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Is Your Data Acquisition Process Broken?

Selina Sandoval

There’s an old saying - “A camel is a horse designed by a committee”. The origin of the phrase seems a bit unclear – but if you told us that it was coined by someone responsible for data acquisition in the oil and gas industry, we probably wouldn’t argue too much!

The industry has an extremely broken business process for making data acquisitions, particularly larger companies.  The idea of establishing committees to evaluate data seems noble, and you think it would work, but in reality it is costing the industry millions of dollars resulting from poor decisions, poor communication, and lack of credibility and clout inside their own companies. 

Data evaluation committees exist because companies typically do not want their highly compensated higher-level people (internal business executives) communicating with vendors. Consequently, management designates a GIS manager, the IT department, or a technical evaluation group to evaluate technical products and make recommendations.

A competent GIS manager provides the best solution for small to medium sized companies.  That person can collect all the information, implement an evaluation program, and make recommendations to upper level management.  On the downside, a technical person sometimes has communications issues or fear around communicating with less technical upper level management.  Sometimes the message is “garbled” to a degree.

The IT department seems like a logical choice for evaluating data, but typically their expertise lies elsewhere. They will look to the users for making data purchase recommendations rather than establishing any formal process of their own.  This completely bypasses the whole reason for delegating data purchasing decisions to the IT department.  A user knows what he/she wants to accomplish, but is (generally) not in a very good position to evaluate data quality, completeness, and the vendor’s long term focus on providing the best possible product. 

When management establishes an evaluation committee to evaluate and recommend data, these problems become worse.  By its very nature, a committee tends towards analysis and paralysis.  Committees love to collect more and more information.   Entrenched interests in a company can easily paralyze an entire organization by vetoing new proposals, overemphasizing legacy systems, and expressing fear of change.   We have seen instances of committees, in spite of everything, making proper decisions but then not having the political clout to have their recommendations adopted.  This is a tragic waste of time and resources. 

So what is the cost to your company when you have a dysfunctional process for adopting new GIS data?  Old, outdated products remained embraced unto death, mired in indecision while your company misses out on up-to-date best of breed products that could be leveraged to your bottom line.  Worse, undefined and undocumented data without metadata may be in widespread use in your company - supporting multi-million dollar decisions.  

Do you really want that? Does your company? Incorrect maps showing incorrect information cost time and opportunity.  Would you trust a drilling partner using old data?  Would you trust a partner using a patchwork quilt of data of unknown vintages, geoprocessing histories, or origins?   Or would you trust a drilling partner who could not explain to you why their map has integrity?  If you wouldn’t, then don’t participate in this poor business practice yourself.