IT/OT Talk

Elaine Maslin

November 1, 2016

Talk of an IT and OT convergence has been increasing, including in the oil and gas business. Elaine Maslin reports.

"The first thing people need to realize is there’s an ugly job to do and [they need to] roll up sleeves,” says Duncan Irving, principal consultant, Oil & Gas, EMEA and APAC, Teradata.

He’s talking about how to deal with the mass (mess, even) of data the oil and gas industry generates daily. Traditionally, the industry has had IT as a corporate function, including analytics, with operations using different systems, depending on the business unit or asset, he says. In operations, data is sourced and held in the function that uses it as part of a so-called “point solution.” So, while data analytics are used on a corporate level, “out in the field, there’s less of an analytics culture,” he says.

“OT [operations technology] starts in a particular business unit and every business unit is doing their own thing,” Jane McConnell, industry consultant, oil and gas, Teradata, told OE at SPE Intelligent Energy in Aberdeen. While point solutions are created for particular problems, “they’re not doing something that’s transformative,” Irving says.

Because of point solutions, all oil industry data is in totally different systems, McConnell says, and totally disconnected.

“Vendors tend to perpetuate the situation by locking the data into their own systems,” she says. “If someone wants to add something extra into the workflow and puts it in Excel, it locks it up. It can be replaced by software, which fits in the point solution, but this perpetuates the situation where point solutions are in all these places. So, you end up with no real control of how data moves. All this data sits in different silos. There is no control group in charge of a lot of these systems. “Oil data can also be quite hard [i.e. compare sensor data to subsurface data], making it hard to handle. Then, you’ll have people who understand business intelligence tools, but who don’t know the data and people who know the data but spend all day buying applications,” she says.

However, the Internet of Things (IOT) is giving a glimmer of hope that this can be changed. “IT-OT is coming to fore,” she says. “It is people in the IT department opening their eyes and seeing all these systems they didn’t know existed before. But, there’s still a cultural difference between the two groups.”

Analytics can be done. The onshore fracking industry, being newer, with a new set of processes – well spacing for example, which hadn’t been such a focus before – and a much more agricultural setup, has been able to start with a blank sheet of paper, Irving says.

In refining, where it is also easier to link data from the refinery to cost or value of that activity – as part of a process more like manufacturing, operators use one system to know what’s going in one end and coming out the other, and what’s going on in the chain, so they can see where they are being suboptimal.

“Shell wants to know what is going through every pipe at any one time, with an integrated thread to tankers and trading desks, so they can see where their tankers are and save money, time deliveries, etc.,” Irving says. Even so, there are not that many refiners beyond Shell, BP, Exxon and Chevron that are that good at it, he says.

Cindy Crow is industry principal, oil and gas, at US-based OSIsoft, which provides the PI System, based around the PI Server, an information management system. The PI Server collects real-time data from sensors across an operation, no matter the vendor, and brings them onshore for access. From there, through the PI System, they can be monitored, visualized, and analyzed.

While such a system currently enables high frequency vibration monitoring and the potential to de-man facilities, what’s changing is an IT and OT convergence, where OT and IT information can be used together to optimize operations, Crow told OE at ONS in Stavanger this summer.

To put it another way, the data collected can be pushed out to other tools, such as predictive analytics or productivity platforms, and then used to look at similar processes or vendor equipment across the entire business. Third party vendors could also access the data, without compromising safety, as they’re not getting direct access to the data or system.