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Interesting Things Happen at Intersections

The challenging part of driving doesn't happen on the long stretches of straight road you encounter on a highway or a country road. Of course you have to watch your speed, avoid distractions, slow moving trucks and passing vehicles, but the more interesting aspect of driving happens at intersections. There are traffic signals, stop signs, traffic, pedestrians... well, you get the point. Your attention must be at a higher level in order to proceed safely on your journey.

I want to expand on this driving metaphor for data management challenges for oil and gas. In my metaphor, the long straight road is our functionally driven work processes. For a drilling engineer, there are a number of potential tasks that range from designing a well, overseeing the construction of the well bore to evaluating previous well programs to learn and capture best practices. But all these tasks are still in the world of the drilling discipline - on the straight road - and all of the individuals, companies and data sources are speaking the same language and traveling in the same direction.

Things get more interesting with cross functional work processes. For example, drilling engineers will need to meet with production engineers to discuss the handover process once the drilling is completed. As a drilling engineer or project manager, I would need to work with various other functions such as land (to drill the well according to the permit regulations), the procurement folks (to line up the suppliers needed to drill the well) and finance (to stay on budget and suppliers paid).

This is where it gets interesting. These intersections are where, often for the first time, we find out that all parties do not have the same understanding of basic terms and to our disbelief, that the departmental engineers may have different views of the key attributes of a well. What is a well? Where is the well? What is a completion? That's when you determine that reservoir engineers are interested in the reservoir completion zones first while drillers are focused on the place on the surface where they drill. The key attributes are determined by the perspective of each discipline which is fine on the one-way street, but doesn't turn the corner to the next stage.

The technology tools are different making data exchange time consuming and often requires reformatting data. Data quality and data record completeness issues show up when transferring data. Issues of where the "gold" record comes from on certain data attributes and the question of who is the data steward brings in the issue of data governance. Which team is right? This all gets a lot more complicated at the intersections.

At these intersections, we realize that we are part of a bigger world. It isn't just my role and my car. It is my role and my car in a whole new environment of other drivers, traffic control, road conditions and traffic networks. I have to learn what others need from me and what I need from others. It makes you wish everyone would just see the road from your perspective, but the complexity of the cross functional work processes never make it that easy.

That's when you recognize that you're a drilling engineer and your job is to drill wells. You don't want to be involved with all this data governance stuff that you know recognize is important, but you have to find someone to hand it over to. Why not the IT department? They have information in their title so that sounds like a good place to delegate these issues.  Problem solved!

But wait... Does the IT department really know what you need from the data? If not, they can only play a partial role in the whole data traffic flow world. Data is an enterprise asset and everyone needs to play their role in building a consensus around the definitions of key data objects. Everyone needs to participate in the data governance process. It is everyone's role to manage data and maintain data quality to avoid the accidents that happen at intersections.

Life is easier on the open road. But the truth is we life in a crowded urban setting and you can't always just stay in your lane without encountering others. We all have to pay attention to the interesting intersections. 

Safe travels.


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