Picture this, you are the CEO of the Really Big Oil Co. and your latest share float has just brought you a few hundred million dollars to spend on new ventures. Yours is a brave new post BPR organization with a flat structure, no more of that middle management and you are going to do some real decision making yourself. But where do you start, how do you access all that mission critical data that your minions play around with on their desktops? Landmark Graphics Corporation believes they can now supply exploration decision-makers with just the kind of all-seeing viewpoint that this type of exercise demands with the roll out of the first demonstration versions of what has been described as the Finder Killer. Firing up Open Explorer (on a Unix box or a PC) you are presented with a Dr. Strangelove type view of the world. At will you conjure up, not the locations of the enemy submarine fleet, but a display of the worlds sedimentary basins, permits, even the 220,000 well locations of the demo data set supplied by Petroconsultants. Zoom in and country names appear and other details become visible as the map scale gets bigger. The display is a split screen, with the now familiar combination of map workspace on the right, and a "tree view" display of data types on the left a la Netscape 3.0.
Now you are getting down to some serious work. A database query pulls up production data from neighboring acreage in the form of a bubble map. Once you have selected your area of interest, another query displays open acreage, and even allows for neighborhood analysis for searching for potential partners/operators in surrounding blocks. Pop up windows allow for a wide range of queries, and can be customized. The English language query builder is more like Access than Oracle Forms, in other words it is reasonably user friendly. Queries can be customized of course which leads to the obvious question as to how Landmark are going to manage the problem of multiple versions of their product as each company customizes to its own ends. While recognizing that this is a potential (inevitable?) problem, Landmark claim that the customizable part of the product is well separated from the production software and that during upgrade, it should be possible to retain and run existing queries against the newer versions. This problem has snowballed into a major issue for Finder users as we reported in last month's PDM. After a brief demonstration of a beta version of OpenExplorer, we cannot personally vouch that this interface does everything that you will want it to, but it does at least do what it does in the way you would expect it to. It is as they say, intuitive, with a click on a well bringing up for instance its' scout ticket. Currently around 50 forms are available for standard query/data display, with about 100 forms anticipated for when the product is rolled out around the end of the year. Access to external databases is also provided with PetroBank at the top of the list (see below), but also Robertson Research in a North Sea Context, QC Data in Dallas and so on.
Open Explorer is built with solid building bricks, Oracle and ArcView, so that database access is slick and fast with large vectors brought to the display in a very snappy manner. Currently the technology behind this involves storing bulk data in Oracle Blobs (binary large objects) but plans are afoot to incorporate one or both of the new "hhcode" technologies (either Oracle's Spatial Database Engine (SDE) or ESRI's Spatial Database Option (SDO)). These promise better access and more intelligent querying of spatial data. The underlying database is described as a superset of OpenWorks, which is being built up with "POSC" compliant additions such as seismics (from the POSC/PPDM Discovery subset) and reservoir modeling from the SAVE project. So some companies will soon have "POSC compliant" databases from GeoQuest AND Landmark in the same shop, and the senior management who have financed all these initiatives will, legitimately, then ask to see them "plug and play". Well, they won't, so you IT people who got us here had better dream up some good excuses, or think about changing jobs.
Will Open Explorer "kill" Finder. An old IT joke used to go "How come it only took God seven days to make the world?" the answer "No installed base". Indeed starting from scratch makes the developers task a lot easier. But not the salesmans. GeoQuest recently claimed 50 sales per month, and that is a hard act to follow. One thing is for sure, Finder will probably get better with the arrival of Open Explorer, which itself will certainly win over predominantly Landmark shops, and if it lives up to its initial promise, many those others who have not yet made up their minds. So now that Landmark has a serious GIS front end for Open Works, how does their offer shape up in the corporate data store marketplace? In what amounts to a "belt and braces" approach, Landmark has simultaneously signed with IBM to become what they term a PetroBank "reseller".
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