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Using Data Management to Drive Business Objectives

At the 19th International Conference on Petroleum Data Integration, Information and Data Management, there was a striking common theme regarding the need to achieve strategic business objectives from data management initiatives.  Many presenters touched on this topic, if not focused their entire presentation around it, including Noah Consulting, EP Energy, ConocoPhillips and CLTech Consulting.

Strategic Data ManagementMatt Tatro of Noah Consulting presented on the idea of applying Lean manufacturing principles to oil and gas data management.  In Lean, one is always considering how to continuously improve and along with that you must have a definition of success.  He made a key point that “everything revolves around the improvements and the resulting impact on the balance sheet.”  Entrance strongly believes in this concept and in our client projects we employ Agile scrum methodology to facilitate continuous improvement.

As other presenters would go on to note later in the conference, management buy-in is key to data management project success.  The best way to ensure to success is to have quantifiable metrics which demonstrate real financial benefits to the organization.  Especially in light of the recent industry downturn, the focus on bottom line results should give the back office all the more reason to ensure that projects are aligned with the strategic objectives of the business.  In the Envision phase of projects, Entrance always works with clients to identify the business value that is ultimately to be achieved at project completion.

EP Energy presented on how they transformed their IT operation to improve results by turning their focus from technology objectives to business objectives.  ConocoPhillips discussed their strategic approach to prioritizing subsurface data workflows with an end goal of accelerating delivery of value to the business.  Entrance sees many firms in the upstream space embracing the idea of IT alignment with strategic business objectives and we structure our projects to do the same.

Jess Kozman of CLTech addressed the issue head-on in his presentation entitled “Rebranding Data Management for Executive Relevance.”  He calls out three particular challenges around the low visibility of data management in most organizations but most significantly in my opinion is the perception of data management (and frequently IT in general) as a cost center and not a value-add to the organization.  At Entrance we pride ourselves on delivering real business value to our clients, not just a technical solution – this is the most exciting part of what we do to drive efficiency in our clients’ businesses.

In conclusion, ensure that your data management initiatives are value-creating projects.  Quantify the expected results up-front and validate them at the end.  Use Lean or Agile principles to enable you to make changes on-the-fly to keep projects well-aligned with strategic business objectives.

SharePoint 2016 Features & Enhancements

What is in the pipeline for On-Premise SharePoint 2016?

Earlier this month Microsoft announced new SharePoint 2016 features and enhancements to a packed house of several thousand attendees at the Ignite conference. With the 2016 on premises version scheduled to be released Q2 2016, some distinct outlines of the finished product are starting to take form.

SharePoint 2016 for IT Professionals Ignite Presentation Cover

Microsoft is Cloud First

As previously declared, Microsoft is pursuing a “Cloud first” strategy, in which Office 365 is regularly updated with new releases, and with on premise deployments catching up every two or three years. Many of the updates to 2016 were already expected, having already been released to cloud customers. On the other hand, on premises version of SharePoint continues to be a distinct product, with unique conditions and challenges, and as such there are some new features to the 2016 release that are uniquely on prem-only features. And there are no actual changes to the Service Application architecture.

Installation Requirements:

* Must use Windows Server 2012R2 or Windows Server 10

* .Net 4.5 (or 4.52 for Windows Server 10) features

* Upgrades only supported from SharePoint 2013 versions

The bulk of the announced updates for 2016 are centered on back-end enhancements. Here’s the rundown…

Authentication is moving away from domain based authentication and towards cloud based identification models. Identity management will be handled over SAML claims by default, normalizing over OAUTH. As this is the standard for O365, this makes transitions to the cloud easier. Former authentication will be supported on a legacy basis.

SMTP encryption would be supported with STARTTLS, and no fallback for non-encrypted SMTP will be officially supported. Although, this could potentially be achieved by using non-default ports.

Boundaries and Limits

* Content DBs can scale into TBs

* 10,000 site collections per content DB

* MaxFile increases to 10GB and removed character restrictions

* Increased List View Threshold beyond 5000

* 2x increase in search scale to 500 million indexed items

Performance Upgrades

Distributed Cache handling has been upgraded, and previous “authentication overload” issues have been resolved. This will result in more scalable and available WFE performance.

Serving of end user files will also be made more efficient by leveraging BITS (Background Intelligent Transfer Service).

The site and site collection creation process has been greatly sped up by changing the underlying provisioning process. Whereas before this was a lengthy process with complicated provisioning logic and feature activations, the new process essentially performs a SPSite-Copy operation to clone a site from a “master copy”. The bulk of the operation is now only at the database level and is much more efficient.

