Intelligent digital models empower real-time decision making

The upstream oil and gas industry is pushing to apply digital technologies to exploration and production practices, yielding better business returns by optimizing processes and increasing efficiency. From replicating a complicated well design to refining a well control system to sharply decreasing the risk of a blowout, the ‘digital twin’ is one more concept advancing the industry’s digital transformation.

Since production of the Boeing 737 aircraft began in 1967, the time needed to complete construction of a single jet has gone from several months to just eight days. How did Boeing do it? In many cases, the company applied sophisticated computer software to the challenge of improving its manufacturing processes, organization and efficiency.

Today, the oil and gas industry is applying similar digital solutions to reduce operational risk and ensure premium performance throughout the life of its assets. Specifically, these solutions monitor, model and view real-time oilfield operations above and below ground as “digital twins,” sophisticated 3D simulations that help operators visualize and understand what the huge volumes of data generated by ongoing oil and gas projects really mean – and how to act on it.

“There are multiple advantages to having an accurate digital model of your business,” said Nabil Kassem, chief executive officer of ExcellenceO2, a management consulting company based in Dubai. “The main advantage is that a good model enables you to make critical decisions about your oil or gas field quickly and without the confusion that can arise from having several experts weigh in on the same question from different points of view. The result is faster, better-informed decisions about your asset.”


According to a recent report by global management consultancy McKinsey, the typical offshore oil and gas platform “operates at approximately 77% of its maximum production potential” – a figure that implies an industry-wide
performance gap of some US$200 billion (€170 billion). The reason? Operators are not taking advantage of currently available “analytics tools and techniques capable of unlocking the production potential of complex process facilities and enhancing asset investment returns.”

Kassem points to field development planning (FDP), the stage at which a company plans an oilfield project, designs the project’s wells and considers how it will produce the oil, as a likely point for digital modeling to help close
this gap.



“Most decisions at this stage are about getting the size of the operation right – not too big, not too small,” Kassem said. “If flawed analysis leads to oversizing a project, your capital expenditure can suffer. Likewise, undersizing a project can engender painful outlays, since expanding a project is much more expensive than getting it right the first time. This is why having a digital model is so important. All available information is made accessible so the right decisions can be taken and so potential missteps can be avoided.”

Digital modeling – including the use of digital twin simulations – could provide a major, difficult-to-achieve economic benefit, experts say: the ability to increase an oilfield’s longevity by ensuring optimized operations.

“Today’s oilfield is in information overload,” said Indy Chakrabarti, senior vice president, E&P Software, Emerson Automation Solutions, a developer of software-enabled solutions for the oil and gas industry. “This means operators can’t optimize their decisions across an entire field over time because there is too much data to be considered. Instead they must focus on one well at a time, which can create problems. Much more ideally, you would be able to control all your wells in unified fashion and for the entire life of the field.”


Managing an oilfield without digital modeling is like trying to follow a route with road signs instead of a GPS, Chakrabarti said. “If you’re going only three miles, you’ll be fine with just signs,” he said. “But if you’re going three thousand, you’ll save a lot of time if you know about any traffic problems or road detours well in advance.”

A coordinated digital platform offers benefits well beyond field optimization, Chakrabarti said.

“Health, safety and environmental performance all stand to improve as a result of increased access to digital information,“ he said. “With this type of system in place, any KPI [key performance indicator] a company wants to measure can be recorded and updated on demand. That’s added value.”

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