More than meets the eye in ‘commercial’ vs. ‘not for profit'

Neil McNaughton reports back from the 2016 Intelligent Energy conference on its role in breaking down the silo walls between IT and 'the business.’ While IE and its Digital Energy twin do a good job, they face increasing competition from the ‘for-profit’ user groups such as the Esri PUG, the OSIsoft user conference and the Spotfire Energy conference. All to be reported from ‘real soon now!’

I have been editing Oil IT Journal since 1996. That rather long time frame means that when I go to conferences today I am often greeted by some rather old (like myself) folks for whom there is nothing new under the sun.

It has not always been thus. In the early days, although I was no spring chicken myself I felt somewhat junior to the white-haired individuals that held forth about this and that. The deference of youth and the realization that I had a lot to learn colored my reporting. I was a bit more open to new technology than I am now although I carried some of prejudices that I picked up from my earlier years as an end user. Notably a disdain for things ‘commercial’ and a more open mind for ‘not-for-profit’ SPE/SEG style output.

One ‘raison d’être’ of what was originally Petroleum Data Manager and is now Oil IT Journal was the pleasure that I took in pointing out that much of what is presented as new is, in fact, old. In my twenty years or so (before Oil IT Journal) of working for oil and gas and service companies, I observed that some, but not all projects, are launched on the premise that ‘there is nothing in the market place that does this.’ Not finding something ‘out there’ is almost always due to an extremely perfunctory search. Hence Oil IT Journal’s exhaustive (well quite) enumeration of stuff that is there and that folks ought to be aware of before embarking on something ‘new.’

As we have now been publishing for twenty years or so, I am now myself in the grey-haired brigade of folks who probably should have been ‘crew changed’ but have not, for various reasons which I do not propose to go into right now. Meanwhile, the young ‘generation X’ folks and millennials have moved up the pecking order and are now calling the shots and even kicking off projects here and there.

I would love to be able to say that this younger cohort of managers are all avid readers of Oil IT Journal and that it has permeated their reasoning. But unfortunately, this is not the case. While we have a reasonable subscriber base in oil and gas and service companies of all sizes, it is clear to me that we have a lot more to do in terms of touching a new generation of decision makers and helping them with some history and culture of what has gone before and what is going on now in parts of the industry and world that they may not be familiar with.

A major reason for our lack of penetration and, incidentally, an obstacle to making real progress in matters IT is the way that, despite calls for ‘collaboration and cooperation,’ industry loves to put up silo walls and live within their boundaries. Thus, someone with an IT hat, will read Information Week. Someone with an engineering hat will read the Journal of Petroleum Technology. Asking members of either of these communities to spend an extra couple of hours a month reading Oil IT Journal is a tough call even though we know it is worth the effort don’t we!

The Intelligent Energy (a.k.a. Digital Energy) community whose members met last month in Aberdeen is likewise a silo-crossing initiative. Oil IT Journal subscribers can read our report from the event on page 6 of this issue. The IE/DE events have been going for ten years or so and so have seen the aging and replacement of the community and the slow evolution of digital culture.

At the 2007 Digital Energy event, discussion centered on the need for a new breed of ‘renaissance’ engineers with IT knowledge. There was a debate as to whether engineers should be trained in IT or vice versa. I’m not sure what the outcome was then or what the situation is now. But I see a parallel with upstream data management which likewise requires folks with a dual competency in the business and in IT. In data management, it is only now that such courses are getting going (see last month’s issue).

Judging from the 2016 Intelligent Energy event, I’m not sure if the movement has resulted in renaissance engineers. The content is interesting if a little repetitive. It could be that the event has become a victim of its own success in that presentations are sometimes indistinguishable in content from what might be presented in, say, the SPE ATCE. And why not indeed? ‘Digital’ is now pervasive and here to stay. The question now arises; do we still need IE/DE? The answer is definitely yes because although digital may be pervasive, it is still at risk from the silo effect. IE/DE is one of the main events where the silo walls are breached and to good effect.

You may be wondering what the other events that do a similar job of spanning IT and the business. I will put you out of your misery straight away and try to bring the unraveling threads of this editorial together. The events that challenge IE/DE for primacy in silo busting are the commercial for-profit user groups. In the last couple of months, I have attended the OSIsoft user conference, the Esri Petroleum User Group and will be reporting from these in future issues. Also next month, we will be reporting virtually from the excellent Spotfire Energy conference which also took place recently. The quality of these events – despite their ‘commercial’ nature is well up to the standard of IE/DE. In fact the user group nature of these events can mean that they are an outlet for more impactful examples of real technology use than some of the IE/DE material.

OK there are a few raveled threads left here. In our next issue, I will explain why a good knowledge of the history of upstream IT is important, what the grey haired brigade achieved and provide more evidence of how ‘commercial’ has taken up the baton dropped by the not-for-profits.


This article originally appeared in Oil IT Journal 2016 Issue # 8.

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