Companies everywhere are using digital communication technologies to improve their productivity, increase reliability, control costs and ensure worker safety. This digital transformation consistently provides measurable business benefits, so much so that falling behind the curve in technology creates a threat to continued viability. In the oil and gas industry, however, many players have not exactly embraced digital solutions.
Part of the reason for this resistance to digital transformation is the roller-coaster-ride economic state of the oil and gas industry. In a business with volatile pricing, ever-evolving regulations, environmental concerns, and increasing competition from renewable sources of energy, it is understandable that many in the oil and gas industry have had too much on their plates to integrate leading technologies fully.
Today, the industry has mostly stabilized, but the risks are still present, including a risk of disruption. Now, more than ever, oil and gas companies have an opportune moment to commit to digital transformation fully and reap its benefits. Digitization is a necessary step toward the future but getting there requires a full understanding of the potential roadblocks. Although technology has a starring role in this process, the successful transformation should be led by business processes.
Challenges facing oil and gas companies in the quest for digital transformation
Among the numerous hurdles to digital transformation are several of the problems technology can address. Before they become insurmountable, businesses should identify how to overcome them best, using a mix of resources and strategic partnerships.
Cost. Like any investment into operations, technology can be costly, especially for the vast inner workings of the oil and gas industry. Luckily, many of the best digital tools are scalable, cloud-based solutions that require less investment in infrastructure and maintenance costs, shifting the expense to a subscription-based model.
Cloud-based applications for business process management, data storage and unified communications can be dialed into the exact need of an organization, without fear of being under or over-powered.
Coverage. Oil and gas field operations have special requirements when it comes to networking. They are often located in remote areas with limited or non-existent internet connectivity. Cloud applications and unified communications are, of course, useless without a reliable network.
While this limitation may have had a significant role in restricting digital transformation, the availability of greater coverage through satellite internet brings technologies into close reach for a wider variety of organizations.
Spectrum availability. Satellite internet operates on different bands, which are designated for various uses. As satellite broadband increases in popularity and capability, the available spectrum can become a future problem.
Latency. For many years, satellite internet latency, or the time delay in delivering a data packet, was considered unacceptable for data-heavy users. Increased speed and new technologies have reduced this concern in most cases, although some level of latency continues.
Oil and gas companies with remote locations should tailor their technology to adapt to potential latency issues. Data acceleration can help mitigate latency. This technology uses machine learning to prioritize data and “trick” your network to minimize the noticeability of latency.
Ease of deployment. Since oil and gas companies have little downtime to be revamping entire systems, solutions should mesh with existing technologies to enable a fluid transition.
Flexibility. Ideally, technologies that are flexible should lead the digital transformation. Oil and gas operations are subject to many external pressures, such as changes in regulations. Agility in the face of changes is necessary in today’s digital world.
Solution: A mix of different communication technologies
Since oil and gas companies face these challenges, and more are on the horizon, they can best perform with a combination of existing technologies to maximize use over a broad mixture. VSAT satellites can provide state of the art broadband connectivity, with routers enabled for mitigating latency, but it may be advisable to incorporate cellular or mobile capabilities as well. While the remote oil field may be best served by the relative benefits of satellite, available broadband connectivity may result in satellite playing a backup or disaster preparedness role.
With optimal connectivity, oil and gas companies can take advantage of data. By employing VSAT satellites and cellular or mobile connectivity, and establishing mobile command centers, internet access and data center backup can fuel increased efficiencies and production. Once you transform operations into a digital oil field, numerous benefits outweigh any of the perceived roadblocks to technology.
Digital oil field capabilities
An increasing number of oil and gas companies are gearing up for the transformation to a digital oil field. Some of the possible capabilities include:
Networks that directly manage facility systems. Autonomous operations are the key to achieving long-term cost reductions. While not all aspects of a facility can be set on autopilot, those who fail to automate where possible will get weighed down by unnecessary workforce expenses.
Real-time surveillance. A connected oil field means less need for physical inspection. The personnel and associated expenses saved through remote monitoring of employees, systems and equipment are considerable.
In addition to saving workforce expenses, remote monitoring can be a safety benefit as well. Surface control and monitoring of drilling operations mean lesser risks of injury, which translate to a lower risk of production delays.
Collecting and analyzing equipment status. Predictive maintenance is a major benefit of a well-planned and deployed digital transformation. Much like how businesses in almost every sector have deployed “internet of things” (IoT) devices to permit remote monitoring or everything from temperature to the operational status of machinery, oil and gas companies can also reap the benefits of these technologies.
Data management. Finally, as is the case in any business, data provides insight into many aspects of business operations. By utilizing all of the available information, processes can be streamlined, and efficiencies exploited for increased revenues and cost-cutting.
For many years, the oil and gas industry has lagged behind other sectors that have roundly adopted new technologies. The time has come where communication, production and information can easily combine to produce better results.