PDM Interview - John Gibson, President, Landmark Graphics

John Gibson - who styles himself Chief ‘Excitement’ Officer of Landmark Graphics Corp. (actually he is president and CEO) - shared his enthusiasm for e-business, software development and R&D in this exclusive interview with PDM.

PDM - What were the drivers behind Landmark’s latest product ‘Decision Space’?

Gibson - Historically, applications have been developed in a domain-specific manner by entrepreneurs with a passion for their subject; people like Rutt Bridges with Advance Geophysical and Munroe Garrett with Aries. Today, the industry has different requirements. Our software needs to be multi-domain, cutting across many disciplines and teams. We need to eliminate the barriers between these disciplines, and to focus on the work process as a whole. The key to this analysis is decision support. But Decision Space is more than just a new product for Landmark. We have literally re-engineered the whole company around this need for multi-disciplined software and decision support.

PDM - What are the tricks of the trade you have deployed in Decision Space? Does it use web, workflow technology or what?

Gibson - The ‘trick’ was to realize what our clients were looking for. But even once we had established what they were, we found it is still hard to sell such a revolutionary product - not least because we don't yet know how to price it! The change from discipline to team focus is a whole new work paradigm.

PDM - What does Decision Support bring, say, to a geophysicist working with SeisWorks? Does he/she see a Decision Support window pop up?

Gibson - Decision Space would expose the results of other domain-specific interpretations to such and interpreter - but will also add an economic and financial dimension.

PDM - All this extension of Landmark’s activity into the financial and economic sphere is all very well, but doesn't it mean that you are neglecting your core business?

Gibson - Well we certainly know what our core business is and I believe that our R&D effort today in the field of seismic interpretation is second to none - in both quality and spend.

PDM - Actually, at the SEG and elsewhere, we often hear that R&D expenditure is declining in an alarming manner and that the industry at large is at risk from this.

Gibson - Well actually I agree with that. But while Landmark as a company is an over-achiever in R&D, that is not the case for the rest of the geophysical sector. Landmark is in the top three (along with Shell and Exxon) for software R&D spend, but elsewhere, the picture is indeed alarming.

PDM - Where is Landmark making its R&D breakthroughs today?

Gibson - We are patenting some of the results of our R&D in seismic interpretation. These focus on new processes and technologies and reflect the move from volume and trace based systems to voxel-based earth modeling. By year end we will have reinvented seismic interpretation. Our R&D effort in this field is in the tens of millions of dollars range. But these developments will take time to deploy. I estimate the move to earth model-based interpretation, coupled with pervasive, decision-supported, multi-disciplinary interpretation will take a couple of years to complete. But this effort will share the same focus as all our R&D, to increase reserves and lower costs.

PDM - You spoke last month at the POSC 10 year meeting, and are on the POSC board. But it is not clear that standards have or will play a determining role in moving the industry forward.

Gibson - Actually standards are more and more important and will play an increasingly significant role in the industry’s future. If you look at the cost to industry of data reformatting - which we estimate as being several hundreds of millions of dollars per year - against total spend on standards organizations - which must be of the order of a few million - the potential cost benefits are clear. We need to better quantify these benefits and work in a focused manner to achieve these potential costs savings.

PDM - Still, as Landmark has shown recently with its new compressed data formats, multiple formats are inevitable, and can be part of innovation. Surely reformatting is a necessary evil?

Gibson - Yes, there are domains where multiple formats are necessary, but there are many others where they are not, and where their existence is very costly. Well logs are a good example - we estimate tens of millions of dollars go into post-acquisition well log curve reformatting, transcription and re-writing. We can reengineer a lot of this out of the system. Going back to our position with regards to POSC. Landmark is a strong supporter of POSC although it has been said that Epicentre is 10 miles wide and one inch deep! But in general we do indeed favor open standards as opposed to commercial proprietary integration platforms.

PDM - Where would you place Open Spirit in this context? Do you see this as a viable platform that Landmark will sign up to?

Gibson - We have monitored OS since it started and have maintained a constant, measured stance. We believe that middleware-based systems fail on two counts. From the performance standpoint - users cannot tolerate the overhead, and from the commercial standpoint - users won't pay for something they can't see! Going back to what I said about standards, we would like to have a standard way of doing lots of stuff - like reformatting well logs. But Open Spirit is now a commercial organization. We doubt that as a user we would be in a position to influence and change the middleware. A massive amount will have to be spent on the middleware to maintain and enhance performance - we think that such money would be better spent on R&D in fields like direct hydrocarbon indicators, 4C and 4D. Our position vis a vis Open Spirit has made for friction with some of our clients in the past.

PDM - A couple of years back, Landmark was touting a massive shift from UNIX to Windows NT - even with a the ‘virtual’ participation of Bill Gates at the 1998 Landmark forum. What’s your position now?

Gibson - Well we tend to de-emphasize the move to Windows NT and talk now of a ‘commodity platform’. But we do see great benefits to the industry coming from the massive R&D spend of the PC graphics industry which is orders of magnitude greater than any vertical.

PDM - We hear a lot of Application Service Provision (ASP) these days. Is this on offer for Landmark’s software? And how are you pricing such a facility?

Gibson - Grand Basin is Halliburton’s e-business offering and we do offer ASP through Petroleum Place. Pricing is not an issue for us. We already serve applications in ASP mode at client sites and we find that our clients do not want to be billed by the minute of use. They prefer to be able to budget accurately and are happy with the regular pricing per month, whether it is by license/seat/CPU or whatever.

PDM - What about the more far flung parts of the world. Can Landmark offer ASP in Europe?

Gibson - Our goal is to be able to do this at any location. Of course bandwidth may be an issue. For example, a client working at three locations - say Perth, Jakarta, Thailand would probably find the available infrastructure is not up to supporting collaborative work. We would therefore deploy a hub at each location. As bandwidth grows, these would be consolidated and ultimately, the asset team could be working together from different locations.

PDM What is Bob Peebler doing these days?

Gibson - Bob is the executive in charge of the whole of Halliburton’s activity in the fields of procurement, data management, real time collaboration with suppliers and customers. He is taking Halliburton into the e-business world. They need an evangelist like Bob to do this.

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