The future of oil & gas industry – big data or die!

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Like the electric utility sector, the oil & gas industry is on the edge of a no-profit, no-growth cliff. And once again, experts are saying the only thing that can save these sectors is a IoT-big data analytics play. But, unlike the electric utility sector, the oil & gas industry has tried – and failed repeatedly – at digitizing operations in the past. The sector isn't keen on trying it again with its last gasp.

In GE's new report, GE's Chief Economist Marco Annunziata says that the oil & gas industry's previous attempts at digitalization failed "because efforts were deployed in siloes without a comprehensive strategy and never achieved enterprise scale." He argues that combining now-cheap sensors with effective and cost-efficient cloud-based, big-data analytics provides the answer to this industry's challenges chiefly by maximizing productivity and lowering operating costs.

And I agree with his analysis. Well, except for the continued use of GE's favorite term "Industrial Internet" in the report and his statements. There's just the one Internet really. But GE, like all vendors, likes to coin new words. I don't know why GE does that. Its work is quite capable of standing on its own merit without being propped up by a marketing term. But I digress.

Annunziata says that while IoT and big data will save the oil & gas industry, the path to that end is full of difficulty due to a number of factors ranging from the increased complexity of the asset mix, and the aging workforce, to a complex regulatory environment and global volatility. That's enough to terrify even the calmest, most experienced company leadership!

"This has evolved to include far more complex facilities—e.g. unconventional fields, LNG and FLNG—that demand higher levels of engineering and operations expertise. Upstream fields have different resource types, different reservoir characteristics, different operating environments, and were developed at different time periods over the last 100 years," he said.

"As a result, every field is unique and presents distinct technical and operational challenges. Even the midstream and downstream industries, which generally enjoy more homogenous conditions than upstream industries, have a great equipment diversity with specific operational challenges—the result of costly capex investments made at different points in time."

No wonder earlier attempts at digitalization resulted in too many silos for the efforts to work.

Even so, sensors are cheap and getting cheaper. Pinning them to this extreme mix of assets should not be overly problematic and their steady stream of real-time data and streaming analytics can go far in rapidly bringing this industry up to speed. More will need to be done to fully digitalize their operations, of course, but this would serve as a strong and fast start off the block.

Indeed, any industry or company facing a similar problem should consider this approach. Time is not the oil & gas industry's friend. In fact, it's no company or industry's friend. Competitive strategies must be implemented quickly to do any good. IoT and streaming analytics may just be the fastest way to advance.

For more:
- see the GE report

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