Improve Production Operations with Better Data Visibility

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The Ultimate Guide:
How to Choose the Right Production Software for Your Upstream Oil & Gas Organization

Download NowProduction Operations Software Must-HavesHow to Recognize It’s Time for a Change

5.  Create a Short List*

How to Select the Right Software for Your Production Operations Department

Best Practices When Choosing
New Production Software

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How to Recognize It’s Time for a Change

How does an upstream oil & gas company know when it’s time to reevaluate its production operations system? If you’re experiencing more than a few of the following challenges in your production operations department, it may be time for you to evaluate a change:

From the field to revenue and engineering, the right production operations solution enables upstream oil and gas organizations to make informed decisions and improve their operating practices. It can also increase the well-to-pumper ratio, reduce downtime, improve cash flow, and, of course, impact overall production.

There is a lot to consider when choosing a production operations system. There are options in the market that can look the same on the surface but may not meet your true business requirements.

In an effort to help you sift through the myriad of options and move through the process, we created this ultimate guide. You can read the entire guide chapter by chapter, jump to the chapter that applies to your organization or download a PDF to read later. If you download the full PDF, you will also receive a checklist that takes you step-by-step through the purchase of a new system, along with a set of questions to ask.

When all is said and done, the key factors to look for in a production operations solution are:

Improve Production Operations with Better Communication
& Collaboration

As a small or mid-size upstream oil and gas and organization, do you find that the software you’re using for production operations is dated, requiring you to rely on spreadsheets to fill the gaps? Are people within your organization spending so much time multi-tasking that they don’t have time to pay attention to key indicators related to production performance? Perhaps you’re a larger organization that needs to better utilize field or other data more effectively to identify opportunities to optimize across the board. In either scenario, understanding how to strengthen your production operations practices can lead to improved volumetric results and decision making, plus tighter cross-departmental integration.

Choosing a production software package is a decision that will impact your operations for five, even 10 years, given the number of integrations to other systems and processes inherent in implementing this type of software. Thoughtful, diligent research should be a mandatory part of your selection process.

Read on to learn about the 9 steps you should take in buying a solid production operations system that will support your organization and help create avenues toward success.

To Customize or To Configure

According to Dictionary.com, ‘customize’ means “to modify or build according to an individual or personal specifications or preference.” ‘Configure‘ is “to design or adapt to form a specific configuration or for some specific purpose.”

Point Solutions vs. Enterprise Solutions

Many companies struggle with the challenge of deciding between point solutions, i.e. best-in-class products, and fully integrated enterprise solutions. The bottom line is that the best choice is what’s best for your business. The most basic choice, however, in selecting software for your business is not between one “brand” or another, but between types of software, either point solutions or fully integrated enterprise solutions.

Best in class denotes a leading product or software tool in a particular market segment. These types of software provide the best features and functions for one component in the value chain, whether production operations, accounting, workflow, trouble ticketing, resource management, or asset management.

An integrated enterprise solution is a comprehensive suite of software that links every component across an entire organization using one central data mart. Enterprise solutions focus on best practices and best processes and integrating every component in the value chain.

Each type of software has its strengths and weaknesses – and passionate supporters. 

  • Proponents of point solutions favor evaluating and implementing applications independently so that you can get the best solution for each area of the company. 

  • Proponents of enterprise-wide systems favor consistent business processes and screens with a central data mart that facilitates proactive management of the entire organization. 

Which type is the better choice depends on what’s best for your organization?

In the production operations domain, both types of software solutions are available. To help you determine which option might be more advantageous for your organization, the pros and cons are illustrated for both. 

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The best way to understand the challenges and limitations of your current systems and processes is to involve all stakeholders early. Because production impacts so many other processes in an upstream oil and gas company, it’s important to not only include core stakeholders, but also those who rely on the outcome of the production data.

Core Stakeholders

  • Field operations 
  • Production accounting 
  • Production engineering

Departments Reliant on Production Data

  • Revenue accounting 
  • Reservoir engineering 
  • Land 
  • Marketing 
  • Executive management

The next step in finding the right solution is to identify the unique needs of your production operations group and the departments that rely on them. The best approach is to determine what problems you’d like the software to solve for, and what metrics will define success.

