Big Data and analytics gaining traction in the oil and gas sector

Big Data is no longer just a buzzword — it is becoming reality for an increasing number of companies in the UAE and other GCC countries.

According to a recent survey conducted by IDC, GCC-based companies have started to move beyond the hype, and are increasingly considering, or piloting, Big Data initiatives. Even though standard business intelligence solutions are bound to remain a priority for most companies, the Big Data concept is starting to gain some traction at a local level, especially within the most data-intensive industries.

IDC's taxonomy defines Big Data as a "new generation of technologies and architectures designed to economically extract value from very large volumes of a wide variety of data by enabling high-velocity capture, discovery, and/or analysis." And it is increasingly now perceived as not only a 'nice-to-have' technological innovation, but also as a critical investment choice that is contributing significantly to the rise of an intelligent economy. Big Data adoption in the GCC is still in its early days when compared with other regions like Europe and North America, but it is clear that awareness around the concept and its potential business impact is rapidly rising across the region.

According to the results of IDC's Middle East CIO Survey, 2014, only three per cent of the respondents had already implemented Big Data within their organisations, but 14 per cent were planning to do so in 2014, and 32 per cent were considering it for 2015. The growth in new implementations is primarily being driven by rapid rises in enterprise data volumes, as well as by the influence of lines of business in investment decisions.

The profile of companies considering or implementing Big Data solutions in the UAE mostly includes typical IT-savvy industries, such as airlines, telecommunications operators, and leading retailers, which are gradually understanding the business value of Big Data in relation to process improvement, cost optimisation, and revenue creation. Extractive industries, particularly the oil and gas vertical, are other key areas of growth for Big Data adoption in the GCC. This is due to their relative importance in most local economies, and the critical need for companies in these sectors to turn the massive amounts of raw data they collect in their fields into actionable insights that can guide operations or business decision making.

Smart field programmes
The development of smart field programmes at a global level in the oil and gas industry has caused the number of sensors generating high-frequency data to increase dramatically in the last few years. This is particularly true in countries like the UAE, where a strong focus has been placed on technologies aimed at expanding the lifespan of existing reservoirs. Oil and gas companies are now struggling with increased volumes of data, growing velocity in data capture, and a wide variety of data sources (reservoirs, wells, pipelines, etc.). However, many oil and gas companies suffer from a lack of capacity to analyse the data produced in the fields. Reports indicate that petrotechnicians in the control rooms spend much more time searching for and aggregating the data than they do actually analysing it.

As a consequence, Big Data solutions, including in-memory computing, are seen by many companies as a good answer to some of their challenges, as they can contribute to a more seamless integration of technical data into business processes, and enable more efficient analytical workloads.

The oil and gas sector is more advanced that other verticals in the region in its understanding of the potential benefits of Big Data solutions. Going forward, IDC Energy Insights believes that the gap between the companies that are using Big Data and the companies that are not will widen as the ability to extract value out of Big Data analysis will increasingly become a major competitive advantage. However, the maturity of regional operators for Big Data implementation differs significantly from one company to the other.

Strategy needed
As outlined in a recent IDC report on maturity model for Big Data and analytics in the oil and gas sector, to be successful in their Big Data initiatives, oil and gas companies need to create a Big Data strategy that ensures investment is aligned across all five key aspects of Big Data maturity: intent, people, process, technology, and data.

IDC Energy Insights believes that the oil and gas industry is still at the beginning of its Big Data journey. In the next few years, the ability to use near real-time data in a strategic and timely manner will be a key element enabling smarter exploration and production processes, enhanced drilling techniques, and more efficient predictive analytics to prevent potential asset failures. It is quite obvious that the transition towards emerging technologies such as Big Data can be a challenging process: end users commonly mention a lack of business support, skills shortages, and data integrity and governance issues as key inhibitors for the development of Big Data initiatives in the industry.

In spite of all the challenges and the irrational marketing hype about the advantages of Big Data, it has become critical for oil and gas companies operating in the region to recognise the business value of untapped technical data, and to develop a Big Data strategy based on business needs, required skills, decision processes, technology capabilities, and the availability/quality of relevant data.

The columnist is Group vice-president and Regional MD for the Middle East, Turkey & Africa at global ICT market intelligence and advisory firm, IDC.

(News courtesy : gulfnews)