Interview with our Technical Director, Peter Westwood

Congratulations on your inclusion in the PRODML SIG Executive Team for the third year in a row. Can you tell us a bit more about what PRODML is, and what it will help achieve?

PRODML represents a family of data standards for oil and gas production management. It focuses on the data structures for exchanging data both within and between organisations. The remit encompasses upstream production data that is needed to support operations from the well bore through to custody transfer. The idea is to optimise the management of field and production data, and to minimise the effort required to implement integration between systems and companies.

Typically, it addresses topics like production volumes, well tests, product quality, metering, data acquisition, operations reports, and so on. It offers a predefined domain model that can be used by anyone managing oil and gas production data.

How important is PRODML

PRODML is really important, now more than ever. PRODML offers an organisation a way to standardise on the structure and semantics of production data. It means accurate and consistent information across all assets, and minimises wasted effort in building systems to import or export this data.

If you look at the current situation, many organisations are making limited use of standards. As a result, companies struggle to draw data from their own assets. Among partners, it typically gets a whole lot worse.

Without standards, companies waste money endlessly converting data to and from differing formats. In doing so, differing representations, data entry and data semantics mean that errors creep in. The errors often persist undetected and even get replicated, aggregated and transferred. The result is that the business cannot be sure of the data on which they base their day-to-day management, let alone long-term decisions.

Standards will not magically fix these issues, but they assist by reducing the processing and transformation required. If all the data is accessible in a consistent form, governed by the same set of definitions, then an organisation can rely on the numbers drawn from different systems and sources. That’s true whether they come from within the organisation or are reported by partners.

What does being part of the PRODML executive team mean? Who else is involved?

The executive team is an essential part of managing the standards. Energistics, who publish the standard, need to get commitment and representation from the industry as a whole. The executive team provide the drive and direction for the development and publication of each of the standards. The team is made up from organisations such as Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and Total, together with a handful of product vendors.

The work is undertaken in Special Interest Groups (SIGs), each of which focus on achieving the goals set by the Executive Team. The SIGs are often quite large and have a real depth and breadth of knowledge.

Can you share any insights about what you’re working on with the team, or what we can expect from PRODML in the future?

PRODML v2 was released in December, representing the culmination of several years of effort. This year the focus will be on driving adoption and promoting use. It is not an easy task. Finding ways to make the process of adoption easier is the key. There is no real long term business value in not sharing data conveniently, but it always feels hard to get started.

Much of this is perception. Business wants a comprehensive standard, but at the same time something simple. These are not easy bedfellows!

The future of business systems lies in the presentation and integration of data from a wide variety of sources. Cloud based solutions are increasingly dominant, and we need to be able to reliably acquire information, securely and on demand, from wherever it happens to be.

As a vendor, we have a real responsibility here. All vendors should see it as a chance to transform the business. Sadly, the traditional view seems to be that vendors will follow if there is market demand. That simply does not work, as has been demonstrated by standards efforts in other industries. We need to focus on providing technical solutions that allows the business to focus on execution.

If your vendor makes money by charging for integration, it seems unlikely that they will be drivers for change that simplifies this work. The future is in offering solutions that minimise effort, and enhance or create true business value. Custom integration is error prone and a total a waste of time and money.

Thus, I think a change is due. We need to see vendors take the lead in encouraging adoption. Standards for exchanging data should not be an area of competition, and no vendor should seek to retain market share by encouraging proprietary lock-in. There are much more interesting areas for competition!

What’s your favourite thing about being involved with the PRODML Executive team?

I love working with a well-informed group of peers drawn from across the industry. There is a surprising amount of drive from people who are largely volunteers, and the breadth of experience make for interesting and informative discussions.

Standards work can often seem dry, but we as an Industry need to get this sorted out. In the SIG, we operate as a team and work for the benefit of the industry as a whole. That has the real potential to produce better solutions for all of us.