1998, from riches to rags, a tale of yet another downturn. (January 1999)

PDM’s Editor, Neil McNaughton reflects on a year which started with a bang and ended with a whimper. From a bullish start, to a dire and desperate end with clouds on every horizon. But we had some fun on theway.

Last January we were basking in the enthusiastic post-SEG glow, the industry had a) convinced itself that the good times were back, and b) that we were going to be serious about things this time around. As an indication, late 1997 we were reporting on forecasts of severe staff shortages as the industry took off again. Well that didn’t last long did it. But 1998 did have its high points, which were – "consolidation, consolidation and consolidation". Consolidation amongst vendors with IHS finishing off its bulimic spree acquiring PI/Dwights, MAI Consultants, IEDS and others and IBM’s fire sale of Petrobank to PGS.


Another consolidation involves the mega-mergers of the major oils. Incidentally, I was driving back from town yesterday, stuck in some traffic when I noticed a sign that said "BP – Mobil!" In France, it is neither BP-Amoco, nor Exxon-Mobil, but rather a mega-mega merged BP-Exxon-Amoco-Mobil which supplies us with gas at around $4.4 a gallon! On another front, Bob Peebler, writing in the Oil and Gas Journal, advocated the formation of a mega SEG/AAPG/SPE organization, to enhance inter-disciplinary cooperation and reduce Landmark’s exhibitors fees!

Gates enters the fray

The spectacular entry of Microsoft into E&P computing was another highlight, with a memorable videotaped message from Bill himself to the attendees at the Landmark Worldwide Technology Forum. The thrust of the message – that Landmark was to be beta testing COM on UNIX – may seem a little bizarre with hindsight, but the presence was tangible. Microsoft’s presence at the SEG was equally real, with lots of DEC Alpha boxes re-labeled as "Compaq", and running NT of course. Microsoft still has some way to go with NT which, although ubiquitous in the stand-alone application end of the market, has failed to make much of an impact with the major application suites. These are still anchored in the SUN/UNIX world and are likely to remain so for a while. High performance computing and visualization are just that, and currently the push is towards 64 bit computing, although Sega’s 128 bit games console might leap-frog the UNIX crowd here!


Standards organizations had something of a bad time, with POSC re-inventing itself after the gravy-train funding of the original sponsors has evaporated. In the funding confusion, new-geometry projects such as the Shared Earth Model are still struggling to take-off, although the recently announced Synergy initiative (POSC and Oracle) looks promising. More on this in next month’s PDM. OpenSpirit is beginning to look like an interesting development in the fields of standards and interoperability, while both Geoshare and PPDM (with a big welcome for the new CEO Scott Beaugrand) still have wide support in their respective communities. RODE encapsulation of seismic data is gaining some currency and the UK’s PESGB is doing stalwart work re-writing the aging SEG-Y standard.

PDM Interoperability survey

Finally we’d like to mention one of PDM’s contributions to 1998, our interoperability survey. Over the past year we have had statements from POSC, PPDM, CGG, GeoQuest, Geoshare and Microsoft. Landmark is of course conspicuous by its absence here and has stated repeatedly that interoperability, for Landmark, is provided by Oracle’s SQL-Net. A pragmatic response, but not very enlightening in terms of say, Landmark’s position vis a vis OpenSpirit. To set things straight on this latter issue we bring you PDM’s quote of the year. At the OpenSpirit launch party in a steamy New Orleans last November, Landmark’s John Gibson, asked pointedly "When will Shell start eating their own dog-food?" Now that’s what I call a position statement.

Fin de siècle

So what of 1999? Well with the downturn, and the year 2000 on the horizon, don’t hold your breath waiting for massive IT investment. It will be heads down and all hands to the pump for a while. But a bit of a pause may be a blessing in disguise if we can use the time to fix some of the broken bits, and to educate those who in better times would be too busy to listen to us. So if I have one message for 1999 going on 2000, it is this. Make good use of the quiet times to put some order in your houses. Breathe a sigh of relief that there is no money for a Visionarium – which would only cloud the issue anyhow. Try to streamline your work-flows and enhance the quality of the data in your custody. And finally, educate, fight your corner, let management know that quality, accessible data is mission-critical, that millions of dollars have been lost and will be lost by data management and IT failures. It ain’t easy, and we ain’t through yet.

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