Make no mistake: Cloud technology is the future of the global energy industry. As the price of oil continues to cycle up and down, it is becoming increasingly clear that the maximisation of existing resources must be a major focus for anyone with oversight of capital or operational project expenditure – and you must have an even sharper focus on productivity to achieve this.
Cloud technology – where groups of remote servers are networked to allow centralised processing, data storage and online access to services and resources – offers numerous benefits:
- Reduced capital expenditure: The money that would have been spent on buying, maintaining and upgrading infrastructure can instead be reserved for investment in resource-producing assets.
- Faster project start-up: A project environment can be up and running in weeks, rather than months.
- Improved collaboration: All project participants have easy access to relevant data, reducing rework between the project phase and handover.
- Procurement, construction, and operations advantages: Cloud provides better opportunity for greater material consolidation and construction sequence planning, and more effective and timely operations training.
- Smoother project handover: Every engineering company has its own system and standards, which are not necessarily compatible with that of the plant owner’s. This can cause immense issues at the handover stage and through operations and maintenance. Working in a consistent, standardised Cloud environment all but eliminates such issues.
- Big data and data mining: One of your strategic priorities at some point in the next five years is most likely to harness the vast amounts of data to which you have access in order to automate, prevent failures and optimize future performance and systems. Cloud is the platform you need to manage and process it.
Here at Intergraph we recognised these benefits early on, and committed ourselves to developing a Cloud offering that was uniquely suited to the energy industry. Two years ago, we launched that offering – SmartPlant Cloud.
The missing link
Despite the advantages, our industry has been slow to embrace Cloud. In my opinion, there are two main reasons for this:
- We are risk averse: We are a highly regulated and competitive industry with a natural aversion to risk. Our tendency is to “wait and see” how a new technology plays out in another industry before adopting it ourselves.
- The gap between technology and knowledge: There is a shortage of Cloud providers with comprehensive knowledge of the energy industry – many Cloud providers know their technology, but are still learning about its specific application on an oil or gas project, for example. As a result, end users of the Cloud have not been given the support to utilise the technology to its full effect.
I would argue that we have reached a point where both these barriers can be addressed.
Cloud has been deployed successfully and without major incident in many other industries – one example is consumer electronics (Apple, Microsoft, Samsung). The reliability of Cloud technology has improved to the extent that many of the major players in the aerospace industry – which is just as regulated (if not more so) as ours – have already migrated to the Cloud, or are in the process of doing so. If anything, our industry will be playing “catch-up” over the next few years in the path to adoption of Cloud.
We must take two steps to address the gap between technology and knowledge:
- You must have access to a subject matter expert with knowledge of both the industry, and the technology, for an initial implementation to be successful (i.e. providing a service that is reliable and scalable).
- Once that implementation has been successful, you need ongoing engagement with your expert to ensure you are getting the maximum benefit from your brand new ecosystem.
This is not just a vision for the future – I am currently working on the launch of a new program for our customers called Cloud Advantage, which is designed to encourage the adoption of SmartPlant Cloud and subsequently to achieve more success with it. In addition to the Cloud infrastructure and technical support services, the focus for Cloud Advantage is helping engineering companies and owners to use the Cloud and our proven engineering solutions in the Cloud, more successfully.
I am very excited to be working on this project for Intergraph – Cloud technology has emerged as one of my passions in recent years and I am looking forward to working with both new and existing customers in the months and years to come.
Cloud and the future
Those energy companies that implement Cloud technology today – while we are in a period of cyclical oversupply – will be best placed to embrace the next capital-investment peak, when it comes. Are you one of them?