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May 28, 2015

Thoughts From a Wandering Mind at PNEC 2015

I've always been fascinated by the Möbius strip in front of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. One edge...one side... If you trace your finger along it in your mind (it's too high to reach), you can follow "both edges" and "both sides" without ever lifting your finger off of the Möbius strip. No beginning...no end.

People, process, and technology. All solutions require all three parts: the roles and responsibilities, the ways people should work, and the tools they use to accomplish their tasks. As I listened to the presentations at the 19th PNEC Conference this week this triad was present everywhere, whether explicitly or implied.

Throughout my career in Data Management, I've encountered many challenges, but two stand out: (1) building a business case with senior management for funding data management projects and (2) educating those same senior managers that the data management capability is never done being created.

At PNEC, there was also a lot of talk about Data Management as a professional discipline alongside Geology, Geophysics, and Petroleum Engineering, to name a few. All three of this year's Cornerstone Award winners (Pam Koscinski, Janet Hicks and Matthias Hartung) have played a role in advancing this concept. Some E&P companies get this, some say they get it but really don't quite yet, and others still keep Data Management chained to the oars that power the galley.

So, at this point you're probably wondering how I function with a brain that connects these disjointed thoughts. I'm getting there...

As we build a case for standing up a proper data management capability, many times we resort to the sexy and trendy: big data, predictive analytics, and NoSQL to name a few. While all three of these can bring tremendous value to an organization, if we start there we are icing the dessert before we've baked the cake. The reality is, we need a good foundation: professional data managers in clearly defined roles as well as the people in the business clearly knowing their roles and responsibilities with regards to data management; a process for ensuring that quality data, that is, data that is complete, correct, consistent and current is available; the technology to store and deliver this data, and the tools to exploit the data for better business decisions. Once this is in place, however, we're not done. Just like the Möbius strip, we loop around again and again, refining the roles, improving the quality, providing data integration to allow working across disparate systems, and tools with more capabilities for even better decisions. And around we go again with big data, which, by the way, requires new roles, tools, and processes, finding previously unknown relationships, higher level analytics, new data types. And so on...

There are no shortcuts. You can find people to help you on your journey, but you can't skip from "let's do this" to "we're done". Just like seismic data has moved from single-fold 2D paper sections to wide azimuth, 3D two-way wave equation migrations, Data Management needs to move along the maturity curve, ever evolving and contributing ever increasing business value. When we do, we'll be accepted and spoken of alongside the primary E&P functions.