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Co-ordinating drilling with a 'feed'

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Most of us are familiar with Facebook's 'feed' of information about what your friends are doing, reading, buying and talking about - could an oil company co-ordinate what they are doing in the same way?

Most of us understand the social media 'feed' which you see on Facebook or LinkedIn - a stream of information about what your friends and contacts are up to, which you can quickly scan over.

Could the same concept work in the oil and gas industry?

One (anonymous) oil major, working together with Genesis Real Time Systems of Houston, using software from Tibco, tried it out, as a means of sharing information around the company.

The information 'feed' has many advantages over other usual methods of collaboration - the e-mail, discussion forum and physical meeting.

It is better than a physical meeting in that people can participate via their electronic devices. It is better than e-mail in that the conversations are archived forever, and anyone can access them if they have the same problem later.

It is better than a discussion forum because people can get a feed of activity about everything they are interested in or involved with.

You can set your feed so you only see information relevant to you - your geographical area, discipline area, or people you particularly want to hear from (such as your boss and boss' boss).

If someone is posting a question, they can set the question to appear in the feed of people in different groups - people all over the company who are experts in that subject, people working in the region in the safety department, and so on. There is no need to repost your question in different internet discussion forums.

Because the 'feed' just shows the first line of each entry, it does not take a lot of time to scan across many different discussions, and see if any of them are relevant to you, or if you can help with any of them.

The prize for an oil company from better co-ordination is easy to recognise, when you consider how much non productive time for drilling might be saved if you could find the person in the company who faster who knows how to solve a particular problem, without overloading people with information and questions.

One of the biggest problems the oil major had was getting a global engagement in problem solving, said Andrew Barendrecht of Genesis Real Time Systems, speaking at the Digital Energy Journal May conference in Aberdeen about doing more with drilling data.

People were used to asking their office colleagues for help if they had a problem, but if they couldn't solve the problem locally, it was hard to get other drilling experts around the world engaged.

The inspiration for the system came from watching how social media contributed to driving big change in North African countries in early 2011, and the company thought social media might drive a revolution in their company.

Building it

The company wanted a free-form problem solving system, rather than an automated system which routes a problem to a person it thinks best suited to solving it and demands a solution.

The company takes pride in its independent culture, and believes that people come up with better ideas if they are able to think independently, Mr Barendrecht said.

But at the same time, the system is designed to create a framework for people to work in. 'We don't want everyone free to do whatever they want,' he said.

The company wanted to use an off the shelf product rather than build one itself.

Easy to use

The company wanted a system which was as easy as possible to use, taking advice from leading social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which that the more complicated they are the less they get used.

Often corporate knowledge management systems involve a lot of form filling, Mr Barendrecht said. 'You have to fill in things, reply to things, almost be trained how to utilise that.'

The system was designed to require no training, and to work on any mobile device and e-mail. You can even post notes on it by telephone, phoning a number.

'We have cases where people on the field post it directly from their iPhone into the network. People reply whenever they can,' he said.

'Every way you'd want to collaborate with it is enabled,' he said. 'We are keeping the bar low.'

Making postings

The information feeds are categorised loosely. For example someone working in supply chain can subscribe to the supply chain feed. This means they will also be added to related feeds, such as inventory management.

You can subscribe to feeds at a low level or high level, depending on how involved you are in it.

If people are making posts, they can say they want the post to appear in more than one feed, which might be relevant.

'If the issue is across drilling and completions you can post to both communities the thread will maintain itself,' he said. 'If it turns to a health, safety and environment (HSE) discussion, you can tag it with HSE.'

Genesis would like to add video to the system, so people could record video of a problem and distribute it on the system.

The system can also be used by the company's internal communications department, if they have a notice they want to post to the whole company, they can do it with this system rather than by e-mail.

It could also be used after a disaster. People can make a posting on the system to say they are OK, to save people phoning each other to check they are OK.

Postings can also have a geographical tag, which can be made automatically if the posting is made from a mobile phone.

The system also means that 'communities of practise' - people who are working in the same field - can be put together very quickly.

From a management point of view, managers need to focus on the quality of collaboration - whether employees are starting and contributing.

The company advises employees to post if they have a question or problem, rather than first search the system to see if anyone has had the same problem before.

Discussions are archived forever so that it can be referred to later, something which is very difficult to do with e-mail, when there are privacy issues to take into consideration.

This is because it is always useful for the company to keep track of what problems people are having and see if there are gaps in the training systems. And once a post has been made, the system will automatically search the archive and present possible solutions.

You can connect posts to files on the corporate archive, such as reports and spreadsheets.

To quality check the discussions, the oil company has specific subject matter experts, who monitor discussions in their subject area, and are expected to jump in if the conversation goes awry.

The system is not used for making decisions, but more for sharing and seeking knowledge, such as finding out if something has ever been done in a certain way by anyone before.

If the company already has some kind of knowledge management system, they might find implementing a system like this one more difficult, because some people want to carry on using the system they already have, he said.

The information should be secure as any other information made available on the corporate intranet, he said.

You can add a second layer of security, stating that certain information should only be available to a limited group.

Outside the company

Postings on the feed can be labelled as to whether they are suitable for viewing outside the company, eg by company suppliers.

The company is looking at bringing in information feeds from 3rd party media information sources and magazines.

A major goal is involving the service companies. So (for example) if there is an update on the drilling technology, instead of service companies distributing brochures or technical papers, they could add it into the system as a feed, so everyone in the company around the world can see it.

Genesis would also like to involve universities and joint ventures.

Associated Companies
» Genesis RTS
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