Understand your business processes 

As important as how you conduct your business process is the why. Are your processes the result of years of working around the tools that you have in place currently? What would those processes look like in a perfect scenario? 

Identify the pain points

What issues do employees encounter on a regular basis? What is taking a long time? What takes too many steps? How often does work have to be redone?

For example, if your production group has to file Prior Period Adjustments frequently, are there problems with your data and allocation processes? Is poor communication between the field and back-office contributing to data issues?

Important Functional Requirements to Consider

  • Usability requirements. Is intuitive navigation through the system important? How critical is mobility to your stakeholders? Or are there parts of the solution that will lend more to desktop-style interaction
  • Technology preferences. Would a cloud-based or on-premise system work best? How will the data be housed? Your IT stakeholders will provide direction on infrastructure requirements if you are considering on-premise. If you’re not able to support the infrastructure in house, a cloud-based solution supported by the software vendor could be a viable alternative.

With three to five strong options in hand, it’s time to request a demo from each one, ensuring you are prepared to ask a lot of questions.

Back to Top

It’s now time to verify that the provider and its product are what they have claimed to be. Ask for two to three customer references who have similar producing assets, operate in the same regions as you do, and/or are similar in size.

Questions to ask: 

  • What challenges do they face with the system? 

  • How does the vendor respond to these challenges? Are they prompt in their response? 

  • What would they change about the software if they could? 

  • Would they recommend this vendor and product? 

Annual maintenance

Consider whether the vendor exclusively focuses on upstream oil and gas production operations and has the experience across the domain. Confirm they will be there to support the system with regular product updates, reliable customer support, and an active user community to maximize your investment.

After references check out, costs have been nailed down, and all internal parties are aligned, review all considerations.

  • Opinions of stakeholders and users
  • Features of the system and how they stack up to your requirements
  • All costs associated with implementing and using the system
  • Overall feeling about the demo(s)
  • Feedback from references
  • Viability of the provider

You should be ready to select your new software system and prepare for your implementation project.

Parting Thoughts

When looking for a production operations solution, it’s important to look for one that reduces downtime and drives operational efficiencies. A high-performing system should allow stakeholders to make better-informed decisions that lead to optimized production in the field.

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  • Field data is captured in multiple systems – Field operators spend time navigating in and out of multiple systems or spreadsheets with overlapping solutions leading to inefficient use of their time and an incomplete picture of the assets for which they are responsible.
  • Real-time data is siloed – You have SCADA, but the measurement and controls team owns it and the production operations team isn’t able to access it for analysis. 
  • There’s a disconnect between the field and back-office – Communication with the field is reliant upon phone calls, emails, and texts leaving valuable information about your assets stranded.
  • Oil inventory is hard to manage – Wells come on so fast sometimes permanent storage tanks aren’t available. And when they are installed, field activities like producing and selling out of different tanks or transferring between leases make allocations a challenge to maintain. 
  • Commingled wells – Downhole, commingled wells in certain states require formation-level allocations for reporting. In other areas, wells are often originally filed as single units and then later filed under a combined commingle permit requiring careful tracking and handling of prior period adjustments.   
  • Produced water management – Inefficient water hauling practices threaten shutting in wells due to tanks not being unloaded on time. Haulers’ lack of access to automated ticketing software means paper tickets are never reconciled correctly, and water production can be over or understated. Using spreadsheets to track water moved off-lease to disposal wells leads to inaccurate reporting of associated costs for joint interest billing. 
  • Field – The data that field operators are collecting in the field is available and synchronized with the production system with fast and accurate results. The field can communicate with production engineers to ensure that any well issues are handled quickly to reduce downtime. 
  • Production Engineers – Engineers have a better sense of what is going on in the field and have trust in their data and analysis. This allows them to make better decisions, decrease downtime, and ultimately increase production. 
  • Revenue Accounting – Corporate revenue teams rely on accurate allocation results daily and monthly. This enables them to perform more accurate accruals and deliver correct revenue sharing and partner billing the first time. 
  • Regulatory Reporting – File state reports electronically with an easy-to-use electronic data interchange (EDI) file with few needs for Prior Period Adjustments.

