Knowledge management – are we ready for change?

The future “digital oilfield” must be more than just a trendy buzz word, says Tim Marting, or we risk losing “lessons learned” in out-of-reach pockets of data.

Major investment in new extraction technologies is made constantly to help oil and gas industry companies deliver as much oil and gas as possible from “every nook and cranny.”

A massive amount of information is gathered, from discovery through recovery. But is this data used efficiently? What does the industry need to do to transform the data into knowledge? Should more investment be made in new software and hardware technologies that improve oil and gas workers’ capacity to extract, distill and best use the complex information stored in existing data warehouse repositories?

According to the Data Warehousing Institute, the cost of data quality problems for American businesses exceeds US$600 billion each year. Various business “think-tank” sources estimate that an average company uses up 3.5% of its corporate revenue just to manage company data. And if a large chunk of such information is not put to use, it means company resources are being squandered on a significant scale.

Essential information too often is hidden in organizational silos that are difficult for employees to access, let alone retrieve, analyze and manage. Multiple systems hold different versions of data, and, as the old saying goes, “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

In fact, International Data Corp., an American market research, analysis and advisory firm specializing in information technology, estimates that employees spend 8.8 hours per week searching for such hard-to-find information.

Compounding this dilemma is an array of oil and gas information and asset-maintenance management applications or systems that typically operate in isolation, e.g. health, safety and environmental (HSE) databases, quality management, process controls, document/content management, along with risk assessment and product safety and compliance software packages. A recent IBM study estimated that 80% of a company’s data is unstructured, making it difficult to manage and interpret for business use.

In the end, oil and gas firms suffer from information overload.

Image from Versatec.

The key challenge facing the oil and gas knowledge management field today is how to produce an overall, holistic platform solution that logically integrates all company information, including legacy system data. Current approaches fix the symptoms with application-specific solutions but do not address the root cause. The real goal should be to work toward creating a unified, easy-access system (including mobile devices like tablets and smart phones) that lets employees – from the office executive to the worker out in the field – better process, filter and use information for their jobs in a more streamlined, interactive way.

Ultimately, the strategy must be to focus on the information itself, not the various applications, and how to direct the right data to the right person, team or division.

At the same time, this is not an argument to replace existing information systems, but to efficiently use and process the most important information stored in current systems. Data or information should be presented in a universal interface across systems. This way, such data becomes knowledge that can be put to good use.


A fully-integrated knowledge management solution saves time and money. Better document sharing and seamlessly integrated information boosts efficiency and productivity across-the-board. Quickly getting the right information leads to better tracking and follow-up maintenance of mature and new assets. The most successful retrieval solution will show relationships between information from multiple systems. In turn, increased quality control and decreased risks are the result, with improved safety and compliance.

For example, imagine that you are an operations executive with an oil and gas company that operates multiple offshore platforms and subsea units. Your goal is to increase HSE compliance and overall productivity by giving staff easy access to essential information. Their main goal, of course, is to keep their installations running safely and efficiently.

Image from Versatec.

You must tackle the asset information challenge or “bottleneck” that often results when multiple systems (e.g. CMMS, CMS, CRM, DCS, Historian databases, MAXIMO, SAP, SharePoint, 3D models, file folders, etc.) are used. As a result, operators are forced to conduct multiple, sometimes repetitive searches to access vital, need-to-know information. Traditional asset information gathering or search methods are one dimensional. A better way is to develop a secure, easy-to-use, integrated methodology that is multi-dimensional, showing correlations among documents, drawings, images and other sources in an intuitive manner.

Ideally, you implement a system that automatically shows relationships among data from different areas (i.e. process, maintenance, engineering, corporate offices) using common reference points. In fact, web-based supplementary applications are currently in use to enhance existing systems by streamlining and unifying data, with limited impact on the existing processes.

The future “digital oilfield” must be more than just a trendy buzz word. Right now, the oil and gas Industry worldwide is witnessing a demographic change. Seasoned older professionals are retiring and being replaced by younger, less experienced workers that are digital-media savvy. It is all the more reason a company should have an explicitly-refined knowledge management structure to ensure that precious details like those from valuable “lessons learned” are not lost forever in murky, out-of-reach pockets of data.

Tim Marting is the Operations Director of Versatec Energy, a global technical consultancy serving the oil and gas, energy, and marine industries. Versatec assists HSE, operational assurance and quality and compliance projects worldwide.


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