Digitalization in Off-shore Drilling - An Untapped Resource

External pressures driving digitalization

The high price of oil in the recent past allowed many energy sources to be explored and developed. Energy sources such as “tight oil” are now economical and competing with the traditional oil and gas industry. The subsequent drop in oil prices has forced all oil and gas companies to rethink how they do business and find a more economic way of operating for both short and long term survival. For offshore oil and gas this new reality requires every aspect of offshore field development to be analyzed to ensure costs are kept to a minimum. Many measures have already been put in place to cut the cost of deep-water offshore projects including standardization, vendor collaboration and smart ecosystems. This has led to cost reductions in development and operations however, there remains opportunity for further efficiencies and risk reductions. 

Optimizing Resource Utilization

Our hypothesis is that there is a significant opportunity to optimize coordination of field resources and assets by driving real-time communication, real-time analytics across data silos, and the increased pace of learning at an organizational level - and that the technology to power this, is ready to deploy today.

For large offshore fields, the monitoring of contracted vessels, coordination of activities/personnel, and tracking/logging of specialized equipment is essential. Groups and equipment that are managed with siloed systems can delay identification of challenges and the appropriate corrective action.

In the real-time operational environment, this can take the form of sensors identifying safety hazards, contingent task completion status, or vehicle (mis)location awareness. This requires both situationally aware devices and systems to identify the issues along with seamless communication to resolve them. It is critical to have a continuous operations overview ensuring all parties have a good understanding of field operations including current activity, operations restrictions, critical operations, critical operation paths and delivery of supplies; one that all vessels and plants can see. When field conditions or plans change the changes can be projected immediately to all parties. There are no emails people will miss or incidents due to people going by old plans.

This applies to non-real time activities as well. Production trends, event logging, and resource allocation are vital to optimizing performance, but require correlation with context to be truly accessible and powerful. The all-too-common exchange of spreadsheets, and debates about accuracy across department and contractors undermines these efforts. Large volumes of data can be stranded and never become insightful, actionable information. The information architecture goal must be to have a single source of the truth.

In both real-time and planning roles, preset business logic, machine learning, and visualization should be leveraged to highlight points of interests and to accelerate organizational learning. Views of information should be catered to different role types, and be easily shared for discussion and training. These views need to leverage the same situational awareness and cross-device & system approached noted above.

Valuable lessons are often missed due to decentralized event logging especially in rapid field developments. After each operation is completed an After Action Review (AAR) is done to review what worked well and what did not. These lessons are then documented and filed centrally instead of being forgotten. These lessons learned need to be easily reviewed and incorporated into the next field operations enabling continual improvement of operations.

Selected Digitalization Opportunities in the Offshore Drilling Context:

1. Vessel Management

  • Dynamic positioning, standby and transit performance of vessels

2. Field coordination and planning

  • Coordinate simultaneous operations of vessels
  • Central planning system for field operations
  • Define go/no go areas involving critical operations and equipment using visual barriers
  • Enable field wide permit to work system to be visible to all parties involved in live time.

3. Field Overview and Communications

  • Full picture in real time of field ops
  • Field communication system
  • Customizable Metrics Overlay

4. Equipment

  • Location of equipment and supplies
  • Equipment Condition Status

5. Emergency Management

  • Coordinate emergency operations and worker safety status

6. Historical Information

  • Ability to track what went right or wrong
  • Incident Investigation

7. Security

  • Monitoring vessel movements near field

8. Safety

  • Record noise, vibration and heat/cold people are exposed to, improve work areas and reduce risk to people’s health.

Mounting Pressures

Changing regulations, market conditions, new opportunities, etc., requires more real-time information and analysis for organizations to respond optimally and maximize efficiencies. For example, The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) legislation for the reduction of air pollution will require the use of low sulfur fuel in marine operations January 1, 2020. Due to worldwide refining limitations it is expected the cost of diesel will increase and possible shortages will be experienced. To reduce this potential extra cost the operation and management of vessels needs to be closely monitored both when using station keeping (via Dynamic Positioning) and transiting to and from the offshore field. Also supplies need to be secured, planned for and tracked to ensure field operations will not be interrupted.

