The recent precipitous drop in oil prices demands that companies respond by cutting operational costs wherever possible. Costs that were sustainable at prices of $100 a barrel are simply not sustainable with oil prices in the $40’s.
With prices at their current levels, oil companies must learn how to do more with less and get as much as possible out of every employee and every asset. Targeted investments in mobility can enhance efficiency and provide rapid payback attractive even in a constrained investment environment.
Using Mobility to Increase Efficiency and Reduce Costs
The old adage that time is money applies particularly well to the oil field. Every minute a company is not pumping due to an issue means less revenue to cover fixed costs. Every minute extra that it takes a lease operator to clear an alarm is a minute that a company is paying for somebody else to do routine maintenance that the lease operator would otherwise be doing. Every extra hour a service contractor takes is another hit to the budget.
Time is at the center of a mobile strategy to increase efficiency and reduce costs for companies in the oil and gas industry. Mobility provides opportunities to reduce time spent on the mundane as well as provide the information required to deploy finite resources to address the most important issues. Mobile solutions of increasing sophistication bring with them the opportunity for greater strategic gains and increased cost savings.
For example, at a basic level a mobile deployment can enable field data capture and validation in place of paper forms for daily operations checklists and safety checks, reducing the time wasted in duplicate data entry and following up on the attendant mistakes. A more sophisticated deployment uses the contextual capabilities of the device to automatically fill in location and other data required for the form, further reducing time entry and mistakes. An even more sophisticated solution adds analysis on top of both the data entered and the contextual data of how the data is entered so that the enterprise can continuously improve its operations. At this level, every employee’s device basically becomes a node in the Internet of Things, enabling companies to optimize how their people move and interact.
Simple forms apps, while worthwhile cost saving investments in their own right, are just the first step in unlocking the value that mobility can bring to the enterprise. Below are just some of the opportunities where mobility can increase efficiency of operations in the oil and gas industry:
Exploration and Production
Supervisors and others on drilling rigs are constantly required to fill out checklists, inspection forms, tickets, reports, and other daily operational items. Far too often, these are still entered on a clipboard and then retyped in a rig computer for submission. This is not only a waste of time in its own right, but also takes key personnel off the rig floor to fill out paperwork, increasing the risk of costly mistakes, accidents, and delays. Entering data directly through ruggedized mobile devices saves time and keeps key personnel where they need to be, with their eyes on the action.
Exploration and production features vendors from different companies coming on and off site, moving things including water, oil, spare parts, sand, and ancillary equipment. This can rapidly become a logistical nightmare for both operators and service companies, as well as a time consuming headache for service companies to get the billing right. By using the location sensitive capabilities of modern mobile devices, personnel as well as equipment can be tracked automatically, and many billing functions can be automated based on mobile data entry and implicit data capture is possible using a context sensitive device.
During production, fast access to SCADA data from mobile devices can allow lease operators to prioritize production wells needing attention and route workers directly to the closest wells. This reduces travel time, enables management by exception, and minimizes costly downtime.
Midstream companies can benefit from many of the same efficiency enhancing mobile technologies as exploration and production companies. Checklists, safety inspections, field ticketing, logistics, and SCADA visualization all apply to the monitoring and maintenance of pipelines as well as production rigs.
For example, a service company performing cathodic protection inspections on a pipeline can benefit from faster data entry using mobile devices, including letting the device automatically complete data based on the user’s location combined with GIS data for a known protection checkpoint. Context sensitive devices can then automate the billing for the inspection using time in site, distance travelled, and other relevant factors. The combination of these technologies can result in significant savings in time and money.
In addition to the items above, downstream organizations can specifically benefit in using mobile to increase the ability to visualize SCADA data by process engineers. Putting key process data into the hands of process engineers in real time allows for real time optimization of processes, increasing overall efficiency and reducing the risk of accidents or damage.
The benefits of mobility are not constrained to the field or refinery. In good times, key decision makers spend considerable amounts of time in meetings and travelling between far-flung locations. Now, given the rapid change in prices in the industry, key executives are in meetings even more of the time to determine the best way to react to falling prices. Sometimes this meeting time means that execs cannot keep up with daily operations and make the best possible tactical calls to increase revenue and decrease expense.
Smartphone and tablet apps that allow executives to keep tabs on operations, and make better decisions, quickly, while in meetings or on the road can result in significant savings to the enterprise when better decisions can be made in a timely manner.
Some Considerations for A Cost Efficient Mobile Strategy
The items above are just a few examples of where mobility can directly impact efficiency, reduce costs, and improve the bottom line. When executing a mobile strategy to achieve efficiency gains by implementing tools such as those listed above, here are a few additional questions to ask:
Are you taking full advantage of context?
Mobility is a great tool for remote data entry and point-to-point communications, but this only scratches the surface of what is possible with today’s mobile devices. To truly maximize the gains from mobility investments, it is important to use the contextual capabilities of modern devices to allow implicit data entry and logistical optimization.
Can you take advantage of BYOD?
One of the best ways to maximize bang for the buck is to deploy powerful business apps on top of assets the company didn’t have to buy. Companies must take a close look at security requirements to determine what data really requires restriction to company owned devices, and what can be accessed and entered as a part of a BYOD strategy. When looking at BYOD, companies must also decide how many platforms to support across iOS, Android, and Windows. In answering this question, companies should look for partners with expertise in the individual platforms as well as emerging cross platform solutions such as Xamarin.
Can you share data across company boundaries?
Both exploration and production sites often have workers from many different operator, contractor, and services companies on site at the same time, working towards the same goal. Companies must think about data that crosses company lines and what sort of open mobile platforms can be built to get everybody on the same page, and simplify logistics and communication, without needing expensive interfaces or back end systems.
What level of connectivity is really required?
Native mobile applications with local data storage still provide the best user experience and are most likely to support business needs regardless of network connectivity. However, individual companies must evaluate their operating locations: 4G wireless connectivity is now prevalent in many onshore operating basins. Depending on the application and operating locations, mobile web may be a cost effective option for a company.
What are device safety requirements? Can you take advantage of standard devices?
Historically, the safety requirements for devices meant that handheld computers for rig use were customized, expensive, and hard to update. This is no longer the case. Many device manufacturers are actively seeking industry feedback to build robust field grade devices, and it is possible with hard and soft cases on the market to bring even standard tablet devices up to intrinsically safe standards. Scenarios that previously required mission specific handhelds can now be addressed more flexibly and cost effectively using mass-market tablets with the right apps.