Current Oil & Gas Industry Technology Concerns

The industry today is experiencing a technological revolution – be it big data analytics, internet of things (IoT), or artificial intelligence, exposing industry to new opportunities. On the flip side, automation and integration has also exposed the industry to new vulnerabilities and threats, and the Oil and Gas industry is no exception.

As per ABI Research the oil and gas companies will be spending $1.87 billion on cyber security by 2018. Nonetheless, the industry still lacks awareness as oil and gas companies fall victim to cyber-attacks. Thus, there is a need for more information on techniques that can help them Control industrial processes locally or at remote locations; monitor, gather, and process real-time data; and at the same time directly interact with various devices in the field.

Need for Modernization of SCADA?

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is an end-to-end supervisory system that acquires data from the field through Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) or Intelligent Electrical Devices (IEDs), which are connected to sensors through a communications network. The system processes this data and subsequently sends commands back to the field, with individual SCADA applications often working in parallel with one another.

The Oil & Gas industry was one of the earliest adopters SCADA solutions more than 40 years ago and has since come to rely on these technologies to manage various mission critical processes of Upstream and Midstream operations.    For example, SCADA is used to monitor offshore and onshore extraction processes or pipelines from a central remote location. It is also used for Oil Field Asset Management and Environmental Monitoring.

After three generations of SCADA – standalone, distributed, and networked, the Oil and Gas industry is now transitioning to the fourth generation SCADA application: Internet of Things (IoT).   IoT is revolutionizing SCADA by offering standardization and openness. Several communication protocols between a back end and a machine have been standardized by the Open Mobile Alliance and the Broadband Forum.  IoT is also providing scalability, interoperability, and enhanced security by introducing the concept of an IoT Service Platform acting as middleware.

Today, much of the existing SCADA technology is siloed and disjointed, having individual sensors transmit data to their respective applications using proprietary protocols.   With the introduction of IoT Service Platforms we introduce the ability to collect, organize and manage all data transmissions using open communication standards and reveal the data through standard APIs and web services.  This has enabled the development of business applications and robust analytic solutions overlaying the IoT Service Platform allowing real time access to information resulting from data collected from millions of endpoints in the field.  In combination with Cloud Storage and Analytics capabilities, along with 3-4G LTE, the traditional SCADA network has evolved from a decentralized, self-contained data collection network to a mission critical, decision making platform with immediate accessibility on a global level.

The abundance of moving parts in any SCADA solution as well as the complexity of the mission critical processes they support make up-leveling to today’s IoT and Cloud enabled platforms a daunting consideration.  As always, Industry executives and operations management are looking for assessments and solution roadmaps which will allow them to advance their business operations leveraging the latest, proven technologies.   IT Organizations are facing constraints limiting them from performing these initiatives internally, making this a key focus area for 3rd party providers.

While this is exciting news for the Oil & Gas industry from a capability standpoint, it introduces so many technology decision challenges that many may choose to leverage the philosophy – ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’   I would argue that point with another old maxim ‘You are only as strong as your weakest link’.    Think about where that ‘link’ could be at any point in a SCADA network.

This posting is meant to be the beginning of a discussion around what the latest technology advances mean to existing infrastructure in SCADA for Oil & Gas.   I welcome input, direction, and feedback.    Subsequent posts will delve deeper into the various technology considerations with respect to IoT, Cloud and Communications.

GS Lab offers specialized technology services in Digital Transformation, IoT, Cloud, Analytics and Security to help our clients implement smart solutions to business & technological challenges identified in this discussion.