digitalisation, an evolution or revolution for E&P?

 The SPE [1] Asia Pacific Digital Symposium last week was hosted in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, and io’s John Ciccarelli (Senior Reservoir Consultant) was there to present and catch up on some of the latest industry thinking. The event began with the key note address from Wan Shamilah Wan Muhammad Saidi (CTO at Petronas) who gave the message “data, not oil will be the driving force of change in the future.” A similar statement was made by Edward E. Graham (President and Chairman at ExxonMobil E&P Malaysia) who stated that “data is the new oil.”

John Ciccarelli, Senior Reservoir Consultant speaking at the symposium.

As the talks moved into debating the topic of whether digitalisation of the way we recover hydrocarbons will be a revolution or an evolution, there was a sense of caution towards changing the way that we work for the sake of it. The executive panel concluded that we will likely be limited to mere evolutions on the same practices unless there is some game-changing application of technology. The panel suggested that a game-changer would be something like an ability for Artificial Intelligence to process and interpret vast amounts of seismic and subsurface data, as E&P teams do now, but much faster and provide us with a ranked list of new targets based on size, risk, etc.

Various major and mid-sized E&P companies were well-represented at the event by technical professionals, many of whom had made the leap from domain expertise roles such as reservoir engineering to data science. There were many excellent presentations detailing applications of data-science and programming techniques to improve existing processes. The most immediately useful and technically sound talks were presented by those with domain expertise, who had transitioned to computer science and data science; this echoes io’s view that a holistic approach involving technical and digital experts working together will yield the best results during from the digital transformation.

Two presentations which stood out in particular: Edge Analytics – Using IIoT to Predict Artificial Lift Failure by Fahd Saghir (Schneider Electric). Fahd demonstrated that by analysing a rod pump performance profile at the well site with image recognition to characterise the type of imminent failure could then trigger a request for maintenance only as needed. The key to this solution was cleaning up the data at the site automatically and substantially limit the need for constant connection to the cloud or some remote monitoring point as remote connectivity can be difficult and expensive for many well locations. Also, Shell Technology Centre Bangalore (Ajit Muley, Nikhil Kumar and Biswajit Mishra) presented “Estimation of Core-Permeability using Machine Learning” and they demonstrated that some machine learning methods could be used to reduce the number of expensive core tests needed. They showed a case where they trained a model to successfully predict well log and permeability correlations and so could help to limit the number of core tests needed by applying trends seen in existing core tests.

During the panel discussion of “What comes first: Culture, Technology or Application?” It was clear that there were some different interpretations of these three things. Dr Tokunosuke Ito (Toku Industry Inc) brought some clarity suggesting the introduction of the iPhone was not a new technology but rather an application of existing technology that was readily available. This application created new culture where smartphones have become a part of our way of life. The translation of this analogy to the E&P industry centred on improving the way that we work together. Dr Chan Tuck Leong (Digital Accelerator at Petronas) led the panel, saying the way forward is for multidisciplinary teams to work in a more integrated way and that the culture of “working in silos” needed to be disbanded. Dr Chan proposed that the tools we use, and the applications of technology can help us to work in a more agile way.

This discussion led well onto the talk given by io’s John Ciccarelli as he presented “Agile Digital Twins to Aid Concept Selection, A new Solution to an Old Problem.” The presentation addressed the months, or even years, taken to progress through the early Front-End Loading (FEL) stages in the traditional “baton-passing” approach. Through the development of FEL 0 digital twin using systems thinking techniques, io utilises a faster, lower risk approach, which integrates multiple discipline domain expertise to achieve maximum value from a client’s development. The collaborative multi-disciplinary team works in an Agile way, modelling interdependent technical and commercial variables for each concept. The presentation focussed on a case study where io applied the approach for a major E&P, bringing an optimum economic compression solution for a complex group of 350 wells intersecting different reservoirs. The tool showed an 18-month acceleration of the decision process and a 30% cost saving to the major E&P.

By changing the way that we work, by digital or agile means, or otherwise, will never decrease the quality of work or the safety of a development as long as we remain cognisant of the potential risks. With this in mind, the conference ended with a panel discussion titled “Maintaining Quality, Safety and Security – Risks of Digitalisation.” Howard Marshall (Director of Threat Intelligence at Accenture) who previously worked in the FBI for the US government for 22 years led the panel and compared the mindset change pre and post the September 11 attacks to the mindset change that now guides cyber security. He stated that “it is not acceptable anymore for us to investigate crime in hindsight, we must be proactive rather than reactive.” The panel agreed that cyber security is a proactive rather than reactive process and companies like Google, Amazon and Microsoft are experienced in proactive defence against hackers as their systems are tested constantly and have evolved to fend off attacks. The consensus was that through increasing connectivity, and digitalisations of our well-sites, and the way that we work, there is an increased risk to data security and safety.  The proactive prevention of threats to these systems will require an ever-increasing investment by the E&P industry going forward.

Wicked problems require an innovative approach, digital solutions will be a core part of this innovation. At io, we believe in creating tools that empower E&P teams to work more effectively and collaboratively; our FEL 0 Digital Twin tool to serve this belief. To find out how we can bring digital innovation to deliver your projects faster, with more certainty and higher decision quality, contact us on


[1] The Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE)