Enterprise Oil - an IT tribute

Following Shell’s take-over of Enterprise Oil, we are devoting this month’s editorial to a historical review of Enterprise’s IT. A prime mover in upstream knowledge and data management, Enterprise contributed much in both software and philosophy.

Shell acquired London-based Enterprise Oil earlier this year and is in the process of subsuming it into the Shell Group. Ever since Oil IT Journal was launched back in 1996 as Petroleum Data Manager, Enterprise has been a particularly rewarding source of upstream IT news. I though it was appropriate therefore to run through Enterprise’s IT efforts by way of a tribute for the departing team.

Landmark III

Enterprise was an early adopter of workstation technology being one of Landmark’s first three clients for its mammoth, 1,000 lb. wt. ‘Landmark III’ workstation back in 1982. Thus began a 20-year relationship between the companies, which was to have a major influence on upstream IT. Enterprise also co-funded development of the first (and some would claim still the only) truly integrated interpretation suite – Tigress.


Being digital made Enterprise aware of the need to manage data behind the workstation. Enterprise, like other oils, set out to build its own corporate database. Eocene, a forms-based Oracle database with a limited range of data types, went live in 1994. The experience with Eocene and the Tigress development demonstrated the potential of integrating the database with applications, and became a blueprint for a joint-venture with Landmark to design the Enterprise E&P Data Store (EPDS), a ‘tightly integrated application and data environment,’ built around OpenWorks.


Enterprise head of technology, Tim Bird, one of the EPDS designers also liked to proselytize for good data management practice. Bird criticized systems that focused on ‘storing and moving data with ever greater speed’ while overlooking data quality. For Bird, the focus had to shift to clearly-defined units of measure, standard naming conventions, data dictionaries and unique well identifiers.


Enterprise was also an early adopter of knowledge management. CIO John Keeble was an advocate of communities of practice to ‘remove time and geography as barriers to communication by setting up a knowledge community’. Pragmatism was Keeble’s watchword, ‘Remove KM theory and language - and then remove some more!’ For Keeble, data and information was all ‘stuff’ that needed managing and exposing to end users.


Portals and GIS were also taken on board by Enterprise to provide what was termed technically as ‘data in your face.’ With the Regional Access to Portal Information and Data (RAPID) ARC IMS-based portal, the focus shifted from the data itself, to its delivery to end-users. Multiple data sources were synthesized into a single GIS-based point of access to QC’d digital data.


RAPID proved the epiphany of Enterprise’s data management efforts. The intuitive front-end provided users with access to data previously tucked away in the corporate data store and other repositories. Instrumental in this acceptance was an outsourced development – Web Open Works (WOW) performed by Exprodat. WOW quickly earned ‘killer-app’ status. Enterprise’s head of data management Ashley Dunlop commented, “Non IT-savvy professionals can drill down to binary data in a totally intuitive manner. The RAPID/WOW combination is much faster than using an application.”


Exprodat director Bruce Rodney told Oil IT Journal, “Enterprise had always understood the need for technology in executing their core business. It wasn't just the flashy spinning 3D seismic cubes. Data management and infrastructure also got management’s attention and funding. I remember one occasion when Exploration Director Andrew Armour grabbed the mouse during a demo, demanding to try the software himself. On the knowledge front, CIO John Keeble promoted an enlightened policy of ‘universal read access’ to all technical data - you had to make a case to hide data, rather than the other way around.”


Landmark VP John Sherman concurs, “Enterprise Oil was a ground-breaking leader in several key areas of upstream IT. They were one of the first companies to view data management and application integration as key parts of the supply chain. Enterprise was an early adopter and thought leader in basing the asset team approach on an integrated suite of data and applications. Enterprise was, in some cases, years ahead of the industry as a whole. Much of the design of OpenWorks is due to input from Enterprise. Enterprise was a pioneer in the deployment of distributed data management systems and sat alongside giants like Shell, Chevron and Amoco on the board that drove the design of OpenExplorer. Enterprise also developed an innovative QC system based on artificial intelligence to detect and correct data problems from multiple vendors.”

Worth IT?

One cannot conclude this review without asking the question - did all this IT trailblazing do Enterprise any good? Consultants and vendors sometimes like to deprecate efforts at ‘doing’ IT in-house and some will no doubt be making a case for Enterprise’s take over being due to a ‘lack of focus’ on the core business of exploration (this of course begs the question of whether being taken over by a major is failure, or the ultimate accolade for the independent). The answer, for Enterprise at least, is that the early use of workstation technology in the discovery of the Nelson field was a determining factor in Enterprise’s early corporate growth. In fact, early adoption gave Enterprise both a competitive advantage in E&P and allowed it to punch well above its weight in influencing upstream software development.

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