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October 31, 2014

The brave new world of Big Data Analytics

We all have heard about Big Data and much more about the hype surrounding it. Is it worth the excitement? Can Big Data live-up to its expectations or is it just another technology fad?

Every day 2.5 exabytes (2.5 billion GBs) of data is generated, and 90% of current data has been generated as recently as in last two years. [1] Data is not just growing, but it's exploding exponentially. We have witnessed data explosion trend over the past few years. The trend is certain to continue as the world embraces digitalization further. Digitalization has allowed organizations to capture/store more data and details, which was previously either infeasible or expensive.

Big Data is not just about storing all social media activities, clickstreams, public web, transaction and application data, machine logs, etc., but it has more to do with insights generation using collated data.

Big Data Analytics at work

We will discuss three examples which will help to understand the potential of this field.

During FIFA 2014 World Cup, Microsoft's Bing prediction engine predicted winner of each match even before the match started! The prediction engine was so successful that it was able to point out winner for each elimination match right till the finale, that's an impeccable record of 15 matches in a row! The prediction algorithm used various types of data fields like winning/losing margins, offensive and defensive stats, team composition, player position, game timing, playing condition like weather, and venue distance from playing country. If these exclusive insights would have been made available to one particular team, their FIFA journey would have been far more focused and successful. In near future, don't be surprised to see brands partnering up with Bing (or any other for that matter) to predict the winning team in order to make their sponsorship decisions.

Let's take a look at another example, this one is from the media and entertainment industry. Netflix started off as a content distribution company, soon they realized the value of their existing dataset in terms of customer taste. Netflix went on investing $100m into production of a TV show 'House of Cards' without even considering the pilot episode (Pilot episode is used to evaluate the performance of a new TV show in order to get go ahead with investment for full production). Netflix knew the show will be a hit even before the production started! In line with Netflix expectations, the show was well received by subscribers. About 10% subscribers began streaming the show on Day 1, and many of them ended up binge-watching. Thanks to Big Data analytics capabilities of Netflix that analysed billion hours of viewing patterns along with reviews and feedback of its 50 million subscriber base. The same technique is now used to invest in other TV shows/documentary productions. These shows being exclusive to Netflix, are fuelling up Netflix subscriptions, and also, they are making their presence felt at various award functions such as Emmy/Golden Globe Award/Oscar.

Let's take insurance sector now. If it's one of those days you think you need your car insurance more than ever may be due to bad weather or just trusting your intuitions, big data analytics can come to your rescue. Understanding the need of a customer segment, the vehicle insurance companies have come up exciting innovation of urge based insurance policies like 'Pay as you drive' and 'Pay how you drive'. The insurer will quote a premium considering various factors like driving location, traffic and weather condition, time of drive and data from on-board diagnostics. Such products are sometimes more economical than traditional products. These products are sure to gain further traction, once the cars become digitally connected.

The way forward

In above examples, we have seen organizations making bold move in order to leverage their big data capabilities. These are early days for big data, especially for big data analytics (BDA), and we have seen promise of what technology can help us achieve.  BDA in near future is sure to have a significant impact on business model of many companies. Also, we are certain to see innovative products and new revenue streams solely powered by analytics.

For any business or organization to invest in big data technology, they need to understand that BDA is not a crystal ball, at times it has its own limitation. Further, for any successful implementation of BDA project requires right blend of technology, machine learning expertise along with strong business acumen.

[1] http://hbr.org/2012/10/big-data-the-management-revolution/ar

October 27, 2014

OPC UA and High Speed Data streaming- Enabling Big Data Analytics in Oil and Gas Industry

Role of OPC UA in Oil and Gas Business

OPC primarily a Microsoft based solution for interfacing manufacturing and production systems. It was an abbreviation for "Object Linking and Embedding" (OLE) for Process Control (OPC). With time this concept has evolved into Open Platform Communication (OPC). Today it's more commonly referred as Open Productivity and Connectivity (OPC). The classic Microsoft version of OPC relies on COM and DCOM objects for interfacing the machine data.  The COM and DCOM has their own limitations mostly related to platform dependence, security, and data portability across firewalls and other non-Microsoft based applications.

OPC Foundation has come up with an architecture framework and standards to overcome the limitations of classic flavor of OPC. This new standard or framework is referred as OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA). It provides standards for data extraction, security, and portability independent of any proprietary technology or platform. APIs are available in Java, .NET, and Ansi C. European energy companies are one of the early adopters of these standards and funding vendors to develop products around these standards. Vendors are already in market offering their product stacks around OPC data streaming, web services, visualization tools, and Real time data analytics. It is not be going to replace the existing OPC Classic implementations in a short term but can act as a mechanism of exposing this data to the enterprise in a much more effective fashion.