Production Operations Software Must-Haves

How to Select the Right Software for Your Production Operations Department

1.   Understand the Types of Software

If you do a quick search for production software, you’ll notice there are two main types: customizable and configurable. The differences between the two aren’t always well defined and, as a result, there tends to be confusion around them.  

Oil and gas operations requirements can be complex. Opting for a software package that handles as many out-of-the-box requirements as possible (90-95%) is ideal, with the remaining – the one-off, unique requirements – being handled via configuration. 

When conducting your analysis of whether to implement production operations software that is best of breed or part of a larger enterprise solution, it is critically important to look at the TCO. Generally, the purchase cost of tools is fairly low. The real expense comes with installing, deploying, maintaining, supporting, and upgrading the tools – all items that dramatically affect the bottom line. Before you choose, you need to conduct an in-depth analysis of your business to determine which type of software best meets your needs and budget in the long term.

2.   Include All Stakeholders

3.   Catalog User Processes and Needs 

Assign the value

Are there opportunities to shave minutes, hours, even days from tasks surrounding production? What if you could reduce the time spent reconciling oil run tickets with purchaser statements? Or give field operators valuable time back from capturing and reviewing data? Knowing the value of each process and task will help you identify must-have efficiencies in a new system.

When meeting with your champion stakeholders, start at a high level and identify the specific business challenges that need to be addressed. Think about why you are ready to evaluate a new solution for your production operations needs, particularly around its ability to support your organization’s operations and track every barrel and Mcf accurately. Can it support complex production scenarios? Does it handle tasks and processes that are otherwise managed in spreadsheets?

4.   Create a Requirements List

Developing a comprehensive list of business and technical requirements based on the processes you have idenfitied is the next step. Whether you have a large group of stakeholders weighing in or a smaller team, you will need to identify leads for each category of requirements.

Using your exhaustive list of requirements, break them out into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” It’s unlikely that an off-the-shelf solution will meet every one of your criteria, so consider which requirements would fall into these groups.

10 Specific Production Operations Requirements to Keep in Mind

  1. Ability to visualize real-time data from the field 
  2. Allows for mobility in the field to support data capture and surveillance activities 
  3. Ability to process data accurately and timely 
  4. Ensures accurate allocation of oil, gas, water, and NGL volumes regardless of complexity 
  5. Provides timely analysis to help production operations identify where there might be issues 
  6. Provides multiple reporting capabilities targeting each consumer 
  7. Combines operated and non-operated functionality to give you a holistic view into your gross and net positions 
  8. Connects and shares data seamlessly with different areas of the organization; in other words, cross-collaboration from the field through the back office 
  9. Integrates efficiently with third-party applications 
  10. Provides configurable options so you can expand and modify to meet specific needs

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During this step, aim to whittle down your ‘potential software systems’ list to three to five choices based on research that includes publicly available information on each vendor, as well as your peers in the industry. Work to identify the systems most suitable for your team, processes, and goals defined in the previous steps – referencing your requirements list at all times.

Platform Preference

Get with your stakeholders, including IT, and decide what type of platform will better serve your needs. If a vendor only offers or supports an on-premise option, and you’re looking for a cloud-based solution, cross it off the list. Consider whether you are leaning toward an on-premise solution today, but need the flexibility of moving to the cloud in the future.

6.  Request a Demo

During the demos, be transparent about your challenges and requirements. The more potential vendors know about your needs, the better they can communicate and demonstrate how their software can help. Take copious notes about what you like and don’t like.

Educating each vendor’s sales team on your selection criteria will help them be more responsive. If they know what you need and when you need it, they’re in a better position to fully demonstrate their solutions’ capabilities for each requirement. Don’t be afraid to ask for a more granular look into the features and functionalities that pertain to your specific situation.

Concentrate on assessing the software against your criteria using a requirements matrix. If there are multiple stakeholders attending the demos, consider giving them each list of requirements with scorecard style points that they can award to each vendor for each requirement.

Post demos, don’t make a final decision until everyone has thoroughly scored and ranked each solution. Ask for supplemental materials if needed (screenshots, a copy of the recorded demo, etc.). Ensure your top choice can satisfy nearly every “must-have” and most of your “nice-to-haves.”

