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Gearing Up for the O&G Industry’s Next Generation

06 May 2015

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The oil and gas industry has a youth problem. It’s being run by a generation that’s getting ready to exit the workforce, which in itself isn’t the trouble—experience leads to wisdom, after all. But the industry is dated in other, more important ways.

When young employees come in, they find themselves getting one layer deep in the company and finding an impassable wall of outdated technology that keeps them from doing their jobs. But instead of spending resources on updating those tools, oil and gas is often just educating new workers on technology that doesn’t really apply anymore. It’s the equivalent of patching leaky pipes instead of just replacing them.

The current generation of senior employees has knowledge that needs to be extracted. But that knowledge is so fragmented that it’s almost impossible to glean, kept on mental, metaphoric Post-It notes. That knowledge needs to be preserved before it’s too late.

Fortunately, intelligent, user-centered software can address and solve  some of the most intractable problems facing the O&G industry. From exploration to drilling to distribution to changes in how we consume and value energy, updated, modern software, attuned to the skills and knowledge of a new generation, is the key to preserving the sector. And to keeping young people interested in meeting its challenges. Here’s how it can help:

Reducing workflows

A recent report in E&P Magazine noted that oil and gas companies are spending billions of dollars on tech aimed at more efficient “tight oil” production, recovering lost resources. Fiber optics and chemical tracers and tech like 4-D imaging, barely even a dream a decade ago, are transforming the industry. These fast exploration tools need equally fast software to create efficiencies across the board. Updated software can trim down key jobs by several steps. Something that took seven different activities can now be done in three, cutting time-to-task in more than half. Taken individually, these may not seem like much, but as an economy of scale, there are enormous savings to be realized, especially as tech changes in great leaps.

A move away from hardware

 The industry has been slow to move data and operations onto the cloud. One major O&G firm, According to The American Oil & Gas Reporter, one major O&G firm has already moved all of its data onto virtualized cloud computing servers, greatly reducing costs and streamlining operations. While it’s not too late for other companies to follow suit, it soon will be. Once you make software and UX more efficient, not to mention independent of outdated machinery, skilled employees are free to pursue more specialized tasks.

Unified software

 O&G software needs to span the entire breadth of projects, from extraction to transport. Right now, there are discrete pieces of hardware and software for every phase. But they aren’t unified and aren’t communicating. That’s just not acceptable in a modern business environment. Updated and unified software will make tasks easier to complete and emergencies easier to detect. Integrated software systems can make better operational decisions and can even predict problems before they arrive.

Changes In The Grid

 The O&G industry would be foolish to ignore our fast-changing energy infrastructure. Through Solar City and Tesla Motors, Elon Musk is vertically integrating green energy infrastructure. Tom Siebel’s energy company C3 has developed an integrated software package for the energy industry, predicting energy load, balancing grids, and reducing consumption, all through a data engine—operated through Amazon’s cloud services—and no hardware of its own. Those are the sorts of efficiencies that are attracting young engineers to the ever-progressive renewable energy industry. Crusty O&G businesses would be wise to take notice.

Go Small

Obviously, large-scale equipment still occupies the key position in the industry, but O&G would be wise to also invest in micro-efficiencies. “Microgrids” came to public prominence at the time of Hurricane Sandy, keeping power running even in the face of unprecedented devastation. Recently, according to Forbes, the U.S. Navy has been using “mobile microgrids” to store power and energy that can be deployed quickly and strategically. Already, progressive thinkers  are using “microelectromechanical” (MEMS) “smart dust” devices to collect data. But that data needs to be paired with equally smart software and computing efficiency.

We realize that O&G companies are used to mining natural resources, not data. But while we still need power and the raw materials that create it—in fact, we need it more than ever—there’s no escaping the fact that we live in a data- and software-driven world. Software can be adapted and scaled to meet the challenges of any industry. O&G will never be as hip as Coachella or South By Southwest, but with some tweaks to the system, you can attract young talent and prevent decades of hard-won knowledge from slipping away forever.