IT-OT Convergence in the Oil and Gas Industry: Top Strategies and Benefits
ENERGY AND RESOURCES | 9 min READ
    
IT-OT Convergence
The oil and gas industry leverages an orchestra of machinery across its upstream, midstream, and downstream operations. However, it has been slow to adopt modern information technology (IT) paradigms and interface operational technology (OT) with core IT systems. But when that convergence does happen, an asset and machinery-intensive industry like this one will realize some big benefits. IT-OT convergence is a key step towards Industry 4.0 in oil and gas because highly profitable and critical use cases such as predictive maintenance, intelligent automation, and remote orchestration of processes will be unlocked with a vision for bringing IT and OT systems together.
Sanjay Bajaj
Sanjay Bajaj

Senior Vice President

BFSI

Birlasoft

Lenden Vaz
Lenden Vaz

AVP

Energy & Utilities

Birlasoft

 
IT-OT Convergence Oil and Gas
Like other industries, IT-OT convergence in the oil and gas industry enables businesses to bridge the gap between legacy systems that underpin the OT and modern IT layers. With IT-OT convergence, oil and gas businesses can harvest the rich data siloed in the OT layer and cross-contextualize it to build valuable insights and automated control and orchestration mechanisms.
Why does it Matter?
IO/OT convergence in the oil and gas industry is a key step to harnessing the business benefits of big data. Operational technology generates a vast amount of data when IoT sensors are attached to various parts of critical machinery to record intended parameters. This data is usually in the form of time series. Analyzing it with the right artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) techniques can help organizations predict if any equipment is about to go wrong or if the operations as a whole are generating a strange footprint. In other words, IT-OT convergence is the bridge to seamless, proactive, and resilient oil and gas operations.
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How Does it Work?
To bring IT and OT systems together, the OT layer consisting of SCADA systems, PDMS and DCS systems, and IoT sensors attached to plants must first be interfaced with the right network technology (like industrial routers) to enable transmission of data to IT systems. Then, leveraging a modern data platform brings all the data from the systems into a data warehouse, where real-time data is loaded, making it ready for various use cases. Finally, predictive and descriptive use cases are implemented by applying AI and ML algorithms to this data. Moreover, the same architecture can also be used to build control systems that enable automated remote orchestration core operations like drilling, extraction, refining, logistics, etc.
IT-OT Convergence Benefits
Shot In The Arm For Oil and Gas Industry
The oil and gas industry essentially sets itself up for many business benefits with IT-OT convergence. For instance, asset-intensive upstream and midstream operations can achieve maximal uptimes, proactively schedule downtimes for maintenance, run the oil wells and minimum viable levels, and maximize the efficiency with which the plant churns out revenues for the bottom-line. Here are a few key benefits of IT-OT convergence in the O&G sector.
Cost Efficiencies
By leveraging predictive maintenance use cases, IT-OT convergence empowers O&G businesses to minimize their spending on maintenance operations. Predictive maintenance can be applied to plant machinery, drilling equipment, logistics fleet, water-hauling equipment, and almost any machine that requires maintenance. Moreover, by using descriptive data, engineers at the control room can observe critical data points on assets usually inspected by workers on the field, thereby cutting down non-value-adding work-hours. Lastly, insights from operational data can be used to build automated control, which ultimately reduces the number of FTEs required to perform tasks on the field. All these factors bring significant cost efficiencies to O&G operations.
Safer Workplaces
Several hazards result in safety incidents at O&G sites every year. However, IT-OT convergence enables remote or automated orchestration of hazardous tasks that were, until now, performed by workers. Moreover, wearable safety devices can be integrated into a centralized communication system and configured for triggering alarms when a hazard is detected nearby or when unsafe situations like falling objects or hazardous chemicals are detected at a location. Lastly, drones with inbuilt imaging sensors are being used to detect mishaps across remote sites - these can be used to dispatch help to the site at the earliest, thereby enabling just-in-time mitigative actions and making the field safer for all employees.
IT-OT Convergence in the Oil and Gas Industry: Top Strategies and Benefits
Better Production Uptime
Predictive maintenance uses the vibration, sound, or infrared signatures generated by equipment to identify precursors to machine failure. This helps engineers identify failures before they happen and synchronize maintenance cycles for assets across the plants/wells to minimize production downtime. In addition, when this data is analyzed with a historical operational footprint, it can also help identify the right times to abandon an asset, thereby mitigating outages that result from critical failures arising from exhausting the asset’s life.
Environmental Compliance
More and more O&G companies are being fined for surpassing the provisioned emission levels or disposal of waste arising from exploration activities outside the allocated disposal sites. Compliance checks can be built into the IT layer with IT-OT convergence, and processes can be standardized with appropriate guardrails. For instance, disposal activities can be configured to check whether the waste management truck fleet’s round trips touch the location of the provisioned site. Similarly, emission levels can be tracked at the plant level by monitoring the emission signature from several assets, tracking power consumed by the operational activity from non-renewable sources, and generating automated compliance audit sheets.
Innovation
