Digital transformation

Digital Transformation and the Impact on Human Collaboration

In the ongoing digital transformation in the industry, it's not enough if we only adapt and improve data-processing capabilities; we should also empower human interaction, study, engagement, and collaboration through the use of that data.

Astra Innovations

It’s no secret how we engage and communicate in our personal and professional lives has changed dramatically since the introduction and adoption of mobile technologies that began in the 1990s. It could be said that in the years since, this topic has been played out—maybe even overblown. Yet this reality remains: The growing amount of data available will lead to the continued emergence of new technologies, inevitably impacting the ways we live and work.

A quick Google search dredges up a trove of opinions about the respective merits and dangers of the digital revolution and what it has meant for our lives. In fact, it can be difficult to ignore the apocalyptic potential of technology we see portrayed in popular culture, but is it possible there’s an outcome that doesn’t result in artificial intelligence taking over? Could there be an alternate ending where we actually “adapt” and “improve” how we communicate and collaborate? If our collective ability to reposition and adopt new methods during COVID-19 is any form of measure, then I feel we’ve got a good chance.

My career with NOV started in 2011 at a time where developments of the prior decade began to heavily materialize in the products being developed and delivered to market. Being in project management for offshore rig technologies, I had courtside seats to the introduction of new capabilities and also the make-or-break significance of effective communication. In particular, the pace of growth between 2012 and 2014 exposed the inner workings of a global engineering and manufacturing operation to me, and specifically highlighted the challenges associated with effective collaboration across time-zones, cultures, and projects.

So, what does all this have to do with the digital transformation of the oil field? In my case, it helped solidify a focus on what many believe to be the most crucial evolution for the industry moving forward.

Have We Matched the Pace of Development? Have We Done Enough?

In the Department of Energy’s Quadrennial Technology Review for 2015 it was concluded that in the decade or so leading up to 2011, “[s]ophisticated data acquisition, processing, and visualization applied across the sector” was one of the most important developments. There’s no question the industry has leveraged this and made significant advancements, resulting in improved efficiency of drilling, execution of complex multi-lateral wells, controlled hydraulic fracturing operations, and much more.

That said, it has been yet another decade since 2011, and the question must be asked: Have we matched the pace of development? Have we done enough?

In the realm of data available for aggregation and consumption, we are getting closer to the target. It is undeniable that the evolution has taken root and reshaped our business. There are products being introduced at a record pace to extract or create data from almost every tool between the entrance gate and the drill bit. This constant increase in data variety and velocity represents a tremendous opportunity for the industry and has spawned discussions about how to avoid skilled personnel being consumed with data jockeying. This is a critical question, but perhaps the one following closely behind is just as important: Can we adapt and improve not only data-processing capabilities, but also how we empower human interaction, study, engagement, and collaboration through the use of that data?

In a 2017 publication about the digital transformation of upstream oil and gas, Deloitte wrote that “[m]ore than the technicalities, it is often the digital muddle that’s deterring companies from achieving digital maturity.” It is now 2021, and while improvements are taking place, that statement stands relatively intact. The issue no longer remains viability of data nor tools to harness it, but actually in our ability to make insights from that data broadly accessible. To put it another way, we must see the increase of digital competence and skills within the industry, but we must also push for technologies that deliberately cut through the digital fog.

At its heart, the mission must be about equipping human beings with information that empowers innovation and development.

So, We Agree on the Importance of Technology, But How Do We Apply It?

After leaving NOV I had the great opportunity—through a circuitous route—to spend a year in the technology industry observing how companies like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google, often called by the acronym FAANG, operate, with a specific interest in software-as-a-service and digital integration. While no one is fully immune to the challenges of this digital evolution, there are lessons from others we can use to speed the pace and efficiency of adoption of technology in oil and gas. These global leaders are doing exceptionally well, and I believe we must follow suit in using methods to extract value and develop tools to meaningfully engage with available information.

The vision of products that profoundly improve the way we connect in a digital world is one I deeply resonate with. It is the primary element that drew me to Astra Innovations and currently inspires our work building Animo. By way of introduction, Animo is a centralized intelligence platform for drilling operations focused on seamless integration. Its mapping tools connect data from several sources to reduce the typical pains of conversion. The tool then applies automation to ensure data accuracy and uses modeling and analytics to deliver insights and optimization.

These capabilities advance the trajectory of drilling operations moving forward, but perhaps just as exciting is the in-app collaboration feature. Envision everyone in the value chain working together on source data in a simplified interface. This approach not only improves individual user experiences but also creates a connected landscape where the operator down through associated partners (mud companies, directional drillers, vendors, etc.) are all working in a joint platform and reaping the benefits of shared experience.

Animo seeks to support the application architecture of customers through an intuitive interface that enables teams to locate and visualize events within large sets of data, compare using powerful analytics tools, comment and tag, then highlight critical information and share. All of this is done in one location with the purpose of collaborative engagement. It is as valuable in real-time operations as in post-event analysis to optimize future wells.

All that being said, Animo is one tool; applied more broadly, this type of relationship between users and data represents a convergence of social media and engineering research. I believe this must be a fundamental goal for our industry, to push the cutting edge and equip human beings with information that empowers innovation—and to do so securely.

Returning to where we began, it is likely that years spent in project management have shaped much of my conviction in this arena. Seeing the influence of ineffective communication on projects—even with the best information available—makes for a powerful lesson. That same risk applies to every stage of operations, from exploration to production. Fortunately, we now have the opportunity to mitigate those risks and equip ourselves through the intelligent application of new technologies.

If we’ve learned anything from the challenge of COVID-19 and remote work, let it be the importance of communication. Perhaps the industry has been pushed to face this reality sooner than it might have otherwise, but if properly responded to it enables us to clearly see where we have room to improve and take the necessary steps. It truly may be the most significant shift in our industry since the inception of modern drilling. The next chapter is all about how we respond to the call.

[The article was sourced from the author by TWA editor Stephen Forrester.]