The Heart of a Sound Digitalization Strategy

System Integrations are notoriously long and over budget - particularly with the additional complexity of implementing in a production environment. Standalone products can be turned up more quickly, but often result in islands of inflexible, proprietary technology that do not interoperate well, if at all, with other systems. Communication, visualization and data-binding needs to be inclusive to maximize utility and to be able to start small and scale.

Vandrico’s Connected Worker software is ready to solve the aforementioned issues for offshore oil and gas - today. We propose that organizations that are starting on the digitalization path invest in a software platform that can scale and enable plug and play innovation over the years. Procurement teams should forgo the hardware-first approach that drives point-to-point integrations and leads to expensive, unscalable and buggy digitization solutions. Our philosophy is that an interoperable real-time intelligence platform with customizable metrics overlay, is at the heart of a sound digitalization strategy.

Vandrico’s aim is to help large industrial enterprises on the path to Industry 4.0 while avoiding the data standardization and system integration growing pains that were the norm for innovators of the past.

Five Ways to Bolster Your Industrial Digitization Strategy

Digitization of information is only transformational if the information is contextual, timely, and available to anyone who needs it.

Industries have learned through, often painful, experience that technology investments can create constraints on future innovation. Proprietary systems and single-purpose devices have restricted operators’ ability to add to or replace embedded assets with best-in-class technology.

Modern software architecture allows for the modularization of presentation layer (what people interaction with), physical layer (machine interaction with raw materials or manufactured goods), and the control layer (digitized activity between presentation and physical layers). Industries use a variety of terms and schemas to describe these layers, but the basic concepts are common.

The key benefits include:

  1. selecting the best element for the job at hand from a variety of vendors

  2. use of widely known protocols and languages limiting vendor lock-in

  3. ability to use common user interfaces for many functions - hiding or removing technical complexity for users

Established industrial technology vendors are structured on maintaining existing product line revenue streams, and generally offer only incremental value enhancement. Whereas, at the advent of a new product, technology may have necessitated that it be stand-alone, this isolation need not exist in perpetuity. Performance and process assumptions should be challenged as technological advancements are made. The path to automation need not be the “same task, faster with higher volume”. To the contrary, this incremental approach leads operators with complex environments to invest in bigger, better black boxes that don’t talk to each other and do nothing to support learning and inter-task innovation.

Operators should seek technology partners with a shared-success philosophy who support open and common standards, are committed to compatibility, and will innovate with them. And software should not be an afterthought.

So what are some steps that industrial operations companies can take to prepare for a digital future?

1. Decouple your hardware and software purchases


In order to prepare for a digital future, industrial companies need to retrain their procurement habits to favor decoupling hardware and software purchases. In other words, hardware should be software agnostic and software should be hardware agnostic. The bar for user experience has been raised dramatically in recent years - primarily driven by wide adoption and investment in mobile consumer applications. In enterprise environments, leveraging many data sources into an intuitive and interactive visualization is dramatically shrinking the organizational learning curve.

Why punish your workforce with having to learn antiquated interfaces for each new hardware element?  Hardware vendors developing products that openly support integration with any software should be favored over vendors that force you to access their data only through outdated and locked-down bundled software. This open approach enables access to the exponential benefit curve of advancing technologies, because not being locked into a specific vendor’s ecosystem opens operators up to being able to take advantage of the latest breakthroughs without jeopardizing their production systems.

It also means that procurement organizations need the flexibility to evaluate purely software or hardware purchases. Furthermore, procurement product categories should be flexible based on what is now available - start with user requirements not vendor-defined product descriptions. This approach also benefits total cost of technology ownership equation. Training costs are reduced when upgrading technologies, because the software interface can stay the same while hardware changes and vice versa. Integration costs come down because when both software and hardware are designed to be integrated with other products, system integration takes days instead of months.

During our years of experience piloting wearable technology in industrial operations, we quickly realized the intense need to be hardware agnostic. New wearable devices are released every day, and without knowing which devices will provide benefits and which will not, it is essential that any new device can be plugged into the system quickly and cost effectively. While this may seem novel and only relevant to wearables, advancements in other hardware technologies from sensors to automated vehicles present similar challenges.

