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Wells and Well Data Management: Where to Begin?

Wells and well data management encompass such a broad spectrum of data types, files and historical issues and challenges, it’s tough to know where to start improving the program.  The Professional Petroleum Data Management Association (PPDM) alone has invested many man years of work gathering input from industry experts to create whole publications focused on “What is a Well?” and “What is a Completion?”  These are just definitions, so the question really is, “where to begin?”

When in doubt, one tried and true fall-back position is to start with a focus on the basics: people, process and technology. Since there is more than enough being written on technology, this article will focus on people and process, specifically the people required to manage data through its many processes or lifecycle.  Maybe we should take a page out of PPDM’s proven approach and define, “What is a Data Management Professional?”

Just to be clear, data management has been around in the oil and gas industry for as long as we’ve been generating data, so essentially from the beginning.  Like with all things, it’s constantly changing, transforming and being rebranded, but it has always been there.  If you have ever been involved in a US onshore digital transformation project (yes, those are real by the way) you would have the privilege and responsibility to scan well reports from the 40’s, well logs from the 60’s and many other vintages and classes of well data.  If there were good data management practices and practitioners involved in the management of that data, then you were lucky enough to manage well-organized physical well files.  Perhaps a “records librarian” with a crew of “records clerks”, trained on DAMA principles established in the 80’s, had their hands on this physical data.

Well Data Management Roles: A Brief History

In the 90’s we were hit with the first digital revolution and data management really started taking off.  Geotechs who had been collating geoscience data, building paper cross sections and scouring through well files and log libraries began making the transition to digital datasets and databases. Engineering techs, who were processing run tickets and evaluating production trends by studying historical production data stored in actual hardcopy publications, now began entering histories into spreadsheets, and Excel started to become the default software application for petroleum engineers (and it still is, by the way).   Most of the data gathering was being done by engineering techs.

Over time, a gradual rebranding of titles from geotech and engineering tech to data analyst, specialist or data manager began to take hold, but exactly what those roles were responsible for remained nebulous.  E&P companies began to recognize the value that people with good computer skills brought to their business especially if that also came with a deep understanding of the data and how it was being used.  Pay began to increase, but these folks were pioneers.  No one understood what it took to manage these roles over a career much less how to develop their skills.

Things started to evolve in the mid to late 90’s, and since data managers used the computer quite a bit, the natural conclusion was that they must belong in the IT department! And into the IT department they went. Unfortunately, the general perception was that IT could not be trusted with data management because they did not understand the data like a geoscientist. So, back they come into E&P.

And then begins the tug-of-war… senior management expounds that in the 21st century, data is an important and valuable asset, and needs to be treated as such. Data management once again finds itself in the IT department.  At that point, silos are back in vogue, so some companies try building a corporate data management function,  putting some really good IT folks in that silo and keeping the data people with an understanding of the business in their business silos

PPDM Professional Development

The point is, if you are waiting for your E&P company to finally solve this once and for all, you might be waiting for a while still.  And just when you think it’s finally locked in, it will certainly change again.   This might be where the Professional Petroleum Data Management (PPDM) Association can help us out.  Being a standards organization, PPDM can provide some consistency and standardization of the skills or competencies we need to be developing for effectively managing subsurface data across the E&P Lifecycle.  For reference, look into the Professional Development Committee within the PPDM organization.  This worthwhile organization is working towards establishing a professional discipline for data managers

People, process and technology, of these 3 pillars, people development seems to garner the least attention.  However, if an organization needs to build up a highly effective, trusted, credible and value-generating data and information management organization, the best place to start is with the people.  Good, trained, experienced people, who will understand the business processes and help implement effective data management processes and ultimately leverage great technology resulting in a step change in how your organization delivers value.  In our experience, the following principles are a great place to start.

  • Know the business processes – determine where a data management organization can add the most value to your business
  • Build the governance model – no small task, but engaged business owners are critical for success. Get help if you need it.
  • Define the data management services needed and not the organizational chart. The requirement should not change irrespective of the functional/organizational home-room for data management
  • Value role definitions over job titles. Words are important, but don’t get too hung up on branding or semantics.  The key is the role definition.
  • Understand the skills you are asking for. Do your research.  It’s not enough to know you need a well log data analyst or someone to help you manage your well log file graveyard, mosh pit or shared drive.  You need to know what skills they need and what level of understanding is required to fully tackle well log data, for example.
  • Don’t take too long to get started. It may take some time to build your team. In the meantime, supplement your team with experts, or identify the right third party “managed service.”   Lots of companies provide top tier resources to help you get started or keep you running, including Katalyst!

Don’t forget technology.  It can certainly be a game changer, but address the fundamentals of people and process first to ensure your investment in technology is a sound investment.

The PPDM Professional Development Committee is a great resource to get you started.  Or you can give Katalyst Data Management a call.  Our subsurface consulting services team and data management experts can provide the guidance you need to get your organization started on the path to professional development in data management.

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