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Petronas: how many applications do you need?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

PetronasCarigali has embarked on a project to reduce the number of subsurface software applications it is using. Damla Aziz, Senior Manager, Subsurface Information Management Department, explains how it is doing it

Malaysia oil major PetronasCarigali has embarked on a project to try to reduce the number of subsurface software applications it is using, said Damla Aziz, Senior Manager, Subsurface Information Management Department, speaking at Digital Energy Journal's KL conference on October 25th.

The company has been purchasing different subsurface software applications since the early 1990s, and ended up with many different software packages being used by different asset teams and project teams, and no central control over it.

To make it more complicated, 'Every software application has their own databases, and this database has been designed according to the specific project requirement,' he said. 'Each database has their own architecture, their own workflow or style, different types of data that needs to be captured.'

'Management of databases I can say is really troublesome to a company.'

'Whenever we have multiple databases, another big issue is that people don't know which data is the final version, which data need to be referred to as standard.'

Another problem is that that people using the software, such as seismic interpreters, geoscientists and reservoir engineers, need to master many different software applications.

If they are moved to another project, 'you need to train on another application to meet that project need,' he said.

Sometimes 'the same data type or same data may reside in multiple databases,' he said.

'Data migration or data handover sounds easy, but there are a lot of issues,' he said.

For example different software applications might use a slightly different grid model, which means that different items in the subsurface model are not properly aligned.

Also, 'the knowledge of the interpretation activity is being very difficult for us to retain when you do the project transfer,' he said. 'Without retaining this knowledge, the previous work cannot be fully utilised.'


Petronas is aiming to work out what the optimum number of software versions it should have in use in the company, and standardise use of them as much as possible.

'The first step is that we try to inventorise all the software available in the company,' he said.

'We divide the software into 3 categories.'

The first category is 'specialist software, used by very special people, high end users,' perhaps 5 per cent of all interpreters use the application.

The second category is 'expert software', used by maybe 30 per cent of users.

The third category is 'standard' applications, the default package for geophysicists or interpreters to use every day for most of their time.

'We try to focus on this area first,' he said.

For standard applications you have to pick the software tool which meets nearly all of people's requirements.

Software applications which do not pass the test for 'standard', 'expert' or 'specialist' can be taken out of the company.

You can either remove the software completely, or you can keep one license just in case you need it for an emergency or for a specific task, for example if it is needed for work with a specific country, but not let people use the software on a daily basis.

Everybody is working using consistent data standards, and there is no redundancy (software packages you are paying for but not using).

All of the software can work from the same database.

You also need less online support people.

Different applications different stages

Sometimes the same user might use different applications at different stages of the workflow, so the data needs to be converted from one format to another.

Ideally, all of the software tools would synchronize, so if the data is changed in one application, the databases used by the subsequent applications in the workflow would also update.


Getting users to accept new software tools is very difficult. 'It's the toughest part, because people are more complex than systems,' he said.

'Just imagine. Let's say you have been using a software for about 20 years, now I ask you, can you change the application tomorrow?'

'They will give a thousand and one reasons, like, 'no I like this software, why should I change.''

'You have to find a way to convince people that it is better if the company all uses just one software application.'

'That's why early buy in from users is very important,' he said.

A second challenge is managing the project data, bringing 3 or 4 different databases down to one. 'Project data migration is a nightmare I tell you,' he said.

The third challenge is making sure you have enough internal staff who can do the job.

Database architecture

The next step is designing what your project database architecture will look like.

You want a single corporate database.

'This is the architecture we are working on right now,' he said.

It is good to start with the most commonly used applications rather than try to standardise everything in one go. That step is the one which 'drives the significant impacts,' he said.

You have to keep explaining to people the benefit of having all of the company using the same system. 'There's a lot of stamina required there,' he said.

You also need to stick to your target dates for switching the software. If you don't, then people won't trust you. If on the day after the switch over people open their software and can't find the data, 'you're in trouble,' he said.

You might also be better off migrating the most important data first and the less important data later.

If you ask people which of their data needs migrating, they will probably either say they want all of it, or they won't give you an answer, he said.

You can get around this by asking people what data they are currently working on, and just migrate that data. Then you can wait and see what other data they ask you to migrate later on.

'Then the good thing, after 2-3 months if they don't ask for data, you can delete it at that time,' he said. 'You know they are not going to use the data.'

It is very difficult to say how much savings the company made from the project overall, because the number of users keeps changing, but you could estimate about 30 per cent reduction in the total cost of software from the consolidation effort, he said.

The savings were made from avoiding paying for software licenses, and having a better negotiating position with the software vendor you stick with, and having less training and support costs.

Associated Companies
» PETRONAS Carigali

External Links
» watch a video of the talk

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