If you find yourself with a hung jury, consider a roundtable discussion and vote, or opt for another demo that addresses stakeholders’ questions and concerns. Conversely, if you think you have a winner, hold off on communicating the decision until you have completed the additional steps below.


7.  Understand Costs

When considering the total cost of ownership, simultaneously consider the potential return on investment. The benefits of a particular software system and how they specifically address your needs and requirements should be taken into consideration first.

Overall Cost
Choose a system that helps you optimize and grow. Resist making a decision based solely on cost. Focus on usability, integration capabilities, and features/functionalities that will help streamline workflows and meet key performance indicators. The software can be expensive, but if it meets your requirements and solves a need, the return on investment can be favorable.

Pricing Specifics
Understand the 360-degree view of what you’re purchasing and nail down specifics on what is included in the software, what’s not, and what add-ons might cost down the road.

When you start discussions with vendors, uncover specific costs around the following: 

  • License fees (perpetual and/or subscription) 
  • Hardware requirements 
  • Implementation fees including: 
    • Data conversion 
    • Configuration 
    • Report building 
    • Parallel testing 
    • Training (one-time or ongoing, class-based or one-on-one) 
    • Project management 
  • Annual maintenance 
  • Ongoing support 

8.  Verify References & Vendor Viability

9.  Make Your Selection

  • Managing production allocations is cumbersome and error-prone – You can manage simple allocations, but as you add more wells and allocation networks become more complex, you’re having a harder time keeping up with changes and question the validity of the allocation results. 
  • Low confidence in the accuracy of data – Data is error-prone, and you lack confidence in the information that is disseminated to stakeholders who rely on accurate production data to make decisions that impact multiple downstream processes in your company.
  • Increased number of liquid transactions – The number of run tickets you must process in a month leaves no time to check for oil purchaser errors or validate the water volumes that haulers are charging you for, which means potentially leaving money on the table. 
  • Report generation is almost a full-time job – You spend most of your time creating ad hoc reports in different formats based on production data that others need for analysis or to be used in other software systems. 
  • Reactive operations – You are operating with reactive measures to downtime interruptions. There is no time for proactive, value-added activities like preventative maintenance and optimizing well production even though your well-to-pumper ratio is low.
  • Unconventional pad drilling – The rapid, manufacturing-style pace means more wells and equipment to set up on each new pad. That, in turn, makes it harder to keep up with getting assets into the system and ready for the field and allocations. 

What is Customizable Software?

  • Writing new code (programs, class files, scripts) in the software that meets requirements that are specific to an individual company.
  • Requires that a vendor keep multiple versions of the code – one for each client. This is a risky practice that does not scale.

What is Configurable Software?

  • Using flexible tools in an application to meet specific requirements via purpose-built utilities made available to every client. 
  • The configuration is less effort and risk since a vendor is supporting the same code base for all clients as opposed to one-offs for each.

POINT SOLUTIONS

Pros 

  • You choose the products with the most features and functions
  • You get to have the best possible type of product in each department
  • You work with more specialized vendors
  • You can replace one software component in the value chain, which decreases the risk
  • You can conduct maintenance on one module without affecting the other modules
  • You can improve the process for an individual department
  • Disruption to the business during implementation is more narrowly focused on one domain and key integration points rather than the entire business

 
Cons 

  • You deal with multiple systems, multiple databases, and multiple vendors
  • Your end-user training may be more complex; a multi-vendor environment means multiple trainers to manage
  • You may have difficulty troubleshooting when problems arise due to finger-pointing among vendors
  • You may have data integrity issues; interfaced software does not mean integrated data
  • You may have duplicate data entry and redundant data storage if integrations to other systems do not manage correctly
  • Your IT function must be able to support and maintain multiple systems and possibly platforms
  • Your best-of-breed software or product may not support a business process method; increased effectiveness in one department may not benefit the entire organization
  • You will have different user interfaces or presentation layers for every B.I.C. application
  • You will have to manage constantly changing applications, as well as their interfaces and data models
  • Your total cost of ownership (TCO) may be higher due to different vendor support costs

