Interview—Steve Roberts, BP (April 2014)

Steve Roberts, VP of BP’s Field of the Future program, speaks of IT trends, the ‘dilemma’ of the operating ecosystem and ‘taking humans out of the process’, and on evolving FotF governance. 

What’s your take on Intelligent Energy’s future?

We are faced with the challenge of the pace of change of technology and facilities that will still be there in 30 years time. We need to keep our systems upgraded and in synch as technology evolves.

Is this possible?

Not entirely but we can anticipate trends. Currently we have multiple devices but the future may see convergence to a single handheld device performing multiple functions—hence the need for device-independent solutions.

Not long ago BP was betting the house on Microsoft’s ecosystem.

This is still pretty much the case. We need a platform for integration although this is something of a dilemma. We want to minimize the field of the future footprint and make it easier to follow the roadmap, to focus on automation and take humans out of the process.

So there will be jobs lost?

We will need more information engineers. But we need more autonomy at the coal face. NASA’s robotics operate autonomously for tens of minutes. We still need to come to a balance on this in drilling.

The approach has been tried, with the Autocon Rig?

There is surely a happy medium that has yet to be found in drilling automation. In other industries like automobile, it’s easy to automate a plant. It is harder in drilling where we are faced with changes in rock types, in fluid chemistry and so on. We need to be aware of all these in real time.

Speaking of automation what about the contribution from the process control industry. Honeywell is at the show. A first?

Yes, and here too we see convergence as large automation contractors buy up smaller companies and expand their footprint. We are also looking to similar convergence and automation in geosciences software.

How is this organized in BP across all the stakeholders… the business (with its own divisions of geosciences, engineering and process), IT and your group.

A governance group meets with representation from all stakeholders. We work on the roadmaps and decide what commercial software to deploy and how to converge.

Who is in charge?

Actually there is an ongoing study on this issue as to whether to continue with the governance group model or to take the whole process under the umbrella of one team with a shared roadmap.

Our current editorial line is of IT inefficiency and the lack of real progress on productivity—what do you think?

There has been progress, look how slick a software upgrade is, at least for operating systems and consumer grade applications. We would like to see similar ease of upgrade from upstream software vendors.

What about patches in the process world?

We are working on testing geosciences software in our ‘innovation lab’ and this will likely extend to the process world. We like the NASA paradigm of pushing a software update out to a Mars probe. Maybe we will be able to do the same to the well one day. Today, BP is stepping back and taking a broader view of the opportunities that ‘intelligent energy’ offers across all its businesses, not just upstream.

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