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The Power of Programmers: Productivity in Oil & Gas

By Ben Wilson, Chief Information Technology Officer, GE Oil & Gas


Ben Wilson, Chief Information Technology Officer, GE Oil & Gas

It is no secret the oil and gas industry is facing into some strong headwinds. A perennially low oil price, high workforce turnover, safety considerations and the difficulties associated with managing multiple fleets are all making life harder and more fraught for the sector, as well as keeping executives up at night.

“By sharing data and knowledge we can help customers optimise their maintenance strategies to guarantee greater operational efficiency and longer term durability”

Many of these problems are deep-rooted and have built up over time with no easy solutions. But the pace of technological innovation and specifically the rise of the Industrial Internet offer more than a glimmer of hope for a more productive industry.

At the heart of this exciting phenomenon is the Industrial Internet – the name given to the digital integration of physical machinery and processes with networked sensors and software – which is revolutionizing businesses and redefining the operational landscape.

By drawing on technological advances in fields as diverse as big data, processing power and automation, the Industrial Internet offers multinational companies unique opportunities to navigate complex terrain, optimize their assets, increase productivity and vastly enhance the overall performance of their businesses. It also helps keep workers informed and up to speed, allowing them to do their jobs more easily, efficiently and safely, with real-time feedback and data analytics driving up standards.

For these reasons the Industrial Internet has the potential to transform the oil and gas industry and allow it to be resilient during this challenging time.

The financial pressures caused by depressed oil prices and ageing infrastructure, coupled with the challenges of high industry retirement rates that arise from an ageing workforce, and the global issue of employees working in silos across different hubs and locations, are requiring oil and gas companies to build in additional flexibility and aim for lower operational costs.

The Industrial Internet provides the tools to allow them to do this and to maintain profitability despite the bleak backdrop. Companies are not seriously considering the benefits of integrated systems and digital collaboration risk being left behind.

Worldwide, there are currently more than 100,000 pieces of turbo machinery, one million pieces of artificial lift equipment and approximately two million miles of pipeline generating peta bytes of data each year. To give you some idea of the sheer quantity of information produced by that network, GE estimates that for every 30,000 miles of pipeline 17 terabytes of data is generated – more than the entire printed collection of the Library of Congress.

It has been estimated that by analysing all of this data, oil and gas companies can boost production by six to eight percent –a staggering statistic which, if realised, would represent a momentous leap forward. It was clear to us that the industry desperately needed new technology and computer programs that could harvest this data and process it at lightning-quick speed.

There has always been demand for new technologies that prevent incidents, enable businesses to be more agile and dynamic, and allow people to tackle issues remotely in safe environments, but that search for cutting-edge digital solutions has been given added impetus by the present market conditions and industry trends.

GE is hooking up companies to the Industrial Internet to provide them with a complete and accurate view of assets – wherever they are, their status and health - bringing unity and connectivity to disassembled and amorphous operations.

Our technology allows users to glean penetrating insights into the efficacy of their international apparatus, helping them to predict, diagnose and fix problems before they are faced with unplanned downtime. By sharing data and knowledge we can help customers optimise their maintenance strategies to guarantee greater operational efficiency and longer term durability.

Earlier this year, we announced a project with BP to link up 650 wells to optimize their production. Given that each week a subsea well is out of commission, operators experience revenue losses of more than $3 million– the prize is significant.

In fact, if the Industrial Internet was able to achieve just a one percent efficiency improvement in the oil and gas sector the results would be seismic. With the average world oil recovery rate now hovering at around 35 percent, if we can use the Industrial Internet to drive it up to 36 percent, then we can lift output by the equivalent of about three years of global oil production, or more than 80 billion barrels of expanded conventional oil reserves.

The industrial internet can foster greater collaboration and horizontal communication within businesses. The startling potential may not be the solution to the ongoing battle of the globe’s major oil producers, but it is certainly a game changing innovation that can provide companies with the competitive edge to drive a more efficient, more predictable operation.

As the Oil & Gas industry evolves into a new world of connected operations, the role of the CIO will become even more integral given the IT technologies that are being embedded in the heavy machinery used by operators. IT organizations are well staffed and positioned to support and exploit the growing use of IT technologies in operations and CIO’s will need to think about how to best support and capitalize on the explosion of data that is coming online.

At Gartner’s annual conference, GE CEO, Jeff Immelt reiterated this when he said, “CIO’s are now the leaders of innovation and the drivers of new businesses.” In fact, in GE’s Oil & Gas division, the IT organization is playing a critical role alongside R&D in developing new Industrial Internet applications and has also been tasked with establishing the business infrastructure and processes, including a new customer support operation, required to grow this new line of business. These are a few examples of where GE has disrupted its own IT organization to help the business innovate and evolve in this new digital era, in order to help our customers do the same.

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