David Ufton of EnergySys visits Gabon

You may be aware that EnergySys software is delivered remotely through a web browser, meaning that there is little need for face-to-face meetings between our software engineers and customers. It’s an integral part of the efficiency of using our Cloud model – you plug in and go, and configure applications yourself.

However, when a customer needs to explain how their more complex, customised requirements have evolved, or to integrate data sets that have peculiarities unique to their own assets and environment, we still recognise that we may need to spend some time together round a table.

So it was that David Ufton, a Principal Consultant at EnergySys, found himself getting out of bed at 3am on a Sunday to board a flight from London Heathrow to Frankfurt, and then transfer to Libreville, before finally arriving at his destination of Port Gentil, Gabon, in the Gulf of Guinea at around 9pm that evening. It was the start of a week spending time talking with one of our customers, who also have assets in Cameroon, Nigeria and Iraq, and understanding what modifications might be needed to ensure they got the most from extending the use of our Production Allocation Cloud.

“It was a little adventure even getting to the supermarket…” said David as he recalled the sometimes vast lakes of rainwater that swamped the main road. “And although one is nominally driving on the right, this can be impractical when your 4×4 is already up beyond its axles in water as you navigate the deluge. Then it’s like software configuration: you have to recognise that sometimes, local flexibility using rather different rules must be applied quickly if you want to get from A to B.”

The road from Excel Hell

“Our customer had been used to working with sets of spreadsheets to arrive at estimates for allocation. But they had long recognised that there was a lot of risk involved, with multiple potential points of failure using this model:- formulae being overwritten in error, authorship being unverified, currency of data uncertain, the inconsistent use of templates, and input not being subject to verification at cell or tab level. This is a problem that we see regularly.”

“One of the very encouraging things I found was that, for our customer in Gabon, because of the way data is required to be entered into the EnergySys model, there is in fact no longer a question of nobody knowing precisely if, or why, data is wrong. The whole process of login, verification, permissions and inherent visibility to audit means that operator errors are trapped on entry:- Numeric fields are mandated to be created as just that data type; inadvertent text characters simply cannot appear; field ranges cannot be exceeded; only those authorised to do so can make any change to production data. In short, the EnergySys model guarantees that the data being entered, no matter whether it’s in an email from a third party, direct input, an automated spreadsheet import or a CSV file, is verified in several ways before it is accepted. As a result, our customer can be confident that they only have clean, valid and reliable data that has been tested for integrity and validity allowed into their system. So their results are no longer open to question or doubt, nor does the underlying data require extensive and time-consuming checking – plus – the assumptions and data making up their end results can be interrogated and audited fully and transparently. Quite aside from saving them time and pain, it hugely enhances the security of key business processes.”

“Our customer spent time explaining to me how they wanted to expand the scope and capabilities of the EnergySys Production Allocation Cloud, and demonstrating the specific conditions and rulesets they needed to apply, peculiar to their geography and assets. It was encouraging to see that all of the new requirements simply needed adjustments to, or additional business rules and data verification, meaning that our customer could, with some additional support and explanation, actually configure the system for themselves.”

“Another valuable element is simply understanding how our software is perceived, and being able to gather up suggestions for the improvement and future extension of our software products. EnergySys software has always been recognised as a customer-driven solution, and it is invaluable to spend time learning how customers are using and experiencing your product. It was also reassuring to see that, with internet bandwidth a sometimes slow commodity in this part of the world, even at incredibly low data speeds, our product remained responsive, agile and robust at every stage. It was great to see that it works correctly even in in a stressed and extreme environment, and that the results it produces are making a hugely positive contribution to the effectiveness of our customer’s work.”

Although Dave was not lucky enough to spot the amazing surfing hippos that are a feature of this fascinating and often overlooked country, he was impressed nevertheless by Gabon, by its friendly people and some unconventional but quite effective techniques for driving, and also dealing with airport baggage. They are also rather clever and creative about how they get their oil out from under the seabed.