Because IT-OT convergence creates an interface between operational data and IT systems through an operational data platform (ODP), it unlocks a variety of opportunities for O&G businesses. An ODP Is essentially a value store, which is leveraged to build new use cases by making use of data streams from across systems to optimize, learn, and build better control mechanisms for production operations. Therefore, IT-OT convergence is a key milestone in unleashing the benefits of AI, ML, automation, and other emerging technologies in the O&G sector.
Higher Production Levels
IT-OT convergence will power digital twin simulations at its peak maturity to help businesses identify the bottlenecks across several interdependent processes within upstream and midstream operations and take mitigative actions to release these bottlenecks. This ultimately powers higher production levels through well-optimized drilling, production, and refining operations. Moreover, IT-OT convergence also helps identify root causes of failures, slippages, and non-compliance, thereby setting the operations up for success. They focus on eliminating the root cause behind issues instead of deferring the problem or making temporary fixes.
Improved Collaboration
Many processes in the upstream operations call for collaboration between field workers and the control room. For instance, while the control room has complete access to critical data points needed by the field workers, relaying them through unified channels that augment productivity can improve the time spent on productive tasks. IT-OT convergence empowers field and remote workers to same real-time information. It streamlines communication channels via video/audio interfaces that leverage AR to bring all the information field workers need into a single field of view.
IT-OT Convergence in the Oil and Gas Industry: Top Strategies and Benefits
Better Asset Visibility
IT-OT convergence is built on the premise of connected assets because operational data is obtained by measuring the operational footprint generated by various assets in real-time. This enables O&G companies to fully understand their assets, life cycles, commissioning and decommissioning protocols, and maintenance histories within a single asset management platform. This helps seal revenue leakages, eliminate redundant purchases when the same equipment is unused at another nearby site, and standardize asset management practices.
IT-OT Convergence Challenges
Despite the business benefits that IT-OT convergence unlocks, O&G companies have been slow to transform due to many challenges that underpin the transformation process. Here are a few key challenges that have emerged over the years.
IT-OT Convergence in the Oil and Gas Industry: Top Strategies and Benefits
IT-OT Cybersecurity
Because IT-OT convergence relies on the transmission of data from remote sites onto core IT systems of the business, it can present several network security challenges. Moreover, these networks must be highly available while preserving access integrity because of the potential for safety risks and losses that a breach can result in. While networking technology providers have pointed to the need for hygienic practices to seal off most security concerns, securing network perimeters, identifying the right networking protocols at a device level, and taking a modular approach to implementing zero-trust security paradigms can help organizations mitigate security risks that arise from such digital transformation efforts.
Data Management
Building an operational data platform is a key objective for an IT-OT convergence initiative. However, building it, in reality, requires most organizations to pay heed to several considerations. Data platforms deliver value only when the data available through them is cleaned, well-tagged, traceable, and contextualized, ready for use as engineers begin to build new use cases with it. Moreover, internalizing the right access protocols and implementing them for high-availability, low latency use-cases must be balanced with the costs incurred. Lastly, building a data platform will require data engineering expertise, which the industry currently lacks.
Change Management
Ultimately, IT-OT convergence brings business benefits only when the use cases it empowers are put to use. However, this is dependent on the stickiness of the presentation of a use case and how the organization manages the change at the level of individual practice. For instance, low adoption of wearable safety device alarms and triggers will impede the level of safety associated with a site. Similarly, remote orchestration calls for many changes on the site, including reducing the human presence and empowering control room engineers with the necessary guardrails to complete processes. This also requires the incentivization of cross-functional expertise, as many processes like drilling and tracking and exploration intersects multi-disciplinary contexts.
IT-OT Convergence Strategy
Considerations For Oil & Gas Industry
The O&G industry is slowly catching up as leaders like Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, and BP adopt digital-driven practices to bring unmatched value propositions to their stakeholders and the market. However, smaller and mid-sized O&G companies will not have deep pockets to power a big-bang transformation. For such organizations, adopting an incremental approach that leverages end-to-end use cases to impact the bottom line simultaneously will be the key to an IT-OT convergence strategy that is viable on the sheets.
Moreover, the industry lacks digital-savvy talent like data engineers, networking experts, cloud and IoT expertise, and modernized IT, teams. As a result, partnering with reliable technology leaders who have demonstrated industry results will form a key determinant of success. Lastly, buy-in from the top will be necessary to bring concerted efforts instrumental to successful digital transformation initiatives.
Future of Oil and Gas Industry
The oil and gas industry is almost at a tipping point - after this decade, the demand levels will continue to decline, and leaders will downplay the slow-movers with a strong hand. So now is the time to modernize the O&G business and set it for success over what is likely to be an oncoming competitive slaughter.
 
 
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