The global nature of the energy industry demands a mobile and geographically dispersed workforce. Oil and gas teams are assembled to tackle E&P projects, disband and reassemble as operational and economic conditions shift. Increasingly, these teams are scattered to the four winds, underscoring the importance of collaboration tools. Email, a 40-year-old technology, remains a de facto standard for E&P teams to make collective decisions, yet with high-capital, high-risk projects at stake, the industry desperately needs a better tool for the job.

In 2014 FAR Ltd. drilled SNE-1 and FAN-1 in Senegal’s Sangomar Deep. These West African exploration wells yielded two world-class offshore discoveries, with SNE ranked as the top oil discovery of the year. Overnight, the significance of FAR’s exploration leases in the region was transformed along with the company.

Given the magnitude of its West African discoveries, FAR’s team would need to collaborate, share ideas and solve problems daily as well as orchestrate development with its joint venture partners. As a nonoperating partner managing interests from Australia to Africa, FAR’s team works remotely from four continents with staff frequently traveling between Perth, London and Houston. Team members relied heavily on email to communicate with each other and partners. Consequently, conversations around a critical topic often took place in personal inboxes.

Perils of email

When it comes to collaboration, email poses multiple risks for E&P teams. Messages can be inadvertently forwarded to the wrong person, creating a security and compliance problem for many companies. Decisions that take place by email also lack transparency, which can result in key stakeholders being left out of the loop. In addition, valuable corporate knowledge is trapped in message threads. This puts vital information, findings and insights out of reach for those not included in the conversation and leaves new team members with an empty inbox the first day on the job.

FAR quickly realized the limitations of email as a collaboration solution for its appraisal projects in West Africa, which would require constant coordination among internal and external stakeholders located worldwide. What’s more, the company would need to share and rapidly discuss courses of action for a wide variety of documents such as authorizations for expenditure (AFEs), technical reports, appraisal well data and development plans. With its high-stakes project gearing up in West Africa, FAR needed a collaboration solution to create secure, open and clear channels of communication.

Over the decades there have been many attempts to improve email as a collaboration tool in the oil and gas industry, such as project management intranets, message boards and instant messaging. All too often these solutions under-deliver on the promise of productivity gains, including the latest round of social media-inspired enterprise social networks. While these tools facilitate open communication, the focus has been to foster conversations between individuals, which is usually a recipe for distraction.

New collaboration technology

FAR turned to Exigo, a Houston-based software developer, for its new generation of collaboration technology designed specifically for oil and gas teams. Rather than facilitating conversations between people, Exigo pioneered a new approach that puts the emphasis on creating conversations and building corporate knowledge around oil and gas business assets and projects.

Exigo’s knowledge network combines an asset hierarchy, which defines a company’s fields, leases, wells and facilities with a familiar social network-like interface where assets have profiles but people do not. Similar to a social network, users monitor an activity feed and time line for an asset and can post updates to an asset’s feed. Events, documents and data related to an asset are posted to its time line and related conversations captured. For example, a pumper could post a text update or video clip of a faulty compressor using his phone; the content would then appear in the well’s feed, and team members would be alerted for collective analysis and remediation.

Additionally, Exigo’s collaboration technology addresses the pervasive problem of side conversations generated by oil and gas datasets. All too often conversations related to field telemetry, alarms, production, field studies and other data are compartmentalized. Exigo solves the problem by integrating the digital oilfield Internet of Things (IoT) into asset feeds, including live data streams, GIS information and document repositories. As a result, Exigo puts data in context with conversations about the data, creating transparency and retaining valuable insights within an asset’s update feed.

Key goals of the Exigo tool include providing FAR with secure, open and mobile access to drive collaboration around its diverse exploration projects; building conversations and knowledge around FAR’s unique asset structure; and integrating key data sources directly into asset feeds to expedite decision-making. To achieve this, all appropriate staff were assigned role-based user accounts for Exigo’s cloud-based software, which is accessible on PCs and laptops as well as Apple and Android mobile devices. Using Exigo’s intuitive social media-style interface, FAR’s team can easily monitor asset feeds and contribute to conversations from office locations worldwide or while traveling.

Asset hierarchy

FAR’s asset hierarchy was defined to provide essential context to conversations and content, enabling drilldown through country, permit area, prospect and well. Conversations can take place at any level of the hierarchy such as high-level discussions for FAR’s regional operations or for a specific well. The Exigo solution also included an IoT integration with a data room used by FAR and its partners, which receives a steady stream of documents related to its West African discovery and appraisal project. This provides an important capability to post links to documents as they are added to the data room, such as a subsurface analysis or engineering reports, which instantly appear in the appropriate asset feed.

Armed with Exigo’s collaboration technology, FAR is able to continuously monitor the pulse of its global projects. Its enhanced collaboration capabilities have been especially beneficial to its high-profile West African appraisal projects, resulting in higher levels of productivity and improved coordination among its team and external consultants. Exigo allows FAR to pull stakeholders together quickly to generate solutions or accelerate time-sensitive decisions such as an AFE approval. The cloud-based collaboration tools have been widely adopted by FAR’s entire team, including geoscientists, engineers, petrophysicists, management and third-party vendors.

Importantly, Exigo gives FAR’s team clear decision visibility across assets, enabling it to spot issues before they become problems and respond to opportunities faster. And the benefits of enhanced collaboration allow FAR to contribute to its joint ventures with solid information, agility and confidence.

Whether offshore or onshore, upstream or downstream, oil and gas teams share a common need to securely communicate, share ideas and collectively find solutions. At the same time, operators, nonoperators and service companies have a stake in retaining valuable knowledge related to oil and gas assets and projects— knowledge that often walks out the door as employees retire or move on. Combined with the constant imperative to reduce risk and achieve higher returns, a paradigm shift is needed in the way oil and gas teams communicate, transfer knowledge and come to a consensus. Collaboration solutions like Exigo’s are proving to be the answer.