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Oil and gas: utilising visual collaboration

Such is the turmoil in the oil and gas industry, it might seem that it’s not a great market for manufacturers and integrators to be in. But Ian McMurray goes exploring for the truth of the matter.

Such is the turmoil in the oil and gas industry, it might seem that it’s not a great market for manufacturers and integrators to be in. But Ian McMurray goes exploring for the truth of the matter.

In mid-August, oil prices hit a six-year low at around $40 per barrel for US crude. That’s a precipitous fall since the heady days of 2008, when it was trading at $145/barrel – and also since just a year ago, when Installation last covered the oil and gas industry, when the price per barrel was just shy of $100.

The news came on the back of reports earlier in the year that 2014 represented the UK offshore oil industry’s worst performance in four decades, with £5.3 billion more being spent and invested than it was able to recoup in sales. Such is the over-supply in the industry, analysts are agreed that oil prices are unlikely to rebound any time soon.

For AV manufacturers and integrators serving the oil and gas industry, you’d think that times must be pretty tough compared with 12 months ago.

“In fact, we’re seeing that oil and gas customers are continuing to invest in solutions at a fairly steady pace as they seek to remain competitive in the global market,” says Gareth Gray, regional manager for Scotland and head of the UK energy vertical at NEC Display Solutions. “While there are challenges in the sector due to fluctuating oil and currency markets, production has not decreased and there remains demand for companies to continually improve their productivity. The main change we have seen over the past couple of years is an increase in remote working and collaboration. We see the future for this market growing as technology evolves, becomes easier to use and deploy and users become more confident.”

“It is definitely the case that certain end-users – particularly progressive end-users with respect to technology – are accelerating investment in visual collaboration systems as a means to increase the efficiency of their operations,” adds Hans Dekeyser, VP strategic marketing industry and government at Barco.

“On the other hand,” he continues, “there are other customers who are deciding to halt certain investments – but that’s more in the realm of general new office spaces, for instance. It’s a mixed bag.”

“We’ve seen an increase in the level of investment from oil and gas companies over the past three years as they look for ways to increase the lifespan of assets, or as they search for new reservoirs,” notes Graeme McGuire, operations manager, AV and offshore solutions at integrator AVC Media. “These environments can be very hostile and throw up new challenges on a regular basis, so companies are using new technologies to help them get and share the vital information they need during exploration. Meeting and presentation equipment and systems with the more collaborative approach to projects that AV enables is seen as a vital part of their business improvement.”

“The downward trend in oil prices has certainly made organisations within this market place defer non-essential installs,” believes Bryan Edwards, sales manager at integrator Reflex. “Having said that, we do see a change starting to occur. Projects that were put on hold at the back end of last year are showing positive signs of recommencing.”

“From our position as an integrator,” he adds, “the delay reduces our ROI because we have to invest in the time and cost of evaluating and scoping a job twice over.”

Dispersed operations

So what are the AV technologies in which these companies are investing? Given the dispersed nature of oil and gas operations and the drive to create efficiencies, it’s not surprising that collaboration is a recurring theme.

“The benefits of visual collaboration are being exploited within the oil and gas industry,” asserts Ray McGroarty, global director for enterprise UC solutions at Polycom. “The ability to easily bring together far-flung experts over video is a massive factor in travel cost reduction and improved productivity. Travelling vast distances to reach locations for meetings is just not a good use of time and the delays that this can cause can have real and dangerous implications. Decisions need to be made in real time, whether this is based on information presented in virtual meeting rooms, or on live feeds from the production ‘floor’.

“Reliability is key,” he goes on, “in order for these multi-billion dollar companies to really depend on these technologies that have to be always on and always working. Ultimately, communications delays can cost lives in some situations, or a lot of money in others.

“Beyond that,” he says, “oil and gas companies are continuously expected to liaise with external partners and customers – whether that be governments, environmental agencies or disaster response services – so interoperability is key. They want to be able to use their AV investment externally as well as internally, so open standards-based technologies are vital.”

“Collaboration systems are top of most company wishlists, including real-time data sharing, videoconferencing and the ability to work live and interactively,” claims Graham Kirkpatrick, technical sales manager at Reflex. “These range from high-resolution videowall displays to review geophysical data to interactive touch displays that can save project time by giving users the ability to annotate or update drawings and plans and discuss them in real-time via a video link.”

“My view is that there are two real drivers of AV technology in the oil and gas sector today: faster, better, cheaper telecommunications, and the proliferation of IP video,” says Bob Ehlers, vice president, marketing and business development at RGB Spectrum. “Both of these two areas lend themselves to the use of collaboration technologies, allowing geographically separated teams to work together in real time. Without fast, ubiquitous broadband, and readily available video cameras, you cannot have onshore/offshore communications and collaboration. As soon as you have this, then the need for AV systems to process and display multimedia communications becomes essential.”

AVC Media AV services
Barco display and visualisation solutions
NEC Display Solutions
Polycom videoconferencing solutions
Reflex AV systems design integration
RGB Spectrum display processing solutions