Oil and gas firms have a data problem that’s even more complicated than Keystone XL

It’s hard to call it “real time” decision-making when much of the information you’re grappling with will never end up on a mobile phone or in the cloud

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The oil and gas sector may be plagued by controversy over the XL Keystone pipeline, but it’s also been plagued by something far less obvious (and headline-making): paper.

While the industry is one of the most advanced in terms of technology, in many cases decisions are still being made on data that is weeks or even months old. Thanks to cloud and mobile technology, this is changing.

Critical business information has been stuck in the back office, which strains collaboration between different lines of business, from suppliers to remote business operators, said Richard Slack, president and CEO of oil and gas e-payables company Oildex, in a recent article. And they’re making decisions on data that’s 30, 60 or even 120 days old.

Cloud has opened the door, but the real catalyst for change is the combination of cloud and mobility.

Research firm Gartner predicts two-thirds of mobile workers will own a smartphone by 2016. Interestingly, the oil and gas sector is already ahead of this trend: Oil and Gas IQ, an energy website, found in a recent survey that 71 per cent of employees in the oil and gas sector are using mobile devices for work purposes (in particular, those in field operations, technical roles and senior decision-makers).

But it also found that while 55 per cent of CIOs in this sector believe mobile technology will “greatly enhance operations,” only 16 per cent have actually deployed a mobile strategy.

Clearly, there’s a gap between talk and action. But at least there’s recognition that cloud and mobility are game-changers.

If your nearest neighbours are a few moose and a black bear, and you’re working outdoors in -35C (not including the wind chill), you’re well aware that trying to conduct your job with a pen and notepad just isn’t a lot of fun — or efficient.

Mobility, combined with the cloud, allows workers to collect and use data in the field in a way that just wasn’t previously possible. Real-time field data capture can streamline workflows, reduce delays and redundancies, and speed up decision-making — particularly on critical issues such as maintenance of a pipeline. And, once you start collecting real-time data, you can start to apply analytics and take your decision-making one step further.

There are other use cases, too, that will free up data from the back office: Oildex’s Slack says cloud and mobility could be used for accounts payables automation; instead of trying to track down an exec to get invoice approvals, a request could be routed to the exec via a workflow app optimized for mobile devices, speeding up the approval process, but also reducing processing costs and late-payment fees. (And who doesn’t want to get paid faster?)

For the other 84 per cent of CIOs who don’t have a mobility strategy, it’s time to start looking at specific applications for mobility, how to connect remote workers and manage connectivity, and how to securely integrate your operations.

Oil and gas workers are already using mobile devices — it makes sense to use those devices to do something meaningful. And this can free up data stuck in your back office so a strain on the business becomes a competitive advantage.

Read the industry brief: Creating a collaborative network in the oil and gas industry, from Allstream.

photo credit: haymarketrebel via photopin cc

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