Traffic management promises to perform with more resiliency. New endpoints have been built on Web Front Ends to establish affinity with load balancers, resulting in more intelligent routing scenarios based on web front end health conditions.

User Profile Service changes

Improvements have been made to reliability and ease of setup of the User Profile Service. FIM will no longer be baked into SharePoint installations, and external FIM service will be offered as an alternative.

Durable Links

Durable Links will be featured so that if an end user renames or changes the location of a document, previous URLs will redirect to the new file location. Built using Cobalt endpoints, a Redirect Manager will track documents based on a docID.

PNEC Data Management Conference Recap: The Role of IT in Data Management

The Role of IT in Data Management

At the 2015 PNEC data management conference for the oil and gas industry, one of the themes addressed by multiple presenters was the relationship between IT and the business. In particular, Chris Josefy and Omar Khan from EP Energy hit on three key areas that resonated with me in their presentation entitled “The Case for Transforming the Role of IT to support Upstream E&P Operations”:

  1. Being guided by the business objective, not the technical objective
  2. Driving more value from how the digital oilfield is managed
  3. Focusing on people, process, and data

Business value and strategic objectives are always in focus at Entrance when we engage on a new project so we strongly agree with the approach that EP Energy IT has taken. The technology is merely an enabling tool that allows the business objectives to be reached! It is often easy for the IT staff to focus on the technology (as they should know this the best) and lose sight of why the initiative is being undertaken at all.

In order to fully leverage the digital oilfield investment, you have to talk to the boots on the ground in the field. So often, decisions are made in the corporate office without assessing or understanding how they will impact day-to-day operations in the field. EP Energy made a specific initiative to send IT out into the field to understand where the real value is so that they implemented the most valuable tools in the shortest time. Entrance also believes in this. The photos on are web site are of our own consultants wearing the hardhats!

Ultimately what all of this type of approach means to the technical staff is the focus on people, process and data. People are key to the success of any technology project and Entrance has written and presented on this topic in the past because it has definitely been our experience as well. The process is about how the work gets done, which you will discover by working side-by-side with people in the field. The technology needs to streamline the process, not burden it with cumbersome extra steps, if the technology will be considered successful in the end. Lastly, we can’t ignore the data. Understanding the data as it’s understood and used by the field staff is crucial, otherwise you will build data models and process that are not sustainable.

Keep these points in mind on your next IT project journey!

Facebook’s Key Competitive Advantage: Purpose-Built Software

Facebook’s prominence in the technology community rivals that of its more established peers. So what’s the CIO’s role at a company that’s already as cutting edge as Facebook? In this recent Wall Street Journal article, Facebook CIO Timothy Campos says ensuring workforce productivity is his paramount concern; everything else is subordinate.
Tim Campos, CIO at Facbook

Tim Campos, CIO at Facebook, believes that purpose-built software is the best way to make Facebook’s internal processes better, more efficient, and faster.

In the interview, Campos dishes on the secret to productivity at the tech giant, and here’s the rub: “Tweaking off-the-shelf software would force [Facebook] to adapt our process to the tools. We want to do the opposite: make our process better, more efficient, faster. Our tools are very purpose-built.” Campos continues: “We focus on automating tasks that happen all of the time.” He details use cases for employee recruiting and on-boarding, supply chain, and even meeting coordination on the expanding Facebook campus.

When you think about a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) platform, the entire business model is designed to be generic enough to solve challenges for as many customers as possible while still being relevant to the end user. This ends up forcing a customer to shoehorn their internal processes into the application, as Campos alludes, or requires a significant amount of customization/configuration. At Entrance, we typically find that our clients need to budget an additional 3-5x whatever licensing costs them for off-the-shelf software to cover implementation and integration, depending on the platform.

By comparison, with a custom application, you can focus on productivity in key business processes that creates a competitive advantage for you with your clients and potential customers. Consider your business. Where are the repetitive, manual, or inefficient bottlenecks? A few common areas:

  • Capital expenditure approvals
  • Paper processes, including printing/scanning
  • Duplicate data entry into multiple systems

Many companies say that their people are their unique competitive advantage. If this is the case, then you should invest in automating the mundane aspects of a knowledge worker’s role, freeing her up to make value-creating decisions. When an employee has an opportunity to increase work visibility and value to their organization, there is a direct correlation to improved work product, results, and retention.

For Facebook, the decision to build vs. buy is clear, but it’s not always the right decision. In my next post, I’ll elaborate a little further on how a company should decide whether it’s a better investment to buy something off the shelf or design purpose-built software.

