The SEGs annual conference and exposition took place the week that Microsoft sailed past General Electric to pole position in the market capitalization stakes. This was aptly described in the Financial Times as the "ascendancy of intellectual property and brainpower over manufacturing brawn". I wonder where E&P is in the brainpower/brawn spectrum. In some ways we are near the forefront of the brainpower stakes, in terms of IT effort and compute power. But our commodity, oil and gas, is a rather brawny, and currently out-of-favor in the marketplace. Bob Peebler (CEO, Landmark Graphics Corp.) bemoaned the fact that globally E&P spends far to little on IT for its own good (see our report in this issue). And indeed the absence of IBM and Oracle from the show underlines the industrys out-of-favor status. But nature abhors a vacuum, and when one lot goes, others rush in. E&P IT is a dynamic business, with companies such as Microsoft/Compaq/Digital, Informix and the embryonic offerings of the Open Spirit Alliance ready to step into the breach.
In the past, industry downturns have been seized-on as an opportunity to downsize. Typical targets for downsizing and outsourcing are the back-room tasks such as data management. Because these activities are hard to sell internally, they are hard to finance. IBM would undoubtedly concur with this view, having invested heavily in a data management solution, only to see the industry plead poverty. Although it seems like whistling while Rome burns, the main innovation at the SEGs annual conference and exhibition was the growing manifestation of Virtual Reality (VR) technologies. Today most of VR in E&P is rather limited in its scope. The displays are 3D but essentially still just visual (no force-feedback joysticks yet!), and the applications are either coming from research, or outside of the oil industry completely. Many doubt the usefulness of this technology, and it is hard to extract from proponents a clear statement of its use.
Most VR mission statements revolve around hackneyed concepts of the asset team needing to work together. This supposes that such teams have to be in the same room wearing 3D specs to do this. Of course the real revolution in IT is that you do not actually need to be anywhere near your colleagues to cooperate effectively. One demonstration I personally did enjoy was a virtual visit the new Geco-Prakla seismic boat which will be launched next year. After flying out to the boat in a helicopter, and touring around the cable deck, we jumped in the freezing waters of the north sea (actually the reality isnt that real, thank goodness) and swam around the gun arrays and the 20 streamers with their 6000 trace capacity. Subsequently wandering around the exhibition floor, I came across some of the real, non-virtual hardware that Id seen, and was able to engage the vendors in a relatively intelligent conversation on the intricacies of seismic cable winch technology. So VR has some sort of a role in training and advertising. We will be looking into how much of an impact this technology will have on our industry in next months PDM. But just to get back to the industry down-turn and how to survive it. I must say that the idea that our industry really needs a Visionarium in order to continue existing is a little hard to swallow in the current context. In fact I would suggest that if one was looking to specify a system that would offer a significant advantage to an asset team, then Id go for a PetroBank over a Visionarium right now!
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