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Standardized data communication in the downstream oil and gas sector

19-Feb-2019
Standardized data communication in the downstream oil and gas sector
Today’s downstream companies do no longer just trade oil and gas. They also exchange a lot of data. To do so effectively, they need to use shared standards and common formats. In the following, Implico’s managing director and data communication specialist Stephan Buhre discusses the importance of finding a unified voice in an industry that speaks a thousand tongues.

The downstream oil and gas sector is a complex eco-system in which a multitude of differing partners interact with one another. Refineries, tank farms, service stations and haulers of all shapes and sizes are but some of the entities that participate in this multi-layered trade. Some sell goods and some buy goods, while others store goods and yet again others deliver goods. Most of these operations would either not be possible at all or at least not go down smoothly if the partnering companies all spoke their own language. Therefore, it is mandatory to agree upon a standardized means of communication – such as IFLEXX (“International File Exchange XML”) or PIDX (“Petroleum Industry Data Exchange”).

A common standard for all
Working with a standardized format makes life a lot easier for all parties involved. By structuring the enormous amounts of shared data in a similar way, suppliers and contractors as well as customers and other partners make a big step towards understanding each other. Here is an example: A tank truck loaded with 36,000 liters of freshly refined diesel sets off from a tank farm. At the exit, the driver uses his card to initiate the processing of the loading data – type and quantity of cargo, time of day, driver number, contact number and so on. This data is not only important to the driver himself. It is also being transmitted to, and processed by, all other partakers in the trade. These include the operator of the tank farm, the owner of the fuel, the hauler for which the driver works and the destination to which he delivers the goods.

If all these entities tracked varying parameters and organized them in different ways, each of them would have severe trouble deciphering the plethora of hard-to-read information they got from their partners. But if they used a common format like IFLEXX or PIDX, which acknowledged everybody’s needs appropriately, they could distribute the required information among each other in a much faster, easier and more accessible way.

Curating standardized data
In theory, using a shared standard might be enough to flatten the data landscape within the supply chain. In practice, however, additional challenges come up. With so many values being recorded and operations being tracked, chances are high that not all data strings arrive at their destination as they should. In fact, many will do so incomplete or unsorted. Here a data processing agent, such as iGOS (Implico Global Operating Services), helps. Serving as filter, band-aid and translator at the same time, it collects input from various sources and forwards these bits of information in a streamlined, optimized form. If an entry (e.g. a time stamp) is missing, the agent examines all the other information in the database to identify and complement the missing piece. That way, all data arrives at the company on the receiving end complete, well-sorted and void of errors.

Speed and quality matter – and so does safety
For oil and gas companies, two variables are particularly important when it comes to data communication, namely speed and quality. On the one hand, collected data must instantly become available for processing and sharing. On the other hand, it must be readable and complete. When scanning the loading of a tank truck, for example, the gathered information is not of much use if it only arrives at the data center two days later. Or if the transmitted strings do not contain all the required information. To make sure none of the above hinders their business, downstream companies are well advised to cooperate with experienced data communications partners to ensure they get top-quality data both quickly and safely.

The latter is another factor of high importance. Since loading results or product orders classify as sensitive data, oil and gas firms do not want these delicate pieces of information to become available to the unwanted eyes of third parties. To be able to fully address these concerns, data service providers should constantly thrive to meet the latest data privacy and data security regulations. Regular internal and external audits are a good means to stay one step ahead and make sure that processed data can only be accessed by people entitled to do so.

The future of downstream is written in binary digits
Among others, the vital role of large-scale data exchange between downstream companies is illustrated by two things: Firstly, the long history of the topic and secondly, the participation of so many big players from the oil and gas trade in the IFLEXX and PIDX communities. The better the partnering companies collect, curate and share their data sets, the more successful their dealings will be. With new developments like big data or blockchain having already arrived in our industry, this is truer today than ever before.

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