Benefits of wireless for O&G explicated

Streamlined applications running on smaller devices—including iPhones—lead to happier, more productive oil-industry workers.


Full data sharing: Mobile solutions enable better communication between the field and control-room settings by allowing field personnel to see the same data that is displayed on large screens in the control room. Courtesy: TransparaThere's no question about it: we've gone mobile. Wherever you go people are using smartphones or tablets to check email, connect to social media or scan news headlines-tasks that just a few years ago, required a laptop or PC.

This ability to access and share information anytime from anywhere is among the primary reasons oil & gas companies are incorporating mobile technologies into their operations.

In fact, global consulting firm Accenture contends mobile adoption is currently a top-three technology priority for oil & gas companies because of its potential to address many of the industry's systemic challenges. Accenture presented that argument in a paper it published in conjunction with enterprise software supplier SAP.

The paper, titled "Mobile solutions for oil and gas companies. Enterprise mobility: a transformation opportunity," argues that the industry's many unique challenges-such as price volatility, heavy regulation and operations that span wide and diverse geographic areas-make having access to real-time information vital, which in turn makes mobile technology particularly valuable.

Without up-to-the-minute information about all their resources, Accenture argues, oil & gas companies are "unable to leverage their people and assets as efficiently as they should, and this inefficiency has a negative impact on productivity."

Technology suppliers also recognize the potential value mobile solutions can bring to oil & gas operations, and they are responding with a host of industry-specific applications.

Accenture argues that these solutions are further increasing the value of mobile technology for oil & gas companies by making it easier for individual workers to both access and share information.

"A wide variety of mobile applications can now be deployed across engineering and operations—including drilling, well management and environmental, health and safety," Accenture states in its mobile oil & gas solutions paper. "By enabling the seamless flow of information—whenever and wherever it is needed most—the technologies now available have effectively closed the decision-making loop, going beyond mere data-capture to include real-time analysis and response in the field."

Two-way communication

Insight anytime, anywhere: Most mobile applications developers employ responsive design techniques for building user interfaces. That means the software automatically adjusts to fit on whatever screen it’s viewed at a given moment. Courtesy: TransparaBecause the current generation of mobile technology also can easily handle two-way communication, field personnel can send data back to enterprise systems that can be used for longer-term analysis and process improvement.

"Until recently, the primary use [of mobile technology] had been to get information out into the hands of field personnel," the Accenture paper notes. "Now, companies are attaching greater importance to the inward flow of information to data-driven enterprise systems such as enterprise-resource planning (ERP), enterprise-asset management (EAM), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and supply-chain management (SCM)."

Oil & gas companies are using this new generation of mobile solutions to support a wide range of tasks—from managing work orders and parts inventories related to equipment maintenance, to monitoring equipment status and filing inspection and regulatory compliance reports.

There is simple logic behind the adoption of this technology. It's much easier to review and record readings via the screen of a mobile device than it is to carry and keep track of a paper notebook, or even a laptop computer. That makes workers happier, and ultimately more productive.

Both workers and management also seem to be responding positively to the approach many technology suppliers are taking when it comes to designing mobile oil & gas solutions. Rather than developing solutions based on assumptions about what these companies and their workers want and need, technology suppliers are now more prone to go out into the field to assess those needs first-hand. In most cases, they then will build solutions tailored to the needs of that specific company rather than taking the traditional approach of developing a generic application and trying to sell it to multiple customers. 

User context drives design

"We want to solve problems that are worth solving," declared Gaurav Khandelwal, CEO of ChaiOne, in explaining that supplier's development approach. "It starts with our strategy group, which consists of individuals who are trained in being empathetic to peoples' frustrations and stresses. We send them into refineries, into the fields and onto rigs to get a sense of the business problems as they exist on the ground."

Sometimes the team discovers a problem can be solved simply by updating decades-old business processes rather than installing new technology. When technology is required, ChaiOne assigns a business analyst to review the situation and calculate the potential financial return the company can expect from solving the problem.

"We always want to quantify the cost before designing a solution," Khandelwal said. "Then we design a solution that accounts for the context in which it will be used." That context includes not only the data that users will be viewing or exchanging, but also the environment in which they will be working.

This focus on user context has made interface design a top priority for most suppliers of industrial-mobile solutions. "The interface is always designed around the user," Khandelwal explained. "If we know a person may have to go out at 4:00 am to respond to SCADA system alerts, we're not going to make them look at a white background. We'll give them a dark background with lighter lettering that will be easier to read in the dark. If the user is a welder, we will equip them with a smart watch instead of a smartphone or tablet so their hands can be free while performing that job."

This approach resulted in the design of a system for Weatherford, an oil-field services company, that reduced well downtime and boosted operator productivity by 100%, per Khandelwal.

When Weatherford initially engaged ChaiOne, its goal was to simply mobilize a desktop application that was monitoring oil-field production for hundreds of Weatherford customers. Many of those customers were unhappy because the desktop system was frequently issuing SCADA alarms that operators only became aware of when they returned from the field hours later. 

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