How we can fix standards efforts in oil and gas

I’ve spoken at several conferences about the failures in standards efforts in oil and gas, and I’ve commented on the reasons for these failures. I’ve also highlighted the key characteristics of successful standards efforts in other industries. In the short version, this boils down to my well-worn aphorism “adoption beats perfection”. The longer version is contained in the seminal paper by Hanseth and Lyytinen (“Theorizing about the Design of Information Infrastructures: Design Kernel Theories and Principles”, 2004) which, despite its title, contains material that is relevant for all standards efforts. They identify five design principles:

  1. Design initially for usefulness
  2. Draw upon existing installed base
  3. Expand installed base by persuasive tactics to gain momentum
  4. Make it simple
  5. Modularize by building separately key functions of each infrastructure, use layering, and gateways

A cursory glance at the standards documentation from bodies like Energistics and PPDM demonstrate a failure to adhere to some, if not all, of these principles.

This has led me to consider the goals of standardisation in oil and gas, and what might help with their adoption.

I can see three obvious scenarios where standards could be useful. There are probably more, but let’s start with these three.


Standards That Work

I was thinking about why we have standards and what they achieve today. I have had a fair bit of experience both as a consumer and producer, dating back to working on X.400 in the 1980s through the many ‘standards’ in software through to the current day. In almost all cases these technology standards have, to some extent, failed. None raised themselves up to manage to be the thing the writers intended. At best they just grabbed a foot-hold or a niche. In this post, I will discuss the reasons why.