Bruce Rodney, from UK-based consultancy Exprodat analyses current trends in data management. (March 1999)

In this guest editorial, Bruce Rodney argues that the current economic climate mandates a new approach to data management. Bruce compares heavyweight and lightweight approaches to the problem and agrues in favor of greater flexibility.


The persistently low oil price has forced enormous changes throughout the industry in the past year. Companies are looking for ways to cut costs across the board, and budgets for 1999 have been slashed. Where does data and information management (IM) fit into this world of contracting service budgets? There is a real and increasing tension between the requirements for data management, which are to do with the longer-term preservation of data assets and building of corporate information and knowledge; and the business, which is increasingly short-term decision-focussed, with a use-and-discard approach to project data. The following current and predicted trends characterize this tension:

Data/Information Trends

Companies are assessing their entire IM strategies. They are looking for more flexible data access and purchase models, faster delivery to the business user and tighter integration with their existing systems. There is also an increasing trend towards the remote provision of data and applications/analysis, where the information purchased and acquired resides and is managed by vendors, and is not physically duplicated at the client site. Data are increasingly becoming a commodity that can be bought when and if needed, allowing database population to take place on demand. Data vendors will standardize their offerings to better integrate with other data and software vendors, and data delivery via the Web will increase.

Technology Trends

There is a move away from large, central, ‘big bucket’ corporate repositories to more distributed ‘leave-it-where-it-is’ systems. Aiding the fragmentation of corporate databases is the increased use of project databases, which have improved rapidly in terms of coverage and application integration. There is a trend towards the acceptance of ‘visual integration’ vs. actual integration, i.e. applications that allow access to distributed data in a way that is transparent to the business user. The need to model the world in a structured fashion (relational databases with vast data models containing 1000’s of explicit attributes) is declining.


Unstructured information (in documents) is becoming more integrated into E&P workflows. The data management application market is dividing into two categories. Heavyweight data management supports physical asset management and corporate data (e.g. Finder/xxxDB, PetroBank MDS, PetroVision). Lightweight data management supports subsurface field or prospect business processes, i.e. application, project or regional data management (e.g. GeoFrame, OpenWorks OpenExplorer, and PetroBank PDS). Companies are looking to apply technologies and processes that can reduce their IM costs. There is a growing acceptance that Web technologies can provide greater flexibility when it comes to integrating corporate information.

Organization & Process Trends

The centralized approach to data management, where services are provided by a central department, is less justifiable today given the pressures on costs. Looser, asset-focussed distributed data management organizations will increase. Formal data management systems with precise definitions of roles and responsibilities and exhaustively documented procedures and standards, i.e. a 100% ‘belt-and-braces’ approach, will be replaced with less formal ‘80% solutions’ that meet business needs differently.

IM framework

Data management needs to be integrated into an IM framework, including electronic document management systems, knowledge management, GroupWare and the Web. Managing data (at least the heavyweight component) may well be an integral part of managing the business, but it can no longer be considered of itself to be a core business. It is therefore an attractive target for cost reduction through outsourcing.

Data/Information Management Improvement

What companies will require in the next few years is to manage the tension between short-term business activities and longer- term data management. The simplest ‘solution’ is to scale down current data management systems in line with required cost reductions. But this may result in a failure of the basic data management commitment - to provide data of known quality on demand to business users - and the deterioration of data assets over time.


What may be required is a system that borders on organized chaos; a flexible, 80% solution that is squarely focussed on the business. Exactly what shape this could take, and what the quantitative level of savings and tangible added value would be, will vary from company to company. Companies can undertake IM organization, architecture and strategy reviews to improve their IM service provision.

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