INTEGRATED ENTERPRISE SOLUTIONS

Pros 

  • You enjoy integrated and consistent processes throughout all modules in the value chain
  • You get a consistent data model for the entire enterprise
  • You can estimate overall project costs more easily through a primary relationship
  • You won't have to deal with multiple vendor finger-pointing
  • You may experience lower maintenance costs because of the common architecture
  • You have a single data entry point with all data available in one system a single source of truth
  • You can support a business process methodology
  • You only have to know one system or platform with one user interface or presentation layer for the entire enterprise
  • Your TCO may be lower with improved business processes


Cons 

  • You may steer your organization into a technological dead-end if the vendor is not using current technologies
  • Your databases or programs may be outdated and ineffective
  • You may lack B.I.C. features/functionality in all modules
  • You are tied to one vendor
  • You may have less flexibility when adding features/ functions
  • Enterprise-wide implementations affect all aspects of your business and are generally more disruptive with greater coordination required around go-live activities


  • Reporting requirements. Consider the types of reporting (including formats) that will be needed from the new system. Are there users who will always rely on formatted or canned reports or will they be willing to switch to dashboard-style views? Should users be able to build their own reports, or will they need to go through a hierarchy to get data? Do they want to extract data from reports?
  • Scalability. Think about your current portfolio and production profile and what might be expected in the future. Don’t settle for a solution that will struggle to fulfill your needs in a year or two due to asset and organizational growth.  
  • Vendor requirements. What are you expecting from a vendor? Training, support, an involved user community? Does the vendor have a roadmap for future development they are willing to share? What are support response times? How many references can they provide?
  • Budgetary requirements. How much are you willing to spend on software licenses, maintenance, and implementation services? Production software is key to your business’ bottom line and you should consider how the efficiencies brought on by the system can provide a return on investment (ROI).

Production data is the lifeblood of an oil and gas organization because it’s used by numerous other departments across the business. 

  • Engineering bases forecasts and reserves on production volumes 
  • Revenue applies valuation for income 
  • Accounting processes payments to partners and charges joint interest owners in part based on accurate production data 
  • Marketing relies on it to know how much is available for sale 
  • Management reviews production data across the portfolio to support decisions on where to invest or divest 

If your data cannot be relied on, this becomes a problem for the entire organization.

Naturally, having early and ongoing involvement of stakeholders is critical because even the best software can fail if the internal users aren’t fully on board. 

  • An automated and seamlessly integrated production system 
  • A solution that lets lease operators spend less time capturing data and more time focusing on their assets 
  • A system that allows users to see accurate information faster and address any problems or corrections in a timely manner 
  • A system that provides sophisticated reporting capabilities

Most importantly, your field and back-office teams should be equipped with a high level of confidence in the production data that flows across your upstream oil and gas organization. Efficiencies that should be seen companywide include:

Requirements Match

Review your working list of essential functionalities, must-haves, and nice-to-haves against the matrix of potential solutions to help determine which providers offer most of the features you are looking for based on publicly available information. Keep in mind the features that you had not considered but discovered during your research.

Services Options

Does the vendor have a deep services bench and proven on time, on budget implementation history? Are there other service providers with experience implementing each vendor’s software? 

Vendor Status and Vision

Take into consideration the longevity, depth of product line, and breadth of support for the product. Focus on providers that are clearly designing products with the future in mind. This is evident if they are building products with integration capabilities. Choosing a platform that has a broad user base allows you to capitalize on the associated resources, knowledge base, and tech community.

Budget 

You may not have exact costs, but based on your research, you should be able to assign each prospective software to a cost tier: low, medium, and high, for example.

*Make notes as to why you’ve eliminated each potential vendor and/or package. If your requirements change, you can re-introduce those options later.

  • Natural gas liquids – You deliver gas into a gas processing facility and keep up with allocations from the inlet to the producing wells. But you must wait weeks for statements based on the tailgate and need to use a separate software system or spreadsheet to calculate the components due to each well and prior month yields. 
  • Deferred production – Your field operators have been trained to capture downtime and fill in a reason, but you still don’t have insight into how much production is deferred due to planned versus unplanned downtime. 
  • Problem wells – You know which of your wells are down, but you can’t keep up with which are varying from targets because there are too many to track.