SharePoint Server Roles for the Upcoming SharePoint Online 2016 Release

Microsoft Ignite 2015 Highlight

bill-baer-sharepoint-2016

Bill Baer, Microsoft Technical Product Manager and Certified Master presents “What’s New for IT Professionals in SharePoint Server 2016” at Microsoft Ignite 2015.


In typical SharePoint deployments, SharePoint servers typically serve a dedicated server “role”, depending on which features have been enabled.  For example, Web Front End and App servers are common dedicated roles.  But without much guidance from Microsoft, customers have implemented various implementations of such roles, with some mixed results.  As an effort to control the chaos, Microsoft developed “Specialized Server Roles”, which are defined via the SharePoint Configuration Wizard.  SharePoint server roles for 2016 include:

Server Roles

  • Specialized – provides an agnostic role a la 2010 – recommended for 3rd party service in order to accommodate that need
  • Web Front End
  • Search
  • Application
  • Distributed Cache
  • OR Single Server Farm – requires to install SQL server on the same machine.  SQL Express is no longer supported.

SharePoint Server Roles, dubbed “MinRole” as an internal name, will be monitored by Health Analyzer to detect and report any deviation from the role standards.  For example, this could happen if an admin extends SharePoint search onto a Web Front End server.  In the Central Admin Servers in Farm page, an admin can click a “Fix” link to bring the server back into the expected alignment of the server role.

Creating Contour Plots in Spotfire for Drilling Optimization

Utilizing contour plots in Spotfire to simplify drilling plans

With custom contour plots in Spotfire, drilling engineers can change the values of any two independent parameters (X & Y axes) to find the combination of those values that produce the best results for a third (Z). In this case, we look at the combination of bit RPM and weight on bit to see which combination produces the best rate of penetration for this type of formation.

Contour plots in Spotfire for drilling engineers

Typically, in order to recognize patterns that would help optimize the plan to drill a new well, drilling engineers need to compare two variables across multiple Excel spreadsheets to determine an intersect value. Additionally, they have to create a new spreadsheet for each set of variables. This works, but it takes a lot of extra time that the engineer could spend making decisions. This can delay the start of drilling a well, and the manual manipulation of the data introduces the risk of errors that could create problems during drilling.

Using a visualization tool like Spotfire paired with TERR Engine, we can use the information gathered from previously drilled wells in the same/similar formation to create Spotfire contour plots which help us evaluate similar drilling parameters and formulate an ideal drilling plan for a future well. There’s no question that this helps reduce the amount of time it takes to start producing both prior to and during drilling.

The uses for a contour plot in Spotfire extend well beyond typical drilling parameters. Our clients find that they can use this for evaluating other performance variables for things like health & safety of workers by looking at the number of hours on the job versus the number of accidents to determine correlation and reduce risk in the future.

The initial creation of the contour plot in Spotfire usually requires advanced understanding of the Spotfire platform. Entrance’s Spotfire consultants can typically get this set up for a client in a couple of weeks, after which it will be incredibly easy for you to swap out variables for new drilling plans.

Call me today to get a custom TIBCO Spotfire contour plot for your team:
1-888-343-KNOW

New Developer Tools for Office 365

Lessons learned from Ignite 2015: Microsoft is trying to enable cloud development

Office 365 Developer Tools

Microsoft has recently released new developer tools for Office 365. These advancements make development of an Office 365 customization faster, easier, and cheaper to implement. For customizations that span multiple Office 365 applications, a unified endpoint makes the authentication process much easier while connecting to the Office 365 API. Additionally, a new OAUTH sandbox interface and API Explorer makes query building a breeze.

Currently there are many disparate APIs serving individual Office 365 applications, such as OneDrive, Exchange, and User Profile Service. As a developer creates an Office 365 customizations, often several endpoints are required. For example, one such customization could automatically export email attachments to a user’s OneDrive. In this case, the developer would need to interface with three or four separate endpoints. By unifying endpoints, efficiencies are gained for the developer by needing to write less code since only one endpoint connection would need to be made.

When connecting to each endpoint, OAUTH operations are performed for handling authentication to Office 365 servers. This process follows a pattern of four essential steps: app issues authorization request for a given client ID, the user consents to the permissions request, app issues client secret to get a session access token, then finally the app passes the token and client ID when requesting a resource. Additionally session refresh requests need to be made periodically so that the session does not expire. This workflow could involve hundreds of lines of code, and is no easy undertaking for novice developers.

But now, thanks to the new ADAL libraries released by Microsoft, these operations can be performed much more efficiently. This implies considerable time savings to the developer and cost savings to the business.

How Does Software Age?

Out of date software is just as useless as a pile of old computer parts. Thankfully, aging software doesn't have to end up in the scrap heap.

Software applications age over time like any business asset. Unlike tangible assets, such as physical equipment, software deprecation tends to be less easily identifiable or well-defined. Old software tends to “fly under the radar” in businesses, and as a result the associated risks and opportunities are not addressed in a timely manner. Ultimately, all software has to be rewritten in some form eventually to extend its useful life. Software ages in many different ways but today I want to explore one key way that tends to be easy to overlook when understanding the application development landscape. Continue reading “How Does Software Age?”

Infographic: Office 365 and SharePoint Online Adoption in the Oil & Gas Industry

Microsoft Office 365 lets you invest more capital into your wells and less on IT infrastructure. Imagine a world where you don’t have to worry about upgrades or managing servers and network infrastructure.

Wondering if it’s time to move your oil and gas enterprise to the cloud?

O365-Infographic-Web-Slice_01O365-Infographic-Web-Slice_02O365-Infographic-Web-Slice_03O365-Infographic-Web-Slice_04O365-Infographic-Web-Slice_05O365-Infographic-Web-Slice_06
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Let’s face it, oil and gas is lagging other industries when it comes to embracing the cloud.
Click here to read Carol Donnelly’s latest article about the pros and cons of Microsoft Office 365 adoption for oil and gas producers, pipeline operators, and service providers.

Is Your SharePoint Farm Ready for Hackers?

If you play a part in managing or administering SharePoint at your company, the Sony hack might be more frightening to you than any scary movie they’ve released. The hackers looted Sony’s network and released sensitive employee information, confidential intellectual property, and even embarrassing emails. You don’t have any of these on your servers, do you?

Sure, your firm might not attract the ire of a rogue nation, but corporate cyber attacks are commonplace. Most malware isn’t directed at a specific target; instead, it sweeps the internet for network vulnerabilities.

Oil is near $50 per barrel, companies are belt-tightening, and the last thing you need is a messy and expensive cleanup when your SharePoint environment is compromised. Here are the tools you should employ to help protect yourself.

On-Premises 

If you control the network that contains your SharePoint farm, you first have to make sure that the network is secure through the proper use of firewalls and proxies. After that, look into:

  • Dedicated Service Accounts: By creating the correct number of accounts and restricting their access as much as possible (called principle of least privilege), you can stop a rogue account from gaining access to parts of your farm it shouldn’t be able to access.
  • SQL Transparent Data Encryption: Available with SQL Enterprise, SQL TDE encrypts SharePoint data while in storage, while backed up, and while in use in temporary databases.
  • SSL and IPSec: If messages are being sent to and from SharePoint servers to computers outside of your firewall, such as when you have a corporate extranet, SSL will ensure safe arrival of packets to your SharePoint farm, and IPSec will grant safe communication between the servers in your farm.

SharePoint Online (O365)

If you are using Office 365, Microsoft hosts your farm on their network. Microsoft has put a lot of thought and effort in security, since the success of their offerings hinges on your perception of how secure their network is, and they continue to improve. Microsoft states, as of the beginning of 2015:

Our latest encryption feature with which content in OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online will be encrypted at rest will start rolling out to customers soon. With this, the encryption technology in Office 365 moves beyond a single encryption key per disk to deliver a unique encryption key per file.

Still, you may be uncomfortable with a third-party holding your data and your encryption keys on shared hardware. You might reasonably conclude that the O365 servers represent a ripe target for unscrupulous individual trawling the web. In the words of famed criminal Willie Sutton when asked why he robs banks, “That’s where the money is.”

If so, you should consider software that makes your data more secure in the cloud by encrypting it before it goes to Microsoft and keeping a copy of the key locally. Other options withhold portions of your data from ever making it to the cloud, while others make monitoring and enforcing your security and governance policies easier and more transparent.

Either On-Prem or Online

Whether you host your own farm or use Office365, you’re going to want to look at these strategies for more secure data:

  • Role Based Access Control: You should have a thoughtful strategy for assigning roles to users and permissions to those roles. If your AD is a mess, the mail clerk who left the company six months ago might have access to your personnel file.
  • AD/Azure RMS: Different names depending on whether you host your farm or whether Microsoft does, but RMS (Rights Management Services) is the tool you use to make sure that someone doesn’t download that sensitive document and email it to the Everyone@YourCompany.com distribution group.

If trying to implement some of these tools on top of your regular workload is less funny than The Interview, give us a call. We’ve helped countless upstream, midstream, downstream, and services companies buy, build, and integrate software.