Standardize—on Microsoft and Google?

Oil IT Journal editor gets hot under the collar when the ‘S’ word is used by the marketing department. But when Google says ‘tagging is pointless,’ he takes to the soap box.

We often hear calls for ‘standardization’ in the upstream IT context. For some this may mean laudable efforts to use published data standards. For others, a ‘standard’ may mean using Microsoft Windows as opposed to Linux or Unix—or vice versa! In the marketing department these two rather different usages are deliberately confused. I am not sure if anybody in the upstream actually believes that by using Microsoft’s software they are facilitating alignment with, for instance, the SEG’s tape standards, data standards from POSC or PPDM or any other vertical data formats. But this is the intent behind the marketing drum which is bang, bang, banging on—almost deafening anyone who attempts to speak to the real issues.


A good example of the practice can be seen in the upcoming Schlumberger Information Solutions ‘Open Technology Symposium.’ The preliminary agenda includes a Schlumberger presentation on ‘Delivering Innovation through Open Standards’ and another entitled ‘How Microsoft supports openness for the industry.’ You couldn’t make it up.

All Greek?

Moving the standards debate from where it belongs (in the business) to the application and operating system arena is rather like claiming that it is easier to communicate in Latin than in ancient Greek. This is not a bad analogy because learning an ancient language is hard—just like learning a computer system. And in the end, speaking a particular language has nothing to do with what you say and whether or not it makes sense. In fact, IT generally has very little to say about how computers are used to run a business. Most of IT is about arcane issues that are important if you are writing code, but which can actually get in the way of your business. But I digress.

Lofty perch

A sad tendency of the orgs, the SPE, SEG etc. is to offer a lofty perch upon which the IT vendors can bang the marketing drum. At the SEG for instance, you will hear far more references to standardizing on Microsoft than on the Society’s own tape standards. Nevertheless, we listened attentively to what Microsoft had to say at the excellent SPE Gulf Coast Section’s Digital Energy 2006 conference—more of which in next month’s Oil IT Journal.


Mike Brulé, CTO with Microsoft’s Energy vertical queried whether SOA* could be considered a ‘the new silver bullet’. Brulé stated that, ‘SOA is orthogonal and says nothing about data management, data quality and system performance.’ Well I will credit Brulé with using ‘orthogonal’ which is a nice word. But as anyone from the WITSML community will tell you, SOA—in so far as it is represented by the real time data validation offered by the SOAP infrastructure—actually says a lot about data management and data quality. Incidentally, SOA probably also says a lot of probably bad things about system performance—but that is another matter.


Google was also present at Digital Energy 2006 with another strong marketing message. Google’s Enterprise Solutions Director Michael Lock deprecated the old way of doing business with ‘cumbersome manual tagging’ to enable search. Google is offering its pretty good search technology to enterprise clients (OITJ Vol. 9 No. 11) but Lock is playing to the gallery by suggesting that you no longer need to add metadata to your documents for accurate search. Google itself makes great use of the tags and keywords that conscientious web meisters add to their pages. When Google comes up with a load of junk it is because such context is not there. Google is good, but it’s not magic!


You may detect a degree of irritation in this editorial and I have to confess that both Brulé’s remark on SOA and Lock’s deprecation of tagging were in complete contradiction with the ideas I developed in my talk at the IQPC Data and Knowledge Management conference held in London last month (see page 6 of this issue). My thesis, which I will be further developing in a talk to be given at another IQPC conference in Bahrain this April, is that SOA is a game changer. But also that metadata, tags if you will, will be increasingly important if data managers are to keep their heads above water in the data ‘tsunami’. I should add hastily that I claim no exclusivity for these ideas. They are widely held and form the basis of much of the current W3C’s work.

du Castel

Strong endorsement for SOA also came from Schlumberger Fellow and co-inventor of the Java Card, ‘the most used computer in the world,’ Bertrand du Castel, who emphasized that ‘web services is not a fad.’ du Castel stressed the twin fundamental advances of XML and ontologies and their particular applicability to oilfield automation.


Looking ahead, when some of these shiny new technologies are in widespread use, you might like to ask, how easy will it be to find information, and what will be its quality when you’ve found it. Well I would like to suggest that finding things will be easy and accurate if they are tagged right in the first place. And that information quality will be high if data is stored in a robust, self describing format that has been validated at every stage of its life cycle thanks to web services.


But the hard bit—and it is still going to be hard—is getting the data tagged and pushing the vendor community to perform the validation. SOA like WITSML is a good start, but it probably needs a generation or two of further development before its full potential is reached. As for tagging. Well, what is at issue here is not really data management, knowledge management or even information management. It is just plain old ‘management’. Getting people to do what they should be doing. If that means filling out a few boring old forms then so be it. Who said life was fun?

* Services-oriented architecture.

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