AVEVA showcases toys & tech at World Summit

Oct 28, 2015 | Hot Topics

Dubai is hot, both in temperature and in infrastructure buildup. If you followed along last week you saw the view from my hotel window: construction everywhere, towers rising in a no-mans land of scrubby desert. Where the buildings are finished, they’re surrounded by lush lawns, trees and water features. Many of the buildings are amazing, displaying engineering ingenuity and the best that money can buy. The Burj Khalifa is stunning, with the tip 2,700 feet above street level and fountains that dance to Michael Jackson tunes below. Jebel Ali, a manmade set of islands shaped like palm fronds (Google images here)are amazing from above and, I bet, beautiful from on land. Everything is ornate, gilded, shiny and new. Would I go back as a tourist? Perhaps — I would love to learn more about the culture and history of Dubai, especially before oil money changed everything.

Oil was why we were in Dubai. Oil, gas, petrochemicals and related industries make up a significant part of AVEVA’s business, so it made sense for AVEVA to hold its management-focused Summit conference here. The content was deliberately high-level, focused on the business benefits of technology and to share lessons on structuring projects for the greatest likelihood of success. This wasn’t, in general, a functions-and-features event, though that did intrude from time to time.

Last year, CTO Dave Wheeldon showed off some hot new technologies “from the lab”: Project Voyager and E3D on the cloud. Voyager gives visual access to all of the data associated with a digital representation of an asset. It’s a lot of behind-the-scenes tech that enables users to manipulate the model on tablets and huge touch-screens to find objects, connections, and non-visual data in context of the overall model. Want to know where in a 3D model all the pumps from vendor X are? Then drill down to read the purchase spec for a specific one? If it’s in AVEVA NET, Voyager can display it for you. EPCs, OOs, regulators and other stakeholders can interrogate models and collaborate in a very visual and natural way. It was cool, sexy and made for a great demo. AVEVA Everything 3D (E3D) on the cloud was also a demo, and so popular that AVEVA had to add a lunchtime session to show a more detailed run-through. This year, there was less cool/new but a lot more focus on technology delivery, as Project Voyager graduated from the lab and AVEVA provided more info about its cloud strategy.

Within that context, my key takeways from the 2015 AVEVA World Summit were:

1 — Change is constant and adaptability is a must. That’s always true, but its even more urgent for the oil & gas world today as the low price of oil and unclear future trajectory create uncertainty about when/if the industry will return to prior levels of profitability. This turmoil means that EPCs and others need to secure new competitive advantages to stand out from their peers. For some, that means adding a services offering to cover the life of the asset; for others, automating handover. In general, though, the asset lifecycle plays heavily into these strategies.

There’s no question that technology has the power to help with these major shifts. Integrated toolsets become critical as EPCs, owners and operators need to find the one piece of data that will make the difference between profit and loss. Project Voyager is now AVEVA Engage and will, over time, provide access to live operating data too, enabling fine-tuning of all sorts of processes within the plant.

2 — Partnerships are here to stay. Projects are getting bigger and riskier (though some of the riskiest have been mothballed in the current cheap oil environment), so we’re seeing more consortia attacking the biggest projects — it’s rare today for a single EPC to carry out a large project. Technology can turn grudging cooperation into full-on collaboration that strives for common benefit. In presentation after presentation, AVEVA’s collaboration and control capabilities were key to global teams that worked together seamlessly, across organizational walls.

I can’t recap them all, but Shell’s presentation was a call to action for the industry, to address supply chain inefficiencies with a common language that enables tighter collaboration and communication. Anders Thostrup, Chairman of the Dutch Association for the Cooperation of the Petroleum Industry and Strategic Advisor for Shell’s IM/IT Capital Projects Portfolio at Shell, told us that Shell, BP and Chevron are forming an Information Standards Forum under the aegis of the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers to define gaps and priorities in existing standards to articulate common requirements. The endgame: owners driving how standards bodies work on and deliver new and improved standards. This effort kicks off in November, 2015 and the mission is clear: the industry can no longer afford cost of non-conformance.

