Special Report:Oilfields in the Cloud

A key technology trend that is having a major impact on the use of Big Data is the Internet of Things, which offers the opportunity for a massive amount of data to be collected from sensors deployed across entire oilfields, writes Keri Allan

Fady Younes, acting managing director, Cisco UAE.
Fady Younes, acting managing director, Cisco UAE.

The Middle East’s oil and gas companies are on a journey to optimise their operations. The use of data to drive optimisation continues to grow in scope and sophistication, with companies analysing data to support areas such as strategic decision-making, asset utilisation, performance monitoring, demand prediction and risk mitigation.

Big Data technology is coming to the fore because it allows oil and gas businesses to capture detailed data in real time, and at low cost, opening up opportunities to help improve operating efficiency as well as to lower risk.

One of the biggest technology trends to be impacting the use of Big Data is the Internet of Things (IoT), which offers the opportunity to collect data from sensors deployed across entire oilfields.

“The integration of IoT in the oil and gas industry is resulting in increased access to information, making it possible for companies to save millions of dollars. As information becomes accessible 24/7 and in real-time, operators are able to streamline business efficiency,” explains Ghassan Barghouth, vice president for Oil and Gas and Industrial Segments for the Middle East region at Schneider Electric.

The industry is already seeing a wide range of benefits from adopting Big Data solutions, as Tony Milan, executive partner – Natural Resources, IBM Middle East and Africa, highlights.

“Regional oil and gas companies continue to use big streams from sensor technology to assess and optimise their activities,” he says. “Upstream clients leverage high performance computing to run cutting-edge specialised simulation software that allows them to interpret how oil and gas moves through porous rock under different conditions, in order to optimise their exploration and production activities.”

Real-time, advanced data analysis is invaluable to an industry looking to streamline processes. It can do this by allowing oil and gas businesses to gain insights that empower improved planning for – and optimisiation of – assets such as drilling rigs, wells and oilfields.

Gartner research has found that many of the top analytics initiatives within this sector have been implemented to incorporate and leverage operational data from digitally monitored oil fields. The analyst also found that digital oilfield analytical solutions are playing an increasingly important role in upstream companies, and the ability to combine operational data with asset, transactional, financial and reservoir data is optimising business performance.

Another area of interest has been user-friendly predictive modelling, as tech-savvy management is keen to drill down deep into the data they have gathered. And, as Fawwaz Qadan, head of Platforms and Innovations at SAP MENA, highlights, with companies facing tough business challenges, fast and user-friendly automated analysis is key.

“Predictive modelling is essential for oil and gas companies facing volatile prices. SAP recently proposed an Energy Independence Simulator, with a real-time dashboard that could allow Middle East oil and gas companies to simulate and predict scenarios, and decide on rational energy strategies.”

Megha Kumar, senior research manager – software for IDC Middle East, Turkey & Africa, agrees: “Using user-friendly predictive modelling allows business users to run their own analytics by improving process and time taken to run analyses and speed up decision making,” she says.

“Access to this level of automation is critical when companies are plagued with cost and resource optimisation goals.”

In response to this growing interest, IBM’s Milan notes that a variety of easy-to-use predictive modelling tools are coming onto the market.

“Many of the equipment manufacturers are either providing their own predictive solutions or collaborating with ICTs to provide such platforms,” he explains.

Then there is cloud computing – a substantial enabler when it comes to Big Data, providing a foundation that gives companies the ability to further leverage the power of these analytics.

Microsoft’s director of Oil and Gas, Middle East and Africa, Omar Saleh, believes that the “cloud conversation” is fundamentally one of business value. He notes that most national and international oil companies are looking at cloud-based systems as they strive to address productivity and mobility, and look for business capabilities that build on the agility and scalability that are offered by the cloud applications.

“Cloud computing is significantly changing the way the oil and gas industry is using IT,” says Fady Younes, acting managing director, Cisco UAE. “It is reducing operational costs, non-productive time, business risk, and uncertainty for companies. By relieving them of the cost and burden of managing large data, the cloud is helping companies to have greater focus on their core competency.”

Looking forward, technology experts are expecting more of the region’s oil and gas businesses to embrace cloud computing because it provides them with “low upfront costs, speed and agility in delivery, and enhanced security,” says Milan. “On-premise public, hybrid or private cloud models will provide perfect environments to support Big Data analytics and the benefits they bring,” he adds.

“By enabling a hybrid cloud, oil and gas companies can securely and selectively allow their technology partners – including equipment manufacturers and services companies – to assist them in their Big Data analytics journey,” he continues. “This is accomplished in two ways: companies’ resources can focus on the value and impact of the analyses, rather than the underlying hardware that supports them, and they can pull in the deep expertise their partners can contribute,” he explains.

Next-generation analytics and cloud-based applications are reshaping the way companies collect, sort and disseminate data. A new business model is evolving, which promises a greater level of integration and data usage than ever before. It is no longer a matter of if companies should invest in these types of applications, but when that should be done. And that, it would seem, is right now.

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