BP Amoco 'Be big and small at the same time!' (January 1999)

Speaking at the 2nd SMI Annual E&P Data Management Conference in London this month, Chris Mottershead, Technology Business Manager with BP Amoco described how the new conglomerate was set to square the circle by being both big – gaining economies of scale AND small, quick-witted and smart, by breaking the whole behemoth into 134 business units throughout the world.

For BP’s technology guru Chris Mottershead, the collapse of the oil price and the concomitant restructuring of the oil industry is an event of magnitude comparable to the breakup of standard Oil at the (last) turn of the century, or to the first middle east oil price hike back in the early ‘70s. BP are projecting low oil prices for ‘some considerable time’ (see Baird article in this issue for a more optimistic viewpoint). The revised gospel according to BP is that Oil has become a commodity, and it is ‘in the nature of things for commodities to get cheaper’. A 50% forecast slow-down in world growth for 1999 does not help matters. In Business Process Reengineering (BPR) terms, the options for a company are usually to be either small, responsive and focused or big enough to benefit from economies of scale. BP’s plan therefore, is to be both of these by creating some 134 new assets and keeping a thin umbrella organization to reap the benefits of scale.

Impact on data management

Since we are therefore in a low margin business, there is no long term money any more for mundane chores like Data Management. Mottershead painted a jaded picture of the history of data management in BP. From the early days when BP realized they had 34 varieties of SEG-Y in house, through the POSC data model, Common Data Aaccess, to integrated tools such as GeoFrame. Current interest centers on the Shared Earth Model from Geomatic – used to store interpreted data in a geo-registered 3D environment - and common workflows from Landmark. But there is still a huge gap between reality and aspirations, we are still "searching for high quality data and we get irritated when it is not there". Mottershead suggested that we should back off from such aspirations of perfection. Far from the vaunted 80/20 rule – where solutions should aim at supplying the 80 % of the most used functionality, current data management struggles to get near to a 50% solution to our woes. Mottershead’s solution? A top-down analysis beginning at the level of the business process and going down to the nitty-gritty level of SEG-Y and the like.

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