Interview - Derek Middlemas, Digatex

Former Aveva data specialist explains rationale behind consulting startup. The ‘digital twin’ should be built on a sustainable 'digital asset.’ But current information management practices fall short.

Why Digatex?

I was 20 years in engineering data, first with Intergraph, then with Aveva. Last year I left to start up Digatex when I saw an opportunity to help operators improve their use of asset data, an activity that is often bogged-down by vested interests and legacy baggage. Digatex’ aim is to help owner-operators realize the promise of the digital asset. This is less a technology problem, more of a business process issue. Companies need to change their way of working and apply technology pragmatically. Here we advise a two step process. First define a digital asset concept and strategy, then transition from a document-centric approach to the digital asset.

Engineering systems today may not be IT best practices but they do work. These complex interconnected systems rely on documents. Going to a database would require a great upheaval.

Sure, no project starts without document control in place. You do need a document department, without which there would be anarchy. But you can still have digital technology with new functionality. The transition from document to digital is at the core of Digatex’ hybrid consulting technology and digital services offering.

One issue that we try to track is the influence of standards for engineering data capture and handover. Are these on the wane as companies go for shrink-wrapped solutions such as Aveva?

Owner-operators get a lot of management pull in different directions. Standards may get agreed upon but they are not always applied in the heat of the battle! I was involved with ISO 15926 and I was on the Fiatech board. But sometimes folks get too involved with taxonomies and ‘upper ontologies’ which turns people off! Having said that, ISO 15926 offers a considered approach to information management. Vendors are now more in line with the information modeling approach, which is quite an achievement. But again, this is essentially a business problem, not a technology problem. Retailers and car manufacturers all know which supplier provides a given part for. But not so for oil and gas. Owner operators don’t understand or value their data, mainly because they have outsourced their supply chain management. Data management is not generally in the right budget, or may not be budgeted for at all.

Data standards help with the digital transition but in oil and gas these tend to be developed by small groups. Building information management used to be in the dark ages until the BIM agenda was captured by the UK Government. A mandatory standard gets much better traction! Non mandatory standards like ISO15926 have been useful in bringing the problems to light and have provided a framework for vendors. AvevaNet leverages the reference data library (RDL) concept of Part IV.

But not the semantic technology of RDF.

It’s like pure and applied math. Companies like Datum360, Intergraph and Bentley all have tools to manage the RDL, but is there a market for them? There are no takers in the operators for these. There is just not enough pain in the industry!

We were surprised a while back to learn that in the refinery, the simulator is just used for training. Why has this not been extended across the digital asset?

Because the data is not good enough to drive the plant. Plant business are good at making lots of point apps that use little bits of data. But plant data doesn’t make its way into these systems and soon they are out of phase with reality. Things are changing slowly which is where we are now advising on digital transformation strategy, working with clients to evolve contracts and to stop wasting money on technology that doesn’t do what they need.

So the offering is mostly an advisory?

Partly but also practical. For instance, we offer Digital Intelligence for automating document control and classification. This uses machine learning to achieve a quantum leap in drawing and document control, not only saving a significant amount of time and money but also vastly improving the accuracy and availability of information. One important aspect of automating document control is to audit and remediate the document classification and meta-data. More from Digatex.

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