During the shale drilling boom from roughly 2011-2014, production efficiency was not a high priority for producers, and many operational processes were manual and highly dependent on specific individuals. Automation was limited to costly, purpose-built systems that lacked mobility features, had limited utility and were costly.
Fast-forward to early 2016, when an oil and gas client is challenging Accenture to help production to be managed with apps, smartphones and tablets.
While the digital oil field has been a buzzword for more than a decade, why is it finally becoming a reality? The biggest reason is affordable technology. Digital and mobile devices pioneered for use in consumer markets have been produced at such large scale that the cost has dropped while innovation has flourished.
These developments are facilitating agile and cost-variable business models, which are vital for helping oil and gas producers cope in an era of low prices.
Just as consumers buy apps and switch subscriptions based on changing desires, companies can opt for preconfigured solutions delivered via the cloud, and for growing amounts of data to be stored affordably. As a result, companies are able to avoid complex technology implementations and reduce their IT costs while having immediate positive impact on their operations.
Social networking in the consumer market has also spurred the creation of virtual collaborative spaces for business partners. When data are secure, partners can share data and apply analytics techniques that lead to insight into ways to improve performance.
A broad range of industries is adapting consumer-led technologies. While oil and gas has been slower than some, the continuing low-price environment is compelling company leaders to look for innovative solutions.
For example, well downtime in North America has often been higher than necessary due to lack of technology-enabled visibility into production. If a component breaks on a pump, it is likely no one is immediately aware because equipment in the field is not being monitored continuously. Technicians called pumpers typically drive around to check on well conditions.
Instead, companies could be using low-cost Internet of Things devices to monitor assets continuously and improve production. Thanks to innovations developed for consumers, the new connected oil field is poised to take oil and gas operations to the next level of efficiency.