Operation failures on an oil rig cost money, time, and can even lead to loss of human life and habitat. So Schlumberger, an oil and gas company that operates in 100 countries and employs 50,000 people, took steps to ensure that knowledge gained from one disaster can expediently be made available to other locations using push technology and an intranet.
Oil-platform failures and shutdowns at Schlumberger were costing it more than $US16 million a year; even a few hours of downtime can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, says Sanjay Dhamija, an IT man-ager at the Dowell division of Schlumberger, based in New York.
"Anything off-plan is a possible hazard . . . and it can be written in blood in a lot of cases," Dhamija says.
But sharing the lessons learnt from past disasters was no easy task. Schlumberger is spread across the globe, and the networking systems used at each site are as diverse as the people using them.
"We don't have a homogeneous network," Dhamija says. "And there's a diversity in terms of cultures: how people like to and want to share information."
After examining product options, Dhamija and his team used BackWeb as the foundation of the Dowell InfoQuest System. Completed in November 1998, the system helps remote oil-platform workers collect and disseminate disaster-recovery information.
Employees access the most current information via the company's intranet. The BackWeb software automatically distributes and removes "expired" content, and the system notifies employees of an update via a flashing icon at the lower right-hand corner of the screen.
The system has saved people on offshore platforms from repeating each others' mistakes. For instance, in Jakarta, Indonesia, incompatible machinery tools shut down a platform. Employees on the platform published information on the failure, and the Dowell InfoQuest System distributed the alert worldwide.
"From [Jakarta to] Macae, Brazil, as a result of seeing that information, they were able to take steps to prevent a similar failure," Dhamija says.
In Dhamija's opinion, the InfoQuest System is more effective than e-mail.
"E-mail is not an efficient way to broadcast it -- unless a message concerns you immediately, it's unlikely it'll get read," Dhamija says.
E-mail was also ineffective in getting employees to produce and distribute knowledge about disaster-recovery experiences, he says.
The InfoQuest System provides tools for end users to track information, such as metrics and other statistical data, for their local site. This data can then be used to create reports that can save a site time and money in the future.
Content creators tag information according to a classification system, and the end user subscribes to the categories of interest and automatically receives pertinent information.
"It's a window on corporate knowledge from a variety of sources. And you don't have to navigate on an intranet to get it -- which had previously been a real issue," Dhamija says.
The current goal at Schlumberger is to reduce failure costs and downtime by 50 per cent over the next two years. This translates into a saving of $US8 million a year through next year.
Although the financial gains from using the system are important, Dhamija also emphasises that improved safety is the greatest end benefit.
"Money is the smallest aspect of it; the more sensitive things are the environmental issues and the hazards to people," Dhamija says.