3 — It all comes down to delivery. Many of the customer presentations were about projects that were successful, but we know that an appalling number of projects wind up behind schedule or over budget (or both) before all is said and done. Shell’s standards, other company’s work process definition and similar efforts are trying to routinize project delivery processes to get to more repeatable, good outcomes. Since this was an AVEVA event, AVEVA technology was often cited as the reason for success — but almost all speakers said that one of the strengths of AVEVA’s offering is its ability to integrate data from other sources as well.

4— The digital asset is gaining traction. For many years, EPCs created 3D models as part of their design process, to ensure that clashes were minimized and assembly schedules, optimized. OOs had less interest in the CAD models, since they typically didn’t have staff to keep them current. As a result, the cost of keeping the 3D model updated through handover was often negotiated out of contracts. That’s finally changing as operators see the value of the 3D data, and the benefit in keeping that model current — and as laser scanning makes it easier, safer and cheaper to do that.

AVEVA and its customers talked a lot about the benefits of progressive handover, where data flows incrementally from design into operations. This prevents data overload at critical times and enables stakeholders assess compliance to information completeness obligations. This also helps to build trust in a validated source of information for operations. A terrific customer presentation by an owner who asked not to be named outlined their realization that 3D data has significant value and that it could do so much more with the digital representation of the asset if only it were kept current. The owner’s team laid out their process for ensuring no physical changes by-passed the digital verification step, and highlighted the team’s excitement as they discovered all the ways they could use a trusted data source — enabling them to eventually run an offshore platform entirely from an on-shore control room.

But how do you know what data you can trust? That’s the problem. Leveraging its LFM technology, AVEVA just announced their new Trusted Living Pointcloud offering. There’s a lot to it but, in brief, in order for the point cloud to be trusted, it needs to be kept up to date as the plant changes. This means combining giant point clouds with smaller, incremental scan data sets. it also means doing quality assurance on the data, that the registration is accurate and the scanner’s calibration is known. All of that is useless if the data isn’t made available to anyone who needs it — that means leveraging AVEVA’s color BubbleViews, perhaps through LFM& NetView, where the point cloud is accessed via the Internet, hosted on the cloud. The point: to make this truly useful, operators need to put in place processes that incentivize everyone to keep the digital model verified and current; go around it once, and all is lost. It’s not 100% technology, though it’s pointless without the technology; it’s more about humans and business processes.

AVEVA’s product portfolio is so broad these days that it’s hard to cover in one post. A new version of Bocad is out, integrating steelwork design, detailing and fabrication. 8over8’s ProCon debuted at this year’s event, with an implementer keynote that covered how contract management is really about relationships and using risk management tools to increase control and capital discipline. AVEVA could do a better job at an event like this to tell customers how it all fits together,but the pieces are compelling. There’s cool stuff coming in E3D, too, including whole model visualization of point clouds in CAD, while modeling.

The elephant (camel?) in the room was the proposed merger with Schneider Electric Software, and how that would change AVEVA and its product offering. CEO Richard Longdon is anxious for the deal to be done, saying he can’t wait to get going on all of the opportunities he sees as a result of the combination. Mr. Longdon couldn’t offer any specifics but has promised investors an update in the half-year earning result that’s coming in a couple of weeks. User attendees are taking a wait-and-see stance on a bigger AVEVA; they like the idea of getting more of their critical tools from one supplier because of the potential for tighter integration and increased control over that data — but the deal hasn’t happened yet and integrations take time, so cautious optimism seems the prudent.

AVEVA World Summit is always fun — lots of interesting presentations, innovations in project structure and management, naval architects and EPCs and OOs networking like crazy, new product introductions and teases. I’m going to leave you with a video that I hope shows you how cool AVEVA Engage really is — but, in honesty, you need to stand in front of a whiteboard-sized touch screen to get the full effect:

Engage has been in early access for six months, as ten companies in the oil & gas, power, and mining sectors put it through its paces and suggested changes to AVEVA. Commercial release is in Q1 2016. Start saving for the touchscreen!

Note: AVEVA graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.