Q&A with Neale Stidolph on IT and IM considerations in Asset Transitions

We talked to Neale Stidolph, Head of Information Management and Energy Transition at Sword, about the considerations for IT and information management (IM) when kicking off an oil and gas asset transition project.  

What are the key IT and IM considerations you would advise a potential buyer looking to acquire an asset on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS)? 

“People often say, “we’ll take all the information” and set up the systems to use it, that should be quick. Information is often buried in many systems, so the challenge is in getting clear definitions and being able to separate and extract that information. Being able to show you have all the right critical information is a key part of making the safety case and getting regulatory approval to operate the assets.” 

How complex is it to extract the data and information on a particular asset out of the owner organisations’ clutches? 

“Many applications are old and highly customised, or bespoke. Setting up new systems can be quite rapid but getting the data in the right form and making it useful takes time. There can be permission issues, with multiple data handovers and that all needs to be properly controlled between seller/buyer and any intermediaries – which is where we specialise.” 

How long would you anticipate needing to transition the IT and IM on an asset from one owner to another? 

“The nature of the assets is key. Small unmanned platforms could be done in a few months, but large onshore facilities or multiple major offshore assets could take a year. Some transition activities can continue post-transfer of operatorship, and many can run in parallel. We always work out the critical path, define long-lead items or systems and work around the buyer/seller timetable.”

What tasks tend to surprise new owners in terms of timescales when project planning asset transitions? 

“It can be the non-technical challenges, such as contracts & procurement, with novations, bids and license transfers all extending the timeline. Asset transfers will usually involve dozens of systems, about 50-80 for the last two projects. That requires lots of vendor co-ordination, which we can smooth out.” 

“Approvals to act from buyer/seller management are crucial, and there will be many decisions to be taken during the transfer process. The nature of the information can be very broad, from emails to databases, archive boxes, core samples, old magnetic tapes, etc.” 

“You may start by working the way the previous owner did, so that is a common initial goal. However, as a buyer you are likely to want to change over time to work in your own way and do things differently.” 

Do Sword ever act on behalf of the buyer and seller of an asset, and does that lead to any conflict of interest?

“It helps if we handle transfer activities for both buyer and seller as it makes the communication and data handover issues more efficient. This worked very well on the most recent transfer of GP3 and associated assets & licenses from Total E&P UK to Neo Energy.” 

“The conflict of interest aspect tends not to be a problem since we are achieving the same objective for all parties and have a clear and documented processes for managing the transfer, with an audit trail of activities and approvals.”

What opportunities for change do you see new asset owners embrace?

“Having overcome the first hurdle, acquiring the assets and putting in place the data and systems the real work begins! New owners will initially focus on running things safely, maintaining production and checking on things like maintenance backlogs.” 

“The future strategy will depend on the projected life of asset or field. Ways to extend the life will be very important and seeking to increase recoverable hydrocarbons so the challenge is in two parts, run production as smart as you can and looking at the subsurface to possibly reinterpret old data, new seismic work and drilling.”

“Where we can help most is in making the right information available more easily, so that it provides solid decision support in those areas. Reducing cost through fewer people offshore, simpler and slicker work processes and making engineering management of change easier – as this may include energy transition such as offshore wind & platform electrification or the potential for CCUS and Hydrogen production.”

Can you give us any examples of cost savings that you have seen new owners of assets achieve by changing the structure of the IT and/or IM approach?

“Yes, such as the trials of robotics for inspections and integrating drones into the client’s data systems. We have also seen improvements through increased safety, by making sure all asset information is ‘as-built’ and ‘as-operated’.”

“The back office processes have also been improved so that business administration is less burdensome. There is usually potential for more consolidation of systems, so that you need fewer applications and their associated support and license costs.”

In a nutshell, the notion that it’s possible to ‘lift and shift’ the IT and IM from one asset to another is sadly only a myth. The reality is that it’s worth investing in a realistic, integrated project plan to make the most of the change in structure. Changing an asset’s ownership gives opportunities to migrate only the relevant information into a new home, and streamline technology requirements that set up the asset for new ownership and growth well into the future.

“A successful asset transfer needs to consider not just the information that you think you need now, but the information which may be of high value later. This includes design information that could make decommissioning easier and old well data such as cement bonding logs – as they may be needed for CCUS. Make sure you don’t lose things of potential future value. Also know that the seller may not give you everything, as it is a complex task – we can help you identify the typical blind spots from many previous projects of this type.”

For more information, please read more on our business technology solutions and stay tuned for a new case study on our recent work with Neo Energy when purchasing an asset package from Total earlier this year.

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