ACHIEVING MAXIMUM DIGITAL PLANT VALUE 

eVision Chief Architect Damian Hickey on achieving maximum value from digital innovations, and the software vendors’ collective responsibility to cater for compatibility and Interoperability.

Hazardous industries are rapidly adopting digital plant technologies, resulting in significant benefits from even incremental improvements, especially in complex offshore environments. When the digital plant truly embraces and employs common standards-based technologies, the results are set to be revolutionary and the benefits transformational. However, the digital plant is only as effective as the interoperability between the technologies connecting people, process and plant with data.

Creating value through data exchange and platforms

For upstream oil & gas, maximising production has long been a challenge. Using digital technology, we collect data from different sources and aggregate it together to not only connect people, process and plant, allowing frontline operational staff to work faster and safer; we can also use this data to diagnose operations and trigger real-time prompts and set alarms, triggers and alerts. The most interesting instance of leveraging data occurs when we use this data for analytics to predict and optimize operations, by foreseeing future operational issues and patterns. In order to achieve maximum value from data from the field, more and more hardware and software vendors allow their products to exchange data and enable each other to create value, in essence taking a platform-based approach. This way, end users—not only frontline operational staff, but also those in the office and in the board room—achieve maximum value from the digital plant.

The newest innovations in operational intelligence are realizing tools that make data actionable in the field: just-in-time technology that gets the right info to the right place, in ever shorter time frames.

Digital integrations are the key aspect of the just-in-time tech philosophy. Integration leads to interoperability and platform thinking—the glue and structure, respectively, that hold these data systems together in the evolving digital ecosystem.

In the oil and gas industry, adopting new platforms (like mobility) is a major opportunity for achieving greater business value in the organisation. Most oil and gas companies already use mobility as a decision-making tool, and platform-based business models tend to yield tangible increases in financial performance, according to a 2017 Accenture report.

Open API: an industry standard

Although the O&G industry is rapidly realising the numerous opportunities digitalisation offers, they still suffer from bottlenecks in implementing advanced solutions due to a lack of open standards. A 2015 Deloitte report describes how an E&P company in Colorado wanted to upgrade its supervisory control and data acquisition system to manage growing complexity in operations. As the system was using a vendor-proprietary data-communications format, the new vendor had to write a new driver from scratch to communicate with the old system, costing the operator $180,000.

To achieve interoperability, these data systems need to leverage industry standards. The interfaces between data systems should ideally work according to the standard web-based open API protocol; even when an organisation’s data systems change on their own, using the open API standard ensures the glue that holds them together will always stick. SAP, IBM and Microsoft are among members of the Open API Initiative, which evangelises the open API standard.

Leveraging industry standards with open API integrations ensures smoother rollouts, more flexibility and fewer data silos. This shortens the barrier to adoption and saves everyone money and time. For example, software vendors such as SAP use APIs to allow for two-way integration of MMS systems with other tools in the overarching Control of Work platform. This results in more efficient operations, as information from work orders is directly pulled from and pushed to the MMS system, and an up-to-date overview of all permit activities on a plant, for the operational staff, back office staff, and management.

Furthermore, open APIs are also platform-agnostic. One open API-based digital ecosystem can support several kinds of clients, software architectures, desktop and mobile users and even 3D devices.

It doesn’t matter how you choose to access the software; the devices and systems leverage the same integration points on the web, and those won’t change if they follow industry standards. And since the integrations live on the web, the greater ecosystem can also integrate new types of interactive media, weaving novel visualizations into the operational workflow.

The digital ecosystem

Just-in-time tech also needs to follow standards for other business operations; FLOC for equipment management, DEXPI for data exchange, IOS 15926, and MIMOSA, to name a few. Standardisation of interoperability is a nascent movement, but the benefits are numerous: tech that is modular, flexible, multi-protocol, multi-device and achieves multi-connectivity on a single platform.

The digital ecosystem has touchpoints across various parts of the business, creating a suite of connected services—and connected devices. The choice is up to the user as to how to interact with them, and the vendors’ collective responsibility to cater for compatibility and interoperability.

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