GIS - the last bastion of ‘build not buy’

GIS holds a privileged position in corporate IT as one of the few IT ‘products’ that make it into the boardroom. With the increasing functionality of GIS-enabled databases the technology could take over the whole of corporate IT. Oil IT Journal editor Neil McNaughton argues for caution - and metadata!

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are everywhere! At the ESRI PUG we witnessed wireless GIS, GPS GIS and GIS on everything from the Enterprise master data store to the PDA. GIS is pervasive and seductive. Shell found that 80% of upstream data has a location component - and has embarked on a massive GIS deployment - using Oracle and ESRI technology (see the article of page 8 of this issue).

GIS in the boardroom

Most oil companies have implicitly recognized the importance of GIS for several years. Many have built their own GIS front-ends - frequently using ESRI’s technology. To date these have been tools for browsing and assembling GIS data - often to produce a wall map for the boardroom. This connection with the top brass has assured ongoing funding for such limited-scope GIS, and puts the GIS owner in an enviable position as compared say, to someone who is trying to manage log data.

GIS for everything

GIS has status and visibility. New technologies such as ESRI’s Geodatabase make it possible to bring an unlimited amount of corporate data into your GIS - making it immediately available for plotting on a map. You could use GIS to plot - not only coastlines and concessions, but also seismic or reservoir attributes. With 3D, you can plot deviated wells and even geobodies - as shown by John Grace of Earth Science Associates (see page 6 of this issue). But before your GIS developers get carried away I suggest a period of reflection.

Text? Finance?

GIS may be pervasive, but that does not mean that your GIS software has to do everything. Location is a key data type, but there are other ‘components’ of enterprise data. How about finance? How about text? If you come from finance, your view of enterprise data will be financial. If you are from office automation or document management, your worldview will textual. Enterprise IT needs to cater for all of these at the same time.

Horses for courses

Speaking at the ESRI PUG, Ekaterina Casey from BHP Billiton described how BHP uses ER Mapper to perform image analysis on seismic and other data types. BHP has ‘glued’ ArcView and ER Mapper together to allow processed imagery to be viewed in geographical context. BHP has avoided the temptation to do everything in one environment. Rather than doing everything in GIS, Casey advocates ‘using applications for doing what they were designed to do!’

Vacuum cleaner!

But the temptation to do more and more with GIS is growing. Before Arc GIS 8, ESRI’s toolkit offered limited data modeling capability. Now with the Geodatabase, you can start doing full-blown data modeling right along with your spatial data. Alternatively, with SDE or SDO, you can incorporate a spatial component right inside the corporate database. These technologies can act like vacuum cleaners sucking enterprise data away from their natural home.

Applications and data

But it gets better (or worse). Growing GIS functionality - especially 3D means that the vacuum cleaner is sucking up not just data - but application functionality. I keep hearing GIS folks ask - why don’t you do ‘x’ in ArcView? Where ‘x’ can be anything from modeling a salt dome to analyzing production. The dynamic here is a natural ‘struggle’ between horizontal and vertical software.


As horizontal applications like GIS grow, they become candidates for doing more and more of what hitherto could only be achieved in the vertical application. But just as GIS pervades the enterprise, it also pervades the application. GIS data is inextricable from the application itself. Replicating data between applications and the spatial repository appears to be inevitable. But along with replication, it might be a good idea to check out some of this ‘metadata’ stuff. Just as applications have to be capable of exporting ASCII text for minimal interoperability, it might be a good idea for them to ‘expose’ some GIS metadata, to allow those GIS folks working for the bosses to scan and catalogue mission critical data from the fringes of the organization. Hey, there may even be some useful work here for the standards orgs!


Numbers game

There is a full text search engine on the website. We can track what people are looking for - and it is not IT nirvana - but money. The most popular themes come from researchers investigating how much corporations spend on their IT. For those of you who like this sort of thing I thought I would bring to your attention some hard numbers cited by Schlumberger’s Satish Pai interviewed by our old friend Andrew McBarnet in First Break. Pai revealed that “A survey by Gartner suggests oil and gas companies spend something like $29 billion on IT in the broadest sense including hardware, software, telecommunications outsourcing etc.” Pai noted that at present 60% of that figure, $18 billion, is spent internally. It means that $11 billion is currently available to service companies and the figure is “bound to grow as companies increasingly outsource their IT operations.” Pai reckons that the growing data management services market could be worth between $500-$600 million and rising, and the application software market some $800-$900 million.


Finally a fascinating fact that kind of ties the previous two threads together. Speaking at the official opening of Shell’s ‘MegaCenter’, Shell Malaysia deputy chairman Zainul Rahim said that world-wide, Shell spends about US$1.8 billion a year in IT development and applications in support of a workforce of 95,000. That’s nearly $20,000 a year for every desktop in the company!

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