What Oil and Gas Has Taught Us About UX and Mobile Solutions

By Adrian Garcia | Jul 09, 2015

ChaiOne has done a bunch of work in the oil and gas industry. Our efforts stretch across customer service centers in Mexico, distributions facilities along the Gulf Coast, offshore oil rigs in the Pacific Ocean, and to frozen land rigs in northern Canada. Below is a short list of considerations for those that want to make mobile technology with great user experiences for oil and gas field workers. This is split across two parts: Part 1 is about the human considerations and Part 2 is about specific opportunities for mobility.

Part 1: Human Considerations in Oil and Gas

Upstream has unique cultural challenges requiring a careful deployment strategy

Within upstream, attitudes toward technology reside on two polar extremes–love and hate. It appears that which pole one identifies with is best predicted by their years of experience. More experienced upstream workers–specifically those working offshore–have been failed by previously released technology. Their years of experience have conditioned them to expect that new technology will be complicated to use, require lots of time and effort to learn, will be unreliable, and will slow down their productivity. Consequently, experienced field workers prefer to do things the old fashioned way. They are likely to reject new technology if they have a choice for the slower, but less confusing and more reliable traditional manual methods.

On the other hand, attitudes about technology for less experienced workers are shaped more by their prior experience with consumer technology than by the failures of previously released enterprise software. They put lots of faith in the effectiveness of applications that go unused by the more experienced work group, but believe the existing technology is overwhelmingly complicated especially in comparison to consumer software. Consequently, they will invest the time it takes to learn complicated software.

The takeaway is that any redesign–if done correctly–has the opportunity to make the experienced workforce faster and more productive and shorten the learning curve for the less experienced workers. There are clear ROI gains by deploying technology to achieve these ends. However, the design and deployment needs to be done in such a way that new technology is embraced by the workforce rather than rejected. ROI is lost through spending more on extensive education and having management enforce the use of technology. To avoid this and deploy with success, first version mobile applications should be super skinny. It should focus on one or two hot-ticket functions that provide the highest productivity gains and slowly expand with time. With this method, the first version apps will be simple and unintimidating while delivering real value. This facilitates uptake with the more experienced group and will reduce the learning hours burned by the less experienced group, making them effective sooner rather than later.

Devices need to be rugged for midstream and upstream

Midstream and upstream work occurs in rugged harsh environments. It is common for devices to be exposed to extreme temperatures, dirt and a variety of fluids. Naturally, the individuals who work in these environments become rugged themselves; They are rough with their tools, and they expect and need devices to be able to handle a beating.

A nice shiny tablet right out of the box won’t last long in the hands of the most enthusiastic roughneck. For devices to be considered excellent tools for the job, they need to be ruggedized to handle tosses, drops, smashes, extreme heat and cold and be waterproof in case they are dropped in fluids. Furthermore, they need to have anti-glare screens that are viewable in direct sunlight while wearing tinted-polarized safety glasses.

Part 2: Opportunities for Mobility

Mobility for Efficient Human Movement

Across upstream, midstream, and downstream, teams can benefit from intelligent human movement. Time is wasted by workers not moving to the places that are closest to them that need attention. For example, being aware of the closest land wells that need to be visited, or being able to send the closest lease operator to a well that needs repair would be a big timesaver and contribute to less downtime in production. Within midstream, inspections can run longer than necessary because of the back and forth done to fetch documentation.

Mobility for Real-time Diagnostics

To a certain extent, downtime is exacerbated by not having real-time production information available when it is needed. In some cases, engineers will not check up on production and status of machinery as much as they would like because examining the information requires booting up a company laptop and then logging into systems that take longer than they should. This experience is described as so annoying that employees would rather not check the status of production outside of work hours unless they hear about an emergency. As we have done in the past, securely providing access to such information that is easier than checking your bank statement on a mobile app will cause engineers and lease operators to check system statuses more frequently and outside of work hours. This increase in awareness allows problems to be detected before they become emergencies.

Mobility to Eliminate Rework

Oil and gas has a lot of rework. Often, many operations and inspections have to be done with a pen and paper and then transcribed into digital form often back at a remote office. When collecting information in this way, there are many opportunities for errors. If an error occurs, it may require a second trip back to the field. In some cases, a trip back to the field could be a car ride, or putting a full body insulated suit back on if working in a cold climate.

After the transcription is complete, forms are checked for completion and accuracy by management. It is possible for forms to not be approved because of errors that occur at the transcription stage. Mobility can solve these issues by eliminating all paper to digital transcription and reducing the likelihood of submitting a form that is incomplete and inaccurate. Computer intelligence can check for common errors and remind users about incomplete fields prior to leaving the site and prior to submitting the form to management.

Mobility to Promote Safety and Compliance

In some cases, following proper procedures is a pain. There are some jobs that cannot proceed unless you’re filling out documentation and getting permission to continue jobs with several signatures. In other cases that we have seen, employees are supposed to follow certain procedures. If they forget a procedure, technically they are supposed to fetch documentation enumerating the protocol often located in a remote office somewhere. When considering the context and of employees working 12 hours of physical labor, it may be hot and they may be hungry, tired, and sleepy. The temptation to move along with collecting all the paper work is high.

Mobility can solve problems by making all documentation easy to access. Forms can be filled out digitally and signatures can be collected electronically. Contextually aware applications can make this even easier by providing the right content at the right location. Not sure what the procedure is on how to operate a piece of machinery? All documentation, including training videos can be made easily available on a mobile device by simply standing within proximity of the machine. It is even possible to retrieve real-time instructions without stopping your primary task.

Conclusion

Mobile solutions are widely applicable in oil and gas. To properly leverage mobility, teams need to consider the environment, the nature of the work, and the physical and psychological characteristics of the user group. When designed well mobility can improve the efficiency of human movement, aid in real-time diagnostics, eliminate rework, and even promote safety and compliance, all making significant impacts to a company’s bottom line. When done correctly, mobile technology with a great UX will transform how people work in the oil and gas industry.


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