The future of energy operations
Development of cloud technology has accelerated during the pandemic due to the need to securely connect distributed workforces and ensure that employees can access data, potentially from anywhere across the country, or even the world.
In a cloud-centric environment – or ‘true’ cloud – IT services are delivered from a cloud host in the form of a complete service, rather than merely as a platform. Now, moreover, as we enter a post-pandemic ‘new world’, IT environments – which to all intents and purposes have rendered the concept of cumbersome and vulnerable on-site servers, and even of the notion of working on fixed workstations obsolete – could help to support digital transformation across the energy sector and ensure that companies can optimize their data.
How do cloud-centric environments aid operational efficiency and digital transformation?
Although new technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), are driving advancement in data acquisition and insight into equipment performance, experts within the energy industry including Celine Delacroix, EY’s global energy services and equipment leader, have forecast that implementation of oilfield technologies will not optimise the growth of the energy industry on its own (https://scottishconstructionnow.com/article/ey-energy-sector-recovery-cycle-has-begun-but-new-mindset-needed). The energy industry’s efforts to improve efficiency with new technologies must be supported by IT infrastructure that facilitates secure and reliable connections of control systems and sensors to business networks.
The oil and gas industry in particular has undertaken the journey to securely link IT infrastructure and operational technology for more than a decade. Could a cloud-centric environment be the final stepping-stone to achieving organization-wide collaboration and transparency in operations?
In part, yes, particularly in the arena of data access and sharing. Not only does cloud infrastructure enable users to access and share data quickly and securely regardless of location or device, but it allows for parallel collaboration, enabling both key decision makers and operators to cooperate with each other at the same level without the need for hierarchy communication. To imbue confidence in and prove results to investor communities and other key stakeholders, a company’s c-suite decision makers must have full insight into equipment performance, operational efficiency, health and safety and carbon output, and full visibility into the results of digital transformation strategies. Enabling key personnel on both the operations and business side to work collaboratively will be critical to driving the industry forward and increasing growth.
Cloud infrastructure could additionally provide an increase in speed and agility for energy companies looking to upscale operational efficiency by equipping operators on the ground with portable devices, e.g. tablets and mobile phones, for the purposes of increasing operational awareness and enabling constant access to the digital twin and critical data, which can enable quicker responses to mitigate risks. Applications built in the cloud are not constrained by the storage and processing resources of any single device, allowing users on comparatively ‘processor-light’ handheld devices to drive applications that rely on data-intensive, computational-hungry resources.
This is particularly pertinent now as the sector continues to integrate AI and ML and big data analytics; as these crucial technologies require a wealth of storage space and heavy processing power, cloud infrastructure – that allows companies to break away from the constraints of devices and on-site servers – is perhaps the only viable solution to assuring optimization of energy companies’ investments in new technologies.
However, the concept of a True Cloud environment may feel alien to some, particularly those from more traditional IT environments, and for others there may be concerns or reluctance around security, and yet cloud does in fact provide a far more resilient environment than any of the legacy alternatives.
Just how secure is a true cloud environment?
If implemented properly, with strict control policies to limit data access in line with just-enough-access (JEA) and just-in-time (JIT) principles – which are recommended for both traditional IT and cloud-centric environments – the cloud can not only be more secure than a legacy IT system but can negate even the most pernicious cyber threats and vulnerabilities.
Ransomware is just one example where True Cloud environments have an upper hand, while at the same time helping to reduce pressure and time-costs on energy companies. Legacy IT systems require regular backing up of data, in an effort to limit data loss should a company fall victim to a ransomware or other attack. Good, well-disciplined policies will be key to this. But with true cloud infrastructure in place, computing devices serve, at most, as temporary storage for data, as all sensitive and critical data and information would be resident on the cloud, even backups.
Cloud-centric systems are becoming ever more relevant for a post-pandemic world where workforces are ever more distributed or dispersed in hybrid home-office and workplace settings, and are set to enable easier management of remote workforces and tightening security protocols. But, just as with legacy IT systems, the efficiency and security of a true cloud environment must be assured – and with protocols that incorporate strict data access controls such as the zero-trust model, change to a secure fully cloud infrastructure can be difficult to navigate. Energy companies could consider consulting an IT MSP to assist with wide-scale change in infrastructure and ensuring that their new fully cloud environment is secure, reliable and enhances productivity.
David Greenwood is CEO at ISN Solutions, which has been providing corporate IT managed services to UK businesses since 1999. It has a long-standing reputation in delivering specialised ICT services, solutions and consultancy to the Energy sector, predominantly Oil & Gas and specifically the Upstream market, where independent UK-based Exploration & Production companies (E&P’s) had to rely upon a responsive IT partner to assist them with overseas onshore/offshore campaigns and fast-track growth strategies. ISN Solutions situates itself in-between large IT companies that can be inflexible and small IT companies that don’t have the resources for large scale operations.
For further information please visit: www.isnsolutions.co.uk