The inevitability of Big Data

Users are being bombarded with an overwhelming data; learning how to synthesize and process that data is key and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can help.

By Bob Vavra May 23, 2016

We live in a world where information is everywhere. We no longer get "access" to information, as if it were our choice. We are bombarded with it. We are under siege from data every day, and our challenge is to separate the information we want and need from the information that simply gets in our way.

That is the promise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The mix of technology and strategy will allow manufacturers of all stripes to collect, store, interpret and act on data, parsing the information just to the people who need it and just when they need it. That promise is especially exciting for the oil and gas industry, which has technical and geographic challenges that can be addressed by a robust use of IIoT.

Data gets created in some difficult-to-reach places: a remote platform in the Gulf of Mexico, a remote pipeline in the Great Plains, or a remote corner of a refinery. That data can tell an operator or a maintenance crew the health of a given piece of equipment and point to trends that can affect its continued operation. Effective use of IIoT can allow those trends to be dealt with before they become problems, and before those problems become expensive.

As we look at Big Data this month, industry experts are just beginning to come to grips with the possibilities, and just beginning to assess how IIoT can help them operate more efficiently. This is an important time to have that discussion; cost-avoidance is the watchword of the day, even as oil prices have risen off their low point at the start of the year. Heading into the summer, there is reason to believe the worst may be over.

That was a consistent message at OTC in Houston last month. While no one was predicting a return to the high-flying, high-spending days the industry enjoyed 24 months ago, there was a sense that on both the supply side and the price side there was going to be a little more certainty.

Certainty is important these days. If you are going to invest in oil and gas again, you have to see your way to a return on that investment. But as the larger manufacturing sector learned after the industry crash in 2008 and 2009, the first thing to do is find a stable base and build from there.

You could forgive OTC attendees this year if they seemed a little subdued. That’s a long way from panic or fear, two emotions from which it is hard to build any sort of base. There was even some quiet confidence in the near-term future for the industry, and certainly suppliers were anxious to point toward new product launches that could help producers gain better return on any investment.

While IIoT will be an investment for many oil and gas companies, the investment is truly less in equipment or technology as it is in people and processes. Adopting IIoT will mean changing the way information is gathered and disseminated, and it will mean empowering more people to act on the information they receive.

Oil prices are expected to climb over the next two years; most discussions I heard at OTC, and at Hannover Messe the week before in Germany, focused on a return to $65/bbl oil prices by the end of 2017. Of course, several disclaimers followed the predictions. This wasn’t cautious optimism; it was optimistic caution.

Still, the opportunity to catch the upswing in oil prices is there. To meet that opportunity will require some luck, but I’ve always believed that luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity.

Using Big Data effectively through IIoT is the opportunity. Are you prepared to use it?

ONLINE extra

See additional stories from the June issue of Oil & Gas Engineering about Big Data and the IIoT linked below.

Original content can be found at Control Engineering.