Richard Dyson: big data interview

This week’s Powerful Thinking article is a Q&A on Big Data with io CEO, Richard Dyson. An extract of these questions and answers first appeared in the “Drilling deeper into data” article written by Karen Boman in October’s Offshore Engineer magazine, this article can be read at:{“issue_id”:441740,”page”:20}

How would you define Big Data?

At io we consider Big Data as referring to datasets of unprecedented scale, which, if analysed properly, can provide business with new and exciting insights into how they can improve and streamline their operations and business models.

Is it really something new to oil and gas, or just something being discussed more in recent years?

Big Data isn’t new to the oil and gas industry; it has been around for years, with the industry applying analytics to large datasets to inform decisions, particularly regarding seismic data. What is new, however, is the holistic approach being taken to Big Data. The confluence of increased computing power, more sensor technology and the lower for longer oil price is driving the industry to look for a competitive edge through the exploitation of Big Data. The potential for insights and value to be derived from combining subsurface, subsea, facilities and operating data derived throughout the project lifecycle is huge. This approach is new.

What have been some of the initial applications of Big Data in oil and gas? Have these applications been focused on offshore or onshore? Is there greater potential for offshore or onshore?

Beyond the traditional applications of big data in the seismic area. Oil and gas has initially moved to apply sensors to operating equipment with a view to improving operational efficiency, predictive maintenance and reducing down time. This approach yields value however it only focuses on the operating part of a facility’s lifecycle. There are huge opportunities to apply big data throughout the lifecycle; at io we believe in starting with the end and if the intent is to leverage Big Data to maximise value and asset safety, then we need to embed a Big Data approach at the earliest stages of concept and carry it through the full project. This along with all aspects of Big Data are equally applicable to offshore and onshore, both arenas offer a myriad of data that can be examined and analysed to bring improvements.

Are there new applications that offshore oil and gas operators are looking at due to the 2014 oil price downturn? Are companies adopting new approaches/technologies, or has the pace been sluggish? Are there barriers standing in their way?

Unsurprisingly, considering the long history of working with Big Data, there are many organisations leveraging a Big Data approach to seismic work. We can see this with the innovative seismic techniques BP credit as being integral to the cost reductions that allowed the Mad Dog 2 project to go ahead. Beyond this, there have been some discussions in the industry regarding the use of Big Data to create digital twins of facilities. This is one of the most exciting opportunities offered by the Big Data revolution and we are starting to see movement towards this model by operators and contractors. However, it is hampered by a lack of collaboration; rather than working together for the good of all, there is a race to establish primacy in an attempt to gain a competitive edge. This lack of collaboration hinders both innovation and actual delivery of the digital twin due to a reluctance to share data.

What have been the primary challenges in addressing Big Data? Do you think the offshore oil and gas industry has adequately addressed these problems? Have new problems arisen in recent years?

The challenges in addressing Big Data are similar to those facing the introduction of any new way of working to the industry. Firstly, we need a coherent strategy throughout the industry, what are we trying to do and how are we going to get there. This applies to individual companies like io or even an operator but it also applies to projects where a Big Data strategy needs to consider the compatibility between datasets from differing project disciplines. This is particularly pertinent if we are trying to build a digital twin. When we look at the common data environment approach encompassed by the construction industry’s Building Information Modelling, which they will use for smart cities and digital buildings, we see one of the biggest challenges was the compatibility of software and data types. This was resolved by government data standards, while we don’t advocate for this approach in the oil industry we do call on the oil and gas industry to come together and establish a consistent approach to support the value proposition of big data. Secondly, there is a capability gap in the industry when it comes to data and digitalization. Statoil have recently launched a recruitment programme to help establish their digital team, and GE did similar when they started to develop Predix. As a whole, the industry needs to consider how best to develop a big data capability; whether that may be collaborating with Big Data companies, attracting the best talent to the industry, training our highly skilled workforce, or a combination of all of these. Finally, the Big Data revolution will be a time of change and change makes many people uncomfortable, we need to be cognizant of this and make a concerted effort to build a culture that embraces the change and helps to drive it into the industry: to be able to combine Big Data expertise with the huge domain expertise of the people working in the industry offers huge potential. The establishment of a culture of collaboration between industry experts and data experts is key to unlocking value, to have a confrontational or antagonistic relationship would be a missed opportunity.

Could the focus on new technologies to glean more insight from Big Data pose a particular threat to offshore rigs, other infrastructure, from cyberattacks? What needs to be done to address it?

Absolutely, like all industries, as we continue to digitise the threat of cyberattack becomes more real. We have recently seen how ransomware has caused huge problems for organisations like the NHS, we have also seen how hackers used the Internet of Things to perform a denial of service attack on websites such as Twitter and Reddit. It would be naïve to assume the oil and gas industry is immune to these cyber threats. To address this, the industry needs to recognise the importance of information security and put it at the centre of digital strategies. And it isn’t just deploying robust data management strategies and protection; it will also involve an education of our people and a culture change in how we all approach the security of data. Moving beyond the traditional data security techniques, which have been deployed in other industries and that we can adopt, the opportunity exists for us to leverage emerging technologies such as the blockchain approach used by cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

How does Big Data tie in with the Industrial Internet? What about digital twins? Is the move towards digitalization enabling companies to get more out of Big data?

The industrial internet of things (IIOT) is bringing forth a paradigm shift in the amount of data available as sensors are collecting and communicating data from almost every possible component on a digital oil field. This vast increase in data brings about huge potential in terms of insight and optimization, it also increases the importance of data standards to ensure the data is structured to leverage the value and not present the erosion of value inherent in unstructured data. Similarly, the digital twin relies on sensors and data to accurately replicate the exact operating conditions over the lifetime of the asset such that the performance can be predicted, modelled and optimized. As we move towards digitalization, the digitalization is producing more structured data that can be leveraged to improve business. Digitalization is also serving to normalize data for everyone, this is helping to shift the culture from one suspicious of Big Data as the next business buzzword to one where the advantages of data are apparent and embraced. In this essence, digitalization is helping companies get more out of big data.