There is an undeniable culture in the oilfield services industry that places precedence on getting the job done. The high-tech engineering tools that are deployed today in the field represent this focus. They have evolved over time and through experience to ensure that work gets done better, safer, and faster.
In stark contrast to the use of such pioneering technologies - which help quickly, safely and more effectively establish a well and extract the product - the tools used to manage field resources, assign equipment, track work and update backend human resource and billing systems lag generations behind.
The lousy state of technology in oil fields
These backend systems are, at best, an afterthought, often relying on ‘gut’ instinct, hard work, and the need to just get the job done with the tools at hand.
These tools are often stand-alone systems consisting of whiteboards, elaborate Excel worksheets, or intricately developed legacy applications that become an unsustainable code stream.
This business paper addresses some of the shortcomings of, and lost opportunities resulting from, maintaining this antiquated approach to field resource management.
How the introduction of mobile field resource management technologies into upstream oilfield services operations reduces administrative workloads while improving visibility, quality, and efficiency? How does using the right tool for the job improves operational awareness, enhance field resource effectiveness, and streamline the entire process of taking in, assigning, and closing out work?
By adopting new technologies in both the back office and the field, upstream oilfield service providers gain several business benefits, including:
- Increased awareness of what is currently happening, and what has already occurred, in the field
- Improved use of available resources, boosting field productivity
- Ensuring that the right resources are used in the right places and at the right times
- Aligning the use of resources with business priorities
- Increased accuracy and confidence in the information that is collected from the field regarding resource activities
- Providing a holistic approach to the end-to-end process of taking in, assigning, completing and billing for all work
Introduction of mobility solutions in oil fields is the answer
Providing mobile devices to field teams is often at the forefront of service operations’ agendas, in order to ease administrative efforts in the back office and support greater visibility and operational awareness throughout the business. It is often seen as a remedy for everything that frustrates the back office.
Mobility in resource management systems
Empowering field resources with mobile devices that connect them to back-office systems brings significant benefits, but simply bringing back-office systems to the field is insufficient.
These systems must work to support business processes while having the necessary controls and enticements to field users to ensure acceptance and proper use.
Mobility in resource management systems is most effective when it properly targets the needs of the field, in the context of the desired processes. Attempting to define a single mobile interface for a single device that will address all work types and business scenarios will inevitably fail.
Users will simply resist, especially within the culture of oil and gas field services, where field personnel is primarily focused on getting the work completed.
An on-demand mobility solution, therefore, cannot prevent the work from being done: It must be easy to use, and provide direct value to the user. The right mobile tool must allow process controls (e.g. safety checks must occur before work begins), while ensuring the user displays are in the context of the work by removing irrelevant information to ensure the user sees only the necessary job details.
Focus should be mobility solutions, not mobile devices
Too often, a focus on mobility turns into a focus on the mobile device itself. Many service operations settle on a device before identifying the specific needs of their field service operations and their user, job and site needs.
For oilfield services, the needs are very diverse and one device may not be equipped to support everything, nor be the best approach to addressing the wide spectrum of users.
Even if one device could address all needs, the mobile device landscape is rapidly evolving, and pursuing a strategy that couples a solution to a particular device or operating system will only ensure that the solution is no longer viable when that device is no longer the latest in the market.
Decoupling the device from the solution is therefore essential, while also ensuring that the solution can interface with a range of devices and accommodate the rapidly evolving mobility market.
Which field personnel should be equipped with a device? Certainly, a field supervisor, but what about field hands, operators, maintenance personnel and others?
Benefits of mobility solution in oil fields
The advantage of providing mobility solutions to these users lies in increasing seamless connectivity with all resources. This helps share data and provides visibility (not just to the end-user, but to other users of the system as well) as to the location, connected state, and activity of that user.
This enables crew leaders to manage their shifts, sending out notifications to crew members regarding when and where they need to be, and what shifts they are working.
Likewise, collecting exposure hours against each crew member as well as allowing ad-hoc additions and changes to crews enhances operational visibility, helping to ensure proper credit is given to the right individuals.
Allowing users to access mobile solutions from laptops, ruggedized PDAs and smartphones provides a range of options to support the variety of needs. For power users, multiple devices are often required to access information.
For crew members and operators, provisioning a smartphone - in the same way they are issued hard hats, coveralls, boots and other tools - to support call-outs, access to individual activity and location, while streamlining the interaction between other users, managers and back-end systems provides the value to offset the investment costs.
Adaptability is the key
Change is a constant in running any business, and with a mobile solution users require flexibility in ease-of-use or accommodation of their needs (such as bigger buttons, larger fonts to support visibility and additional information fields).
Changes increase exponentially as more business units are added to the solution, while the unique characteristics of each autonomous business unit require individual attention. Requirements often vary when integrating with back-end systems, necessitating that additional information is collected from the field.
Adapting the solution quickly and easily (without code changes, testing, training, deployment and validation cycles) is essential to ensure that business needs are rapidly addressed and the end-user community has confidence in the solution.
This is in stark contrast to typical user experiences, where they are expected to conform to whatever is provided and adapt their usage to accommodate solution limitations.
All that matters
While many oilfield service companies have various scheduling mechanisms already in place, the changing times call for a closer look at their effectiveness when compared to newer, more advanced technologies. Adopting a more efficient, integrated and visible scheduling system provides better controls, gains a competitive advantage and increases profits.
The technologies are well-established and proven across a wide range of industries. As with the industry’s adoption of ERP technologies over the past several decades, which brought a level of awareness within the in-house systems, mobile field resource management capabilities will increase the visibility and precision of operations from a field perspective.
Adopting these operation-centric technologies will lead to a greater awareness of and access to all resources, as well as the ability to better leverage data and investments in back-end systems through seamless workflows.
Results will include better use of available resources and increased operational awareness – and thus an ability to better adapt to market changes, customer needs, and competition.
Now is the time to modernize the link between back-office systems and field service in the oil and gas mobility solutions and services industry. Placing the right mobile field resource management tools in the hands of operations planners, schedulers, field personnel, and management will not only make the most of backend systems and streamline billing processes but, it will also provide a catalyst to better leverage the capabilities, knowledge, and hard work of all field resources.
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