Letter to the Editor (December 2012)

Chief executive Malcolm Fleming defends Common Data Access’ ‘training the data managers’ initiative and argues that subsurface data management is ‘not a sub-division of IT.’

The article captioned “Training the data managers” that appeared in the October edition of the OIT Journal included several important inaccuracies and misunderstandings which I would like to correct.

CDA is working closely with ECIM, PPDM and representatives from vendors and service contractors (all of whom are very actively engaged in subsurface data management) on a broad program to ‘professionalize data management’. Mapping domain competencies is one dimension of this program. Another is the transformation of these competencies into a curriculum which will be made available for the development of consistent education courses and training classes. The ‘portal’ and the self-assessment and third-party skills verification (which you indirectly and disingenuously equate to the questionable LinkedIn endorsement scheme), is intended only as an interim measure on the road towards the third important dimension of our program—an independent, professional accreditation scheme.

It’s clear from the tone of the article that you and we hold significantly different understandings of the term ‘subsurface data management’. We define it as ‘the development, execution and supervision of plans, policies, programs and practices that control, protect, store and deliver subsurface E&P information (comprising geological, geophysical, petrophysical, production and reservoir engineering and associated cultural information and metadata) in all its physical and digital forms and formats.’ No doubt, elements of this definition can be challenged but we think it adequately describes the scope and purpose of subsurface data management. We are very clear that subsurface data management is not a sub-division of IT (a worthy but separate profession, with its own pioneers and ‘canon’) and in our view subsurface data management does not include such laudable achievements as ‘programming the [Unix/Linux] Shell’ as you suggest. Although the subsurface data management function is frequently located within the IT function, in our view it embodies very many important distinguishing features which are independent of information technology, both proprietary and general. We of course recognize that subsurface data management exists within and depends upon a complicated contextual framework which includes IT, geoscience, applications management and other activities and disciplines but we feel strongly that it has its own, distinct identity.

We see two important reasons for describing and professionalizing subsurface data management.  The first pertains to people. It is well documented that industry faces a challenge to attract young people, both in general and in particular to help deal with the so-called ‘crew change’. It is doubly hard then for us to attract graduates (and others) into work that is perceived by many (and here I quote from your article) to be ‘a mixture of some very dull stuff and some very complicated stuff, all embodied in a rather disorderly way of working.’ It is precisely this view that we must change if data managers and the work they do are to be fully recognized and appreciated. It is also crucial that both new entrants and incumbents see a tangible and rewarding career path within this profession. The second argument draws from the crucial contribution that data management makes to understanding the subsurface, and by extension, to the quality and timeliness of E&P business decisions. In a study* we conducted last year, we showed that more than one quarter of business value depends on data and its professional management, yet today we have no consistent way of measuring or assuring the competence of those working in this area.

There are still many detailed aspects of our program that remain unclear but we firmly believe that there is a compelling business need to professionalize workers in this area. It is easy to criticize and condemn, especially something that is immature and aspirational as in this case, but I (and more importantly, those data managers who have put their time and effort into the program so far) would really appreciate a more balanced and more charitable account.

With kind regards

Malcolm Fleming

* The Business Value Case for Data Management, CDA, February 2011.

Click here to comment on this article

If your browser does not work with the MailTo button, send mail to info@oilit.com with OilIT_1212_4 as the subject. Web use only - not for intranet/corporate use. Copyright © 2012 The Data Room - all rights reserved.