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Flare - a system for information management

Friday, May 11, 2012

Developing an information management system which provides the company with the management controls it needs, and is also easy to use, is not easy. UK company Flare explains how to do to it

Good information management is critical for running an oil and gas company. You need a system which provides the right management controls, which people understand, which is easy to search, easy to use, and easy to update.

Most importantly, you need a system which people are happy to use and feel is beneficial.
It is sometimes difficult to appreciate the complexity of a management system, given that the components include internal policies, guidelines and best practises, as well as external regional legislation, says Glenn Mansfield, director of Flare Solutions Ltd.

So the solution needs to ensure that management and users have appropriate interfaces, and tools to help them. 'When explaining the benefits of the system, you have to pick examples which work for them,' he said.

Other critical factors to ensure your information management system will work are to make sure you have 100 per cent management support, to make sure it is embedded and connected with the business, to understand the difference between rules and guidelines, to provide good feedback mechanisms, and to make things 'as simple as possible but not simpler,' he said.

Flare was contracted to build a technical search and publishing system for Shell, which won a British Computer Society award for Best Knowledge Management Project in 2006. The system provides a one stop shop to search and publish information based on a set of taxonomies. Flare went on to be awarded the Queen's Award for Enterprise Innovation in 2009.

In recent work Flare have developed a drilling and wells information management system, that delivers an information framework that can be managed by principal engineers, and allows field engineers to follow best practise to develop wells.

The framework defines the documentation required, and links to the internal and external standards that should be followed. Flare also embedded an incident management system, to track information about incidents, what lessons have been learned from them, and what processes have been put in place to make sure they don't happen again.

Flare was founded in 1998 by a group of oil industry people, to provide a range of consulting and software for information management.

The company advises on information standards and how to put best practise guidelines together. It has also developed a set of taxonomies (data structures) which oil companies can use.


Different types of rules

The first step in formulating a system is to understand the different types of information management rules and processes which exist.

There are mandatory rules for data management, for example when the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate defines the standards for data it wants.

Companies can set guidelines, policies, procedures and standards, and puts together different management systems to help staff to follow them. These rules can be advisable or mandatory.

If you set up a rule, you also need a system for working out if people are following it and make sure it is worth their while, either through rewards or penalties.

'We need to define our rules, and we need to monitor adherence to them,' he said. If things change, for example due to a lesson learned or a new technique, we also need to modify the rules to fit new requirements and situations. This flexiblity ensures rules stay current and support the user community.


Stage gate

Many companies set up 'stage gate' based information management systems, tyically using '5 stage gates', he said, 'and each stage has a set of documentation requirements to support the decision making process during the project, and for long term archiving'.

The ideal information management software tool will remind employees what documents are required, what standards and processes need to be followed, and what templates exist to assist in their creation. 'The tool will provide a means to upload documents so they are categorised with appropriate metadata for later retrieval', he said.


'The system can be set up with strict rules on how something should be categorised, or it can automatically suggest metadata tags, which the user can refine', he said. You can create automatic alerts, another type of rule, which could for example alert users to file certain reports 60 days after a well has been spudded.


Interfaces

Flare develops software tools to help oil and gas companies manage their information.

For the recent drilling management system, Mr Mansfield identified 5 different interfaces for the software tools .
You need a 'Defining' interface, for managing the information management system itself, stating which person is responsible for providing which documents and what steps are involved.

You need a 'visualisation' interface, showing a diagram of your management system so someone can understand it, helping people understand which documents are required at which stage of a project, and who needs to approve them. You can see what the policies exist and the processes that need to be followed.

A 'maintaining' interface where you update the information management system, entering what you've learned along the way, where you've needed to divert from an information management rule, and if the system needs to be improved or updated.

A 'Monitoring' interface to tracks where you are in the project, and which documents have been completed and added to the corporate memory.

A 'Search' interface for people to search for documents and data they need outside of the context of the project, for example, on all the lessons the company has learned from using a certain type of cement in the past.


Search

Making a search system for oil and gas information has proven to be much harder than standard internet searching. People want to find a specific document, not what the search engine is guessing they are looking for.

For example, if someone is about to use a certain cement formulation in a well, they might want to know where the company has used the same cement formulation before, where in the world, and what its experiences were with it.

Standard internet search is good at picking the right results because it can track what links millions of other users are selecting, and which web pages reference other web pages. But oil and gas information search does not have the benefit of this large constituency of users.

Flare's solution is to provide software tools which employees can use to upload documents. The software will automatically categorise the documents so they can be retrieved later.

When you are doing a search, you can see a list of information which might be relevant, with indicators showing links to the stage gate they were created in. This allows the user to see whether the process is complete and if all the deliverables have been delivered.

The system aims to simplify search results, so people aren't overwhelmed. For example, if you search for 'cement', the system assumes initially that you want to know about documentation from previous cement jobs, and it ranks these results intelligently. It also minimises overload using a concept called search alerts for things like lessons learned, which are served to the user outside of the main search results.The underlying documents could be stored in different places, such as Documentum or SharePoint stores. The search system can retrieve the documents from the different stores.

The system doesn't necessarily need internet access. You can install both the documents and the searching system on an offshore platform. 'It gives users on a rig access to the guidelines they need to do their jobs,' he says.

The system doesn't include Wikis or online discussions yet. Mr Mansfield suggests that if you do want to include this, you have a moderator, who can spot useful contributions, so they can be 'published' into the system, helping to build long-term corporate memory.


Role specific search results

Some information will need to be viewed in different ways, depending on the role of the person who is looking at it.

For example, someone involved in a particular project will want to only see documents related to that project, and a company safety manager will want to see all the company's safety documents.

The information management staff can also see their own view of the information, showing how complete the information is, or who they need to chase to provide up to date information.

Having different information show up in different ways, is a good way to get the system embedded in the company, he said. It means that people in different departments can get access to what they need in a way that makes sense to them.



Associated Companies
» Flare Solutions Limited
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