New Geospatial Technologies Enable Collaboration
New Geospatial Technologies Enable Collaboration
By Robert C. White, Jr.
Technologies such as GIS map servers and web mapping services (WMS) are making it easier for E&P organizations to collaborate on mapping projects. But some companies are learning that paving the way for collaboration often takes more than new technology. It may require a sea-level change in attitude across the enterprise.
Internal politics may be the biggest hurdle. Some people believe data is power, and they try to hoard it for their own. Upper level management must buy into the concept of collaboration from the start to break down barriers like this. All-hands meetings may be required to get everyone in agreement about how data will be shared. And it won't be easy. Management should be prepared to incentivize departments to share their data sets.
In addition, departments must understand that data sharing is a constant process. Today, we do it backwards. The geology and geophysics are mapped first, and then the maps are sent to the land department in hopes an appropriate land position can be put together to support it. All departments that will have access to data should have access from the start. In a truly collaborative environment, the data sets are dynamic - with multiple people using them simultaneously.
Once these barriers are broken down, all participating departments will benefit because the quality and coverage of the data sets will be improved thanks to enterprise-wide inputs. When this has happened, GIS map servers and WMS technologies will enable E&P organizations to query the data to answer business questions that weren't previously possible, such as "Where might the most productive well be drilled?" and "How much is that competitor's property worth?"
Wouldn’t it be great if you could produce a map with all the pertinent geophysics, geology and land positions with a great-big X marking the spot to drill? If you’ve ever found yourself saying this, you aren’t alone. In upstream exploration, collaboration has long been a dream. But thanks to new technologies like GIS map servers and web mapping services (WMS), this dream of collaboration is starting to become reality.
Historically, forces in upstream E&P work against this vision. In most companies, geology, geophysics, and land operate like separate silos with separate goals, management and budgets. Each department exists for understood reasons, yet at the end of the day, their efforts to pinpoint drilling prospects could be coordinated more effectively. There is not much strategic, collaborative thought in this process. I’ve often heard a professional say, “If only my company could look at the bigger picture, this could be a much bigger play!” Or, “If only my company could consider X, Y and Z factors - but that’s outside my department’s domain.”
Collaboration is not the enemy. It’s not empire building or hoarding budget items. And it is not going to reduce your budget or subordinate your job title. Collaboration is the result of pooling resources, developing relationships characterized by trust, and executing a common goal that rewards all parties equally. The rewards of collaboration are many: Results are achieved faster with better information, and everyone has better access to that information, fostering creativity.
Sounds simple to achieve results, doesn’t it? But collaboration also requires managerial support and leadership from the top on down. Collaboration cannot occur if the higher-ups believe in it while the subordinates do not. Collaboration often involves more work because one discipline has to reach out to another, gain a level of trust, and produce results far superior to that which could be achieved alone. This requires time, money, patience, leadership, and education.
Paving the Way to Collaboration
Although GIS map server and WMS technologies aren’t magic bullets, they make collaboration easier and more likely to succeed. GIS map server software, for example, can deliver map data from various departments to the enterprise. It allows departments to work traditionally, building their own data, but they may now also share it via a web service (publishable URL) to the enterprise, to the intranet, or even externally on the Internet.
The GIS map server spurs dialogue among departments about which data to share and which information relating leases, pipelines, wells, production data to capture for better maps. Suddenly, you can see your company’s land position before you do the geology. Or you will be aware of the value of adjacent producing properties, a competitive company’s lease position, or available historic seismic data by quality and quantity. Once a GIS map server is in place, it’s a matter of planning additional data sets and iterative improvement to make better prospect maps.
Associated technologies can supplement the various data sources from departments that now can come together in the GIS map server. These include streaming formats such as WMS, which make it possible to add a web address to your map client (supported by a browser, a software application such as GeoGraphix or Petra, or even Google Earth) to import of high resolution imagery of various types directly into the project.
The benefits of GIS web servers and WMS are huge. Your IT department no longer needs to host large resource-consuming data sets as these are hosted remotely at either a government or a private site. It is now possible to add current imagery to existing and new projects. Perhaps another department would be interested in seeing how to route their trucks to your well location in the most efficient manner to pick up the crude. Current imagery would be of interest to them as it would other departments such as Compliance and Safety.
There is also an opportunity here to share costs of acquiring data for collaborative purposes. Fortunately, the introduction of these new technologies is being supported by creative legal agreements relating to data licensing. Many vendors are now crafting collaboration and enterprise friendly legal agreements so that their data may be used with minimum restrictions across the enterprise and even in view-only mode on the Internet. While these agreements do not come cheaply, the financial advantages of data shared throughout the enterprise and the collaboration opportunities they create outweigh the increased costs of these licenses.