OPC Foundation certifies the products developed by these vendors and exposes APIs to manipulate the data. It provides a more standard mechanism of representing data types ranging from simple to more complex data structures. Models can be created to cater to different needs of the business while data is in motion (Real Time Data Analytical Models) or data at rest (Staged Data Analytical Models). Business rules can easily be configured to process the information in more time and cost effective manner. The various streaming data tools enable simultaneous streaming of information to multiple applications and data stores by use of high speed data transfer protocols. OPC UA provide a robust security model for data transfers. It also enables custom application development by leveraging the APIs. It will help the enterprises to get most of the value out the data.

Most of the Oil and Gas Exploration & Production companies relies on proprietary products that cover the deficiencies of OPC classic by creating their own wrapper to expose this data to the enterprises. Hence creating a strong dependency on these product vendors and their line of products to cater to the different business needs. It leads to a high licensing, and Infrastructure costs for upstream businesses. Due to proprietary nature of the data; data extraction, transformation and Integration add up to the cost for these enterprises. Not only there is a cost impact but also an impact to the business operations. By the time these enterprises gets a chance to even look into the data, they have already lost most of the value that this data has to offer. The operational real time risks that could have been avoided and can be converted into opportunities, get materialized.

From the performance perspective OPC DA is good for simple data types while OPC UA is designed for Complex data types which is more relevant for the upstream enterprises. The address space concept in OPC UA makes if more lucrative to the enterprise data management systems. OPC UA currently supports secure and firewall friendly high speed Binary TCP data transport and the web based protocols. With openness of these standards we can use custom protocols if we need to achieve higher data transfer speeds. There are various other protocols in market like FASP©, proprietary protocol developed by Aspera®, now an IBM® Company. FASP Byte Streaming APIs can eliminate the limitations of TCP in relation to data packet tracking and packet loss. It is independent of geographical distances and can transmit data at blazing speeds.

The Upstream, Midstream, and Downstream operations relies heavily on the PLCs, DCSs, PACs, data recorders, and control systems. These OPC enabled devices produces data every second. The data is managed using popular proprietary OPC Classic servers. Using OPC UA the data can be exposed and ported to the enterprises in a much cost effective and timely fashion.

The OPC UA has opened the doors for the enterprises to have a real time view of their operations and devise new business process models leveraging the benefits of Big Data Analytics, Real time predictive Analytics, and much more.

Benefits to Oil and Gas Operations:

Enterprises can benefit from the new open standards in many ways saving on cost and efficient operations ranging for Well Life Cycle Management, Distribution, Refining and Trading.

Areas of focus:

Action and Response Management

OPC UA provides context and content in real time to the enterprise. Alerts and Events generated by various SCADA systems can be made accessible to the system operator and enterprise at the same time. System operators need not rely just on their instincts and experience but has support from entire enterprise. Notifications can be sent to multiple stakeholders and efficient response strategies can be implemented for each event. It also enables the analyst to visually interpret the data on the web and mobile devices in order to respond to the incidents in real time. Data movement need not rely on proprietary systems to move it across multiple network layers. Custom visualization models give a different perspective of the data flowing out to the enterprise.

Decision Management

Making right decisions at right time can save millions for the enterprises. Decisions are based on the insights generated by the data across the enterprise. Most of this is the OPC data generated by the devices operating at remote locations. Faster we analyze data the better is the value we get from the insights. For example, exploration sensor data can guide upstream to decide on whether to proceed with drilling operation at a particular site, understand the geology of the site and procure right equipment's to execute drilling operations, deciding on the well trajectories to maximize the production, optimize the drilling parameters for safe and efficient drilling, optimize the refining operations based on hydrocarbon analysis of the oil, determining shortest route for transporting oil and gas, help in scheduling oil and gas operations, better decisions for executing large oil and gas trades.

Risk Management

Oil and gas industry is highly prone to risks, whether it's related to deep water drilling operations or transportation of oil and gas across the challenging terrains. A small incident can lead to loss of billions of dollars and on other hand it can open doors to tremendous opportunities. It's about understanding the risks, its consequences and leveraging right strategy to handle the risk. Most of the assets and equipment are OPC enabled and generate tons of data every second. The data if tapped at right time the organizations not only deal with any risk with confidence but also can exploit the opportunities. Analytical models can easily crunch the data at is most granular form leveraging OPC UA and provide ammunition to the enterprise to optimize their operations.

Health and Safety

The OPC UA data can be streamed directly from the drilling assets to the enterprise with an ability to perform in-flight analytics. The data can feed into analytical models designed to predict outcomes and prescribe actions to ensure safety of the operational landscape. Data is the new currency for the modern world and can provide insights to improve health and safety aspect of the oil and gas enterprise and meet the legal and regulatory needs of the region.

 

Future of Oil and Gas Enterprises

With the latest technological advancements, right investments, and capacity to accept change, it's not far when our oil and gas enterprises will step into the new era of intelligent field operations. As quoted by OPC Foundation that "There will be a need of only two living beings on the oil field, a Dog and a Human, where Human ensures dog gets his food on time and Dog ensures Human do not interferes with the field operations."

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