Online utility IT the future for oil&gas

IN THE 150 years since the first “modern” well was drilled at Titusville, Pennsylvania, in the US, oil&gas extraction has become the largest natural resources industry in the world.

Over that time, the sector has become hugely complex, and having timely access to acquired and stored knowledge and people expertise is utterly critical to success today and in the future.

This is an industry where project budgets, contracts and earnings are on a telephone-number scale. As the latest sharp fluctuations in the oil price demonstrate, it is hugely sensitive to change. So being able to respond rapidly and accurately to that change is paramount.

This is why keeping people and information connected at all times is of such vital importance, no matter where they are located, or when.

Information technology has, of course, become the primary tool in this regard. GIS applications have revolutionised the sector’s use of IT over the past decade especially. It is remarkable what can now be achieved using just a smart phone – even activating and shutting down oil&gas production from individual wells from pretty much anywhere in the world.

But the companies – from petroleum giants and smaller exploration and production companies to contractors, to myriad smaller firms in the supply chain – increasingly struggle with an IT infrastructure that is forever changing, becoming increasingly diverse and complex and could inadvertently impact business-critical decisions and data, or even put them out of business if lost data can’t be recovered.

If ever there was a situation where companies should bring in specialist providers, this is it. The potential for cost-saving is considerable and it can bring peace of mind with regard to the safe storage and access to data, the value of which may be inestimable, according to Deryck Mitchelson, head of business development for Dundee-based brightsolid.

“A greater use of the internet, emergence of web 2.0 technologies and increased online collaboration creates huge challenges for ever more stretched IT support staff,” he says.

“The burden on individual companies is leading many to consider outsourcing, particularly the infrastructure that supports their business-critical front and back office systems, supply chain and ERP systems.”

But then the question becomes how best to do this. How does one assure flexibility, integrity of service and yet save on costs? How does one protect against disaster – perhaps a fire, perhaps a major IT failure – that destroys such business-critical data?

Mitchelson says that the advent of “online utility-based computing” opens this particular door rather neatly and is being applied highly successfully by brightsolid which, though relatively unknown in the North Sea community, in fact has a portfolio of high-profile clients ranging from oil companies to some of the most progressive companies in the North Sea and international supply chain.

“The main advantage of our unique approach is that the use of services fits closely to changing business needs supporting current and future growth and capacity needs. The concept is that you buy IT services the same way as you buy other utilities such as electricity; you only pay for what you use, as and when required.”

Mitchelson says advantages of brightsolid’s online utility service include:

Elastic capacity that’s easy to upscale/downscale infrastructure as needs change.

It offers greater resilience and trusted “always-on” IT – significantly better than can be provided by the in-house skill set and outwith the budget of most IT teams.

Pay as you go pricing, which reduces IT costs and eases pressure on in-house capital/hardware costs.

It offers a safe, secure extension to in-house networks, allowing remote and mobile workers to connect to corporate infrastructure wherever they are, seamlessly.

The security of knowing that, if there is a problem, data is comprehensively backed up and easily recovered; additionally, an external workplace can be set up in the event of a major company incident such as a fire.

The North Sea oil&gas industry already appreciates the huge value and cost savings that effective outsourcing of non-core activities and functions can deliver. In this situation, cost savings could be as much as 30%, and yet, in return, the company gets vastly improved flexibility, resilience and reliability.

Clearly, this is an industry that needs to know that any company that it is outsourcing to offers robust, trusted, secure infrastructures, yet is also highly agile and stays ahead of the field. Mitchelson argues that brightsolid’s clientele demonstrates that provenance.

“We’ve been involved in oil&gas pretty much all along the industry supply chain for around 10 years. We operate at the higher end of the marketplace, working on business-critical applications that are dealing with high data volumes that need to be always available and responsive. This includes real-time data.

“We deal with a lot of information in our data centres that is business-critical to the companies that use us. They think of us as a trusted extension of their in-house infrastructure that can deliver a higher standard of service at a much lower cost than doing it themselves,” he said, adding that numbered among the firm’s clientele are other sectors where business-critical data must be highly accessible, yet secure, including financial institutions.

“So whether they’re needing more resilience, faster connectivity or greater processing power to mine the data, that’s all available on demand.

“Among the problems that we see for oil&gas and other customers is that typically they buy themselves into a contract – perhaps a range of computing power or a certain level of internet access. But this is limiting.

“With the utility model, you don’t have to get locked into that. Flexibility comes built-in. You just call on what you need when you need it. The computing power is much more aligned to the big needs of your business at that moment in time, be that numbers of employees that you can ramp up or down; or if you have a high influx or outflow of contractors, for example; or perhaps particularly data-hungry periods in the business cycle – maybe processing complex data from real-time drilling or information from seismic analysis.”

Mitchelson sees a stepped shift in the oil&gas industry.

“Businesses right along the supply chain recognise how business-critical IT is within their organisation. A recent survey of oil&gas senior execs rated IT just behind people as the biggest risk to the continuity of their business. That said, they increasingly recognise that they don’t want to invest the time or capital to be experts in managing their own infrastructure; data centres, servers, secure high-capacity networks between different parts of their business or supply chain. They see the value in outsourcing this; cutting their costs, increasing reliability, availability and IT performance.”