Book Review: A Digital Journey: The transformation of the oiland gas industry

Steve Cooper and Jim Crompton’s new book traces the failures of ‘Digital Oilfield 1.0’ and the movement’s resuscitation in today’s ‘digital transformation’. Big data and analytics will fail too unless there is a renewed focus on data management fundamentals, perhaps with the deployment of a master data management solution like EnergyIQ’s TDM, used throughout in a soft sell-cum-illustration of the ‘fundamentals’. The authors argue that ‘things will be different this time’.

A Digital Journey (ADJ): The transformation of the oil and gas industry* by Steve Cooper (EnergyIQ) and Jim Crompton (Reflections Data Consulting) is ‘about data and data management in the oil and gas industry’. The book results from survey of data management carried out by EnergyIQ that was to be published as a white paper. Reviewer Crompton felt this was ‘too long for a paper and too short for a book’. Consequently, the survey results were expanded to cover data management in the context of the broader, ‘digital transformation’ of industry. The authors have it that the digital oilfield initiatives of the previous decade are over. These included various enterprise data initiatives that however, ‘typically did not result in the anticipated returns to the business’, with even some ‘spectacular failures’ (they don’t say where these occurred). A contribution to the failure of DO 1.0 was the various attempts to ‘place [generic] business intelligence tools directly in the hands of users without […] basic data governance and stewardship’. Elsewhere DO programs became ‘a technology-focused marketing campaign’. The authors believe that digital oilfield 1.0 is now at an end and that the industry is entering a new phase of the digital transformation which they term digital oilfield 2.0. ADJ is largely an attempt to explain why things are or will be different this time.

One argument defended in ADJ is that, while complete data and interpretation platforms are available (Landmark’s DecisionSpace, Schlumberger’s Delfi), these leave companies ‘beholden to a single vendor and a limited set of consultants’. Operators are ‘increasingly looking for best of breed solutions […] from a variety of vendors and industries’. This is tricky because exploration systems are still siloed, many data processes are manual and there is a lack of standardization across industry suppliers. The numerous attempts to address such issues in the past have proved expensive, unwieldy and ‘driven by IT rather than the business’. In general, there has been far too much focus on the technology and too little attention given to the people and process side of the equation.

DO 2.0 is now facing another challenge. The digital oilfield evangelists of yore are now turning to the new world of analytics, machine learning, Hadoop and big data. For the ADJ authors, while ‘this work is very interesting, it does not address the fundamental challenges’. At this point, ADJ bifurcates somewhat into one track (Crompton’s?) that defends the new analytics fields, albeit with numerous caveats, and another (Cooper’s?) that follows a more hands-on approach to data management. The two themes are linked with the observation that attention the more prosaic data management theme is a necessary (but often overlooked) prerequisite for the more sexy ‘big data’ stuff.

The Crompton thread ranges widely and in an entertaining fashion across big data, the internet of things, the digital twin and industry standards to discuss ‘what is different this time?’ Today, the differences are externalities such as a flat oil price, a reduced industry head count and the need to do more with less, especially in the context of factory drilling in shale basins. The argument goes that ‘digital technology has played a key role in the post 2014 return to profitability and will play an even bigger role going forward’.

The Cooper trend naturally turns to EnergyIQ’s Trusted Data Management (TDM) platform. This is used throughout ADJ as the manifestation of best practices. Likewise, the PPDM E&P data model is considered the gold standard for describing and managing upstream data. But this turns out to be something of a back-to-the-future development. A large part of ADJ is devoted to master data management as implemented in the PPDM-based TDM and augmented with compelling data visualizations leveraging Esri GIS and INT’s well log viewer. The essentials of MDM in the upstream go back a long way, to before the start of DO 1.0 in fact. Back in 2008 in our Data Management 101 editorial we summarized industry thinking on master data management and other fundamentals. The lookup table approach of TDM, containing well identifiers as used in different software products, has been deployed by many vendors and consultants to tie disparate systems together.

The Cooper and Crompton lines of reasoning come together in that EnergyIQ is now deployable in the cloud. It also uses a NoSQL database (ElasticSearch) for documents and big data storage. These are indeed novel technologies, perhaps things that are ‘different now’ but these novel approaches are, disappointingly, rather poorly developed in ADJ.

A more comprehensive treatment is given to well lifecycle data management. This describes how EnergyIQ has turned the PPDM ‘what is a well’ pamphlet into a database schema of a well hierarchy, embedded with its TDM lookup tables and unique well ID, the Ekey, so far internal to EnergyIQ. Here again the authors argue against the use of generic technology, ‘many companies have tried to build these [systems of record] solutions themselves using a generic ETL tool with limited success because of domain complexities’. The SOR approach is contrasted with a free-for-all data lake.

ADJ observes that the ‘big crew change’ is now behind us. Today, some 40% of the industry workforce is under 40 years old. This has meant that a lot of industry know-how, or ‘tribal knowledge’, has disappeared as the old tribe retires. Elsewhere such knowledge is locked away in PowerPoints and conference presentations.

The authors argue that the well lifecycle approach, along with workflow automation, are key to the digital transformation. The discussion of the Ekey include a short history of the search for a global well identifier (GUWI) that in the end failed when the contractor IHS refused to make its identifiers available to the public**.

All in all, ADJ is an entertaining read even if the dual themes of data management and digital transformation remain somewhat disjoint. The authors are correct in arguing for better data management and QC as a prerequisite for the digital transformation, whatever that means. They are also correct in stressing the importance of well metadata and unique IDs. But these are learnings from the earliest days of oil and gas data management. One is left feeling that little has or will change in DO 2.0. This is probably because of the commercial pressures and foot dragging from software vendors and the tendency on the part of operators to listen to and act on the siren calls from the big IT consultants to continually ‘disrupt’.

* ISBN 9781 7918 909 02.

** If we may just blow our own trumpet here, the search for a GUWI was first mentioned in Oil IT Journal back in 2004. It’s curious that ADJ’s authors, both long-time readers of Oil IT Journal, failed to mention this source of industry ‘tribal knowledge’ since 1996 and still going strong!

This article originally appeared in Oil IT Journal 2019 Issue # 2.

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