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Open-source technology could reduce time and cost required to develop digital technologies

By Kelli Ainsworth Robinson, Associate Editor

Open-source platforms have allowed other industries, like IT, to rapidly progress and evolve. If the drilling industry embraces an open-source model, it could reduce development times for new apps and algorithms, Theresa Baumgartner, Drilling Research Engineer for Shell, said at an IADC DEC Tech Forum on 13 June in Houston.

Open-source platforms have allowed other industries, like IT, to rapidly progress and evolve. If the drilling industry embraces an open-source model, it could reduce development times for new apps and algorithms, Theresa Baumgartner, Drilling Research Engineer for Shell, said at an IADC DEC Tech Forum on 13 June in Houston.

Open-source software has enabled other industries to fast-track technology development by allowing companies to build on the work that other companies have done. “It has accelerated growth for so many other industries, and it’s about time that we did the same,” Theresa Baumgartner, Drilling Research Engineer for Shell, said at the Q2 2018 IADC Drilling Engineers Committee (DEC) Technology Forum in Houston on 13 June. Open-source software, which could be used for real-time drilling analytics and automation, may help operators and drilling contractors quickly adopt these technologies and build onto them with new algorithms. However, if open source is to become common place in the industry, companies must change how they view competition and move toward competing on algorithms rather than data platforms, Ms Baumgartner added.

The information technology (IT) industry was one of the first industries to make use of open source. Up to the 2000s, IT software developers typically preferred building proprietary platforms, rather than sharing their work and codes through open-source systems. “Anything copied was frowned upon and seen as bad,” Ms Baumgartner said. However, the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s, and companies became hard-pressed to come up with the funds to build and maintain expensive proprietary platforms. This forced them to start collaborating through open-source systems.

Adopting a similar open-source business model could help the oil and gas industry to reduce the amount of time needed to develop new software and apps, because engineers will be building on, rather than duplicating, one another’s work, Ms Baumgartner said. “Everybody’s creating the same thing and thinks it’s the best, latest and greatest, but really, if you look at them, they’re all the same.”

There are a few examples of open-source platforms in the drilling industry, which demonstrates that there is a willingness to accept the idea of open source, she said. However, many companies are scrambling to develop separate open-source platforms that can host third-party apps or algorithms. “Everybody says we want to open source it… but on our platform,” she added.

A better approach, she continued, would be for companies to compete based on the apps or algorithms they develop, rather than the specific platforms or modules they develop to host those algorithms. When a company develops a new, cutting-edge algorithm, they could keep it to themselves for a time, but, knowing all of their competitors are going to try and come out with something similar, they should eventually share their work to advance the industry’s overall progress on data analytics and automation. “We want to shift the paradigm from thinking these things are actually a competitive advantage, more towards this is a collective advantage.”

This approach could also help companies to build new technologies before they become obsolete. “The rate of change of new technology is just unbelievable in this space,” Ms Baumgartner said. “Apps that are the latest and greatest right now won’t be anything great anymore in a year, because there will be new features and new technology.” While new technology development typically can take three-plus years, Shell is trying to push out apps within a couple of months, she added.

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