BitDepth 604 - November 27

bpTT uses technology to bring group intelligence to bear on the business of running its offshore platforms.
Playing a technology ACE

Mike Ramesar (second from right) with Christopher Teelucksingh in the glass walled ACE "dispatcher" room at bpTT's headquarters in Port of Spain. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

The Advanced Collaborative Environment looks much like every other office space at bpTT's Port of Spain, a cleanly appointed workspace with organised, high-tech appointments.
Then there is the dispatcher's room, a startling exception to the restrained corporate feel of the oil and gas giant's local offices. Behind glass walls and set high on the far wall is a bank of massive flat-panel monitors displaying complex charts and abstract diagrams of the company's pipeline network.

In front of these monitors is a long island of workstations, each with a bank of three large LCD screens and kidney shaped desks covered with keyboards, paperwork and phones. 
The overall impact is startling. Even an uninformed glance at the room suggests a pulsating, continuous flow of information. And then you see the phone. In the middle of all this high tech glow, it's a TELCO old school device, painted red. A clunky, large pushbutton phone that's glaringly out of place here, a throwback to a bygone era.
"Oh that," says Mike Ramesar, "when something goes wrong, that's the phone that rings."

Tapping the pulse of the gas business
Ramesar, the Project Manager for the Infrastructure of the Future (yes, that's his job) and Shamshudin Mohammed, team leader for operations excellence, are the point men for this new project known internally as ACE.
The project is dedicated to managing bpTT's production, reducing risks and costs, as you might expect from a team dedicated to something called operations excellence, but it also points to intriguing future possibilities in the way that oil and gas exploration is managed in countries mining these assets.

ACE is a technology driven system for linking the company's operations with its intellect that's inspired by systems from other large industries where a controlling human presence is necessarily minimal.
Ramesar and Mohammed constantly reference terms usually associated with space exploration as they try to explain the concepts.
"We think of the people out on the platforms as astronauts," Ramesar said. "These are the people who are on the spot, executing the mission." 
ACE is designed to be their Johnson Space Centre, a central hub of information that can guide the work process on location with a deeper reservoir of knowledge.
The system, which has been in operation since July, got a major test with the start up of the company's Red Mango platform last week.

"We weren't seeing the numbers we expected when the system went on line," said Mohammed. So ACE kicked into gear and one of the large thirty-foot conference rooms, equipped with state of the art video conference and live feeds of the data off the platform was commandeered by key bpTT technical staff and team leaders to troubleshoot the issue.
The solution was found in records almost a year old by a technician familiar with data from an early test of the system.
"To solve this problem before ACE, we would have taken days, perhaps weeks to track down the issue, flying out to the platform and perhaps even bringing in experts. Because we could bring everyone into one room, we were able to solve the problem in one day in a situation which would have seen shortfalls of millions of cubic feet of gas per day."

Building a bigger brain
Very little about ACE is actually new, beyond the application of sophisticated computer technology and vertical market software that's capable of tracking and adjusting gas flows on the line in real time. 
The dispatchers in their new glass room once worked at Pt Galeota, using phones and radios to update their monitoring of gas pressures and flows on the lines connecting bpTT's platforms with their markets.

The high concept change that the new collaborative environment brings is the idea of a "bigger brain," the smarts that accrue to a larger group of specialists that proved key to the company's success in troubleshooting the Red Mango startup.
In the air-conditioned cool of bpTT's Port of Spain offices, the company can bring its best people and resources to bear on any issue on its platforms and through direct connections with the US and UK offices, tapping into all the earned knowledge that BP Global has at its disposal. With everyone looking at the same fishbowl, analysis of problems in the tank becomes the activity of a group and not a collection of individuals.

Beyond monitoring, there is the potential for full remote control, which would allow bpTT to use fewer people on high risk platforms by moving control over time to the remote office.
There are currently 15 ACE installations in the BP Global Group, with the Houston office alone hosting eight of them. Trinidad and Tobago was the fifth location in the BP group to launch its ACE project.
ACE, as impressive as it is, is far from done. Mike Ramesar would like to see networked knowledge transfer between ACE installations, allowing all of these real time monitoring facilities to learn from each other's experiences.
Sham Mohammed is more pragmatic about the prospects.
"It takes time to bring a project like this on line. We started in July, but the process of truly learning new processes, changing behaviours and moving operating patterns from silos to collaboration and realising the full potential and possibilities of the system, well, that's a journey."
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