information Platform (IIP) which inspired a POSC (now Energistics) IO special interest group. We were therefore surprised that IOOG, despite having over 20 index references to ‘information and communications technology,’ makes no mention at all of the IIP. What we have always understood to be the IIP’s key technology, ISO 15926 and the semantic web are only mentioned (with no development) once each. This omission likely reflects what IOOG describes a ‘tribal war’ between those who focus on the ‘data and technology’ dimension and those who focus on the ‘human and social.’ It is clear which side of the tribal war IOOG is on! The self-imposed requirement to ‘balance’ people and technology prevents any serious discussion of automation, an awkward subject which the authors have largely avoided. But whether you are ‘techno’ or ‘people,’ IOOG provides many worthwhile insights—too many to present in this short review.

* IOOG, IGI Global 2013. ISBN 9781466620025.

This article originally appeared in Oil IT Journal 2014 Issue # 9.

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