Challenging market conditions, including high operational costs, low prices, and declining reserves in the North Sea are driving many organizations in the industry to seek more efficient and cost effective ways of working, without compromising safety.
An oil and gas industry focus group, hosted by open source software solutions firm Red Hat, found that upstream IT executives are the most likely group to use open source software and mobile applications. The executives reported that mobile applications enable upstream personnel to work more efficiently when they are offshore and generating data related to exploration and production. Upstream executives also reported that they are implementing technologies that help enable innovation and reduce cost.
Indeed, an infographic, based on an industry-wide survey of the priorities and challenges of IT professionals in the hydrocarbons industry, undertaken by Oil and Gas IQ, illustrates that 89% of survey respondents believe that mobile applications running on smartphones, tablets and wearable devices will revolutionize their operational environment.
Oil and Gas IQ found that the industry is predicted to invest US$8 billion in mobile applications this year.
Almost half of the respondents are in the process of selecting partners and service providers and 61% of respondents indicated that their organization plans to roll out a mobility strategy this year.
The same survey found that 43% of respondents are planning to invest in wearable technology, such as Epson Moverio, Vuzix iWear and Google Glass smartglasses, which enable data to be captured and relayed in real-time, while leaving field engineers’ hands free to complete skilled tasks. Schlumberger, for example, has trialed workflow apps on Google Glass, with the goal of improving field workers’ safety, efficiency and productivity.
Smartphones and tablets running mobile applications that provide rig managers, field engineers, geologists and derrick hands with real-time asset information; job procedures; workflow apps and automated data capture, could benefit asset management and workforce management. By using apps that automate asset condition monitoring and diagnostics; appointment scheduling and reporting; workflow management; and image capture, upstream organizations can remove duplication and errors introduced through transcribing hand written notes, improve efficiency, save costs and benefit worker safety. Consider, for example, the benefits of enabling rig managers to use their phone, tablet or smart glasses to transmit live images of assets to remote experts so that they can consult, collaborate and speed diagnostics, without having to bring external resources in to remote sites.
Ongoing regulatory and safety requirements to monitor the condition and performance of assets may drive an increased adoption of these so-called “wearables” and Internet of Things (IoT) in upstream businesses. As technology continues to develop, growing data workloads from intelligent sensors installed within upsteam infrastructure can provide ongoing information to predict future maintenance schedules and help drive further efficiencies.
Mobile apps could also help simplify scheduling and work order management, while also seeking to improve performance, equipment, and infrastructure monitoring, supporting automated workflows, reducing administration and replacing paper-based processes.
Speaking at the IoT in Oil and Gas conference, Blake Burnette, director of equipment R&D at Baker Hughes, noted that upstream has the greatest potential for IoT implementation, a sentiment echoed by Scientific Technical Services President, Dave Lafferty, who noted that IoT could transform how the oil and gas industry acquires, communicates, analyzes and visualizes data.
However, rather than simply transferring desktop functionality to the small screen, a “mobile-first” approach can look for new ways of working, based on the features and functionality that are unique to smartphones, tablets, wearable devices, mobile apps, and cloud technologies.
Linking mobile apps to back office IT
The integration of modern mobile technologies with existing back office IT systems also presents both technical and business challenges. It is important to seek to implement an enterprise mobile strategy that can more effectively use this data by integrating data points, such as embedded sensors, mobile apps, and wearable devices, with existing back-end systems.
Enterprise-grade mobile application platforms are software development frameworks which provide the functionality to accelerate the development and deployment of mobile apps. They reduce the complexity of integrating mobile apps with data stored in back-end systems, by providing application programming interfaces (APIs) and pre-built connectors, as well as providing storage, security, management and other important integration development services. They also simplify deployment and updating of apps to devices and backend code, which can be hosted and managed through the cloud. As the volume of mobile apps increases, having a mobile application platform that supports ongoing app development and management, can be more efficient and cost-effective.
Mobile app development draws on multiple skillsets, which can demand collaboration between in-house and outsourced developers, business managers, end users, and operational IT staff. Mobile application platforms can offer the benefit of supporting code sharing and version control, to facilitate collaboration on app development, while providing centralized control and visibility over different developers’ access and the code that they have contributed. Mobile application platforms can also support back-end integration, by enabling mobile apps to connect to enterprise data sources in a way that can also make them available for future mobile projects.
Using mobile technology to connect the back office with assets and employees in the field can offer new opportunities for the oil and gas industry to innovate and automate key business processes. Atex-approved smartphones from suppliers such as ecom Instruments, BARTEC and Motorola, running open source mobile operating systems such as Android, can deliver functionalities such as lone worker safety, location-awareness, and more accurate and timely data input that can help to drive operational efficiencies for routine field tasks, while improving employee safety.
This data flow should be two-way. Better efficiencies may also be achieved by unlocking data from legacy back-end systems and making this data available to mobile apps.
When building enterprise-grade mobile apps, the oil and gas industry can look to emulate success stories from other sectors, such as transport infrastructure. Enterprise mobility programs in this sector have already taken advantage of collaboration, agility and flexibility afforded by mobile application platforms and the cloud.
While the oil and gas industry has understandably been more risk averse when adopting new information technologies, we anticipate a number of mobile and IoT innovations could be driven by upstream organizations as they respond to international competition and falling oil prices and seek ways to improve efficiency while maintaining safety in the field.
Cathal McGloin is vice president of mobile platforms with Red Hat, an American multinational software company providing open-source software products to the enterprise community.