Intranet Strategy in Oil and Gas (November 1999)

PDM reports on the First Conference Internet Strategy in Oil and Gas event held in Houston last month. Conventional IT is facing its biggest challenge yet as the lines are drawn in the battle between centralized IT and the distributed ‘chaos’ of the intranet.

The old battle grounds of centralized and decentralized IT, of mainframe against micro and of order and chaos have been accentuated by the heady mix of the intranet and the empowered Business Unit (BU). The old ‘civil war’ over computer resources has just moved to a new battleground. Corporate IT, representing central control is still slugging it out with the BU rebels, and speakers at the First Conference Intranets in Oil and Gas event, held in Houston last month, dug-in eagerly at various points on the order-chaos spectrum.


Conoco Inc.’s Michael Gibbs described a situation which has evolved from an early Executive Information System (EIS) developed during the eighties. This ‘CEO-only’ system was replaced in 1996 by an intranet, emphasizing business ownership, creativity and speed. Code words for chaos. An independent evaluation of the system was conducted in 1999 and found various inconsistencies and weaknesses leading to a tightening of the reins. Gibbs believes a light hand is required with some central content management. Planned changes include a corporate portal as anchor point, a style guide for common look and feel and a network of web masters and designers to identify and enforce corporate best practices.


Mobil Oil is located near the control side of the continuum according to Rob Esser, thanks to a uniform world-wide IT infrastructure. This is made up of Lotus Notes and Domino Technology developed into Mobil’s Global Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Network Information Enabler (GENIE).


The aim is to have an EHS management system, to formalize and standardize methodologies managing EHS activities, clarify accountabilities, facilitate sharing of preferred practices and bridge EHS policy and local facility activities. To keep the database growing, the system makes it easy to add and categorize new documents. The knowledge base grows thanks to a work process that reviews and validated EHS best practices. As a document passes through the process, it is marked first as "Validated" and later, if it passes muster, as a "Preferred Practice". GENIE was marketed internally and contributors to the database are recognized and rewarded at environmental awareness events.


David Sims (Schlumberger) observed that most companies do not really have an IT strategy. Applications justify the infrastructure and they are managed ‘tactically.’ Schlumberger prefers to standardize at the network level and to accept that applications, computers, and operating systems will come and go. This allows for greater flexibility at the level of the application. The aim is for organizational creativity rather than precise control. For Schlumberger this translates into a worldwide system which has evolved from a packet switching backbone in 1985, through various protocols to settle on TCP/IP. Currently there are 35,000 users at 450 locations in 60 countries. Sims believes the system is "flexible, powerful and evolutionary" and does not see the need for central control of style or content. As the internet demonstrates, successful indexing does not depend on website style and works ‘just fine.’


Marathon is at a similar position to Schlumberger in the control spectrum, according to Jeremy Zawodny. Infrastructure is centrally controlled and includes hardware, security and – very importantly – a uniform taxonomy which is the foundation for successful indexing and search.


David Quackenbush, (Luminant) suggested that expectations for web projects should be set high. "If an intranet project takes more than 8 weeks to deliver some functionality and if it does not "stop executives in their tracks," it did not achieve its objectives."

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