Standards and openness proliferate, but which is the right one? (February 1999)

PDM's Editor Neil McNaughton reflects on the arrival of two new standards initiatives which have arrived at a time when the industry is struggling for survival. He concludes that we are lucky that the major players in IT are taking a serious interest in the upstream.

There is good news and bad news this month. Good news in that data management and interoperability are getting some serious attention. Bad news that they might just be getting too much attention. First for the good news. A short while ago, when we built the last E&P Pleasantville on the strength of ephemeral $ 17-ish oil, when data management reached something of a summit (as shown by Helen Stephenson's survey in last month's PDM) and when we were forecasting dire personnel shortage and new ways of doing business, something important happened. We got noticed!

Bill, Larry and Hasso

We got noticed by some of the biggest players in IT. Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and Hasso Plattner, respectively shot-callers at Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. They got their minions to beaver away at checking out the industry and found - a challenge. Bill, Larry and Hasso then instructed the said minions to go forth and offer a solution to the challenge of oil industry data management, and they did. Each with their own special a priori. Just as Henry Ford offered the model T in any color 'so long as it is black', our new champions offered similar flexibility. For Microsoft, it could be anything 'so long as it is COM', for Oracle anything again 'so long as it is Oracle 8' and for SAP, anything more 'so long as it is BAPI'.

Buttered toast

The concomitant bad news - I know you've already guessed - actually fits in to a very general principle of science. The 19th Century French industrial chemist Henri-Lewis Le Chatelier conjectured that "A change in a variable that determines the state of a system's equilibrium causes a shift in the position of equilibrium in a direction that tends to counteract the change in the variable under consideration." Which being interpreted could be considered as being a formalization of what is known in the UK as Sod's law, in the US as Murphy's law and in France as the law of falling buttered toast. It is reassuring to see that Chatelier's law is still at work in the field of E&P interoperability. How is that? I hear you ask.


Well the argument goes as follows. First you have a growing multitude of applications which can't talk to each other. Then humankind, in the form of standards organizations, enthusiasts and data managers in general decide 'wouldn't it just be great is we all agreed to fix this by standardization'. Then Le Chatelier's principle kicks in by returning, after a few years of effort a growing multiplicity of standards! Or as Bill Sumner suggested last year, "an N-squared problem of solutions to the N-squared problem". Or again as Jim Theriot of POSC put it, an "N-cubed problem of mapping between different applications convolved with different versions of data models". Whatever N was before, just got bigger by 2

And OpenDAEX?

Actually N grew by 3 this month with the announcement by Oilfield Systems of yet another interoperability initiative, OpenDAEX. You may have spotted our attempt to have two front pages for PDM this month. We really would have liked to have had three, with DAEX on the third, but that was beyond our own technology barriers. Let it suffice to say that for the community of DAEX users and developers, the OpenDAEX initiative makes a tempting addition to the interop sweepstakes.


So although the interest bestowed on our business by the greats of the IT world is flattering, some of these considerations are going to make IT investment in the upstream quite a tricky issue in the medium term. I would suggest though, in view of the nature of the protagonists and in the light of the above analysis that when analyzing the various offerings you eliminate the words 'open' and 'standard' from the discussion and judge their merits on what is left. To kick off the analysis we offer our own preliminary review of how the commercial cards are stacking up below. Despite the caveats, all this new-found enthusiasm is great, we just hope it withstands the undoubted negative pressure of the downturn. Sure makes the data managers job interesting.

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