2. Build on a strong, modern software foundation

Traditionally, software applications have been built as monolithic programs designed to carry out specific tasks. These applications contain all their code in one place. When considered within the context of larger multi-system solutions, monolithic applications present numerous challenges.

Challenges with monolithic applications include the following:

  1. Adding new features is costly, as existing code must be altered; this easily results in regression issues where existing features break.

  2. Integrations are restricted or complex and when multiple applications are involved can require expensive custom code changes.

  3. As these applications grow, their complexity and maintainability is multiplied, and a single bug can bring down the entire system.

  4. Scaling these applications requires duplicating the entire code base and often requires more hardware resources than is actually necessary.


If your existing applications do not have the right architecture, then you need to build on a different foundation. Modern software has come a long way in the last few years utilizing modular designs often referred to as microservice architectures. You can think of these as many small applications working together.

Microservice based applications present a number of distinct advantages:

  1. Adding new features and enhancements is efficient and often alters very little existing code. In addition, these systems can even be extended with new micro-applications to fill in functional gaps in digital ecosystem.

  2. Integrations are simplified, as the application is already built from many integrated micro-applications.

  3. As these applications grow, their complexity is distributed amongst many small applications.

  4. Individual micro-applications can each be scaled as required, making the best use of hardware resources.

Don’t throw away traditional software and legacy systems; just don’t plan on using them as the foundation for your future digital ecosystem.

3. Maximize the ROI along the way

While researching how the mining industry is adopting automation we spoke to Joe Cronin, PhD Robotics & Experienced Mining Automation Integrator. He shared with us his view that transitioning to automation in mining requires several steps that come with significant interim benefits.

As he put it, there are four major steps to transitioning to automation:

  1. Communication - Set up your communication infrastructure and begin to do basic monitoring. Communicate with vehicle operators and sensors, issue individual tasks and monitor tasks remotely.

  2. Tracking - More sensors and better software provide better visualization of your operations, situational awareness, and allows for a much more strategic approach to planning.

  3. Process Control - Real-time scheduling, manipulating the schedules in finer detail to maximize production volume or quality.

  4. Remove People - Transition human operators offsite and out of harm's way, and issue commands directly to the machines.


We think this holds for other industrial operations beyond mining. An important takeaway here is that these incremental investments towards automation come with compounding benefits. These benefits can also have huge ROI impacts on development projects. However managers tend to assume automation is just a straight-leap to driverless vehicles, thus too chaotic for development projects. However, by building this investment strategy right into your operation’s development plans, by the time your development is complete your operation could be ready for full automation.

4. Don’t wait for industry-specific standards

Web-grown technologies have already addressed many of the challenges operators currently face with system integration. There are widely accepted methods of integrating software that already exist and are secure, scalable and reliable. There is no reason that the protocols used by your online banking can’t be utilized by your industrial operations management dashboard.

Open standards such as RESTful, MQTT and Websockets can provide bridges between most applications in the ISA 95 stack Level 2 and above. There is nothing special about mining or other industrial operations that makes these standards less applicable, other than vendors who build products that don’t support them. Vendors who advertise products with proprietary protocols should be met with skepticism rather than inherent trust due to longevity and familiarity. When it comes to system integration, “proprietary” should be considered a naughty word.

While vendors would benefit from building more open products, industrial companies need to hold vendors accountable and write open-integration requirements into their RFPs. System integration shouldn’t be so difficult and costly.

5. Don’t get caught chasing the digitization curve

The more you invest into legacy siloed applications the further behind you will fall and the more expensive it will be to catch up. The future of industry will be digital, and it will require all of your technology purchases to be integrated into applications designed to get the right information to people who need it to make better decisions.

From a thought leader in the mining space: “Disruption is coming to our industry. Digital reinvention is necessary—but how we respond is up to us as leaders.” - Michelle Ash, Chief Innovation Officer at Barrick

Why not take the first step towards a low friction digitization roadmap this quarter? Instead of buying another point solution for the common challenge of people, vehicle tracking or asset tracking, spend the same amount of money and choose a vendor with the long term holistic vision to bring you huge returns in the future. Because the future is open, digital and exciting.

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