Tackling platform conformity in Oil & Gas – how to make sure you retain and exploit your IP

In our last post we discussed why standardized software platforms that support Exploration and Production in the Oil & Gas industry are in danger of reducing firms’ ability to retain their competitive advantage.

This time we explain how you can reap all the benefits of platforms, but also retain your own IP and continue to generate new IP within the platform environment.

The problem with plugins

First, some good news. The platform vendors have already recognized that it is important to provide a mechanism to extend their products to incorporate innovation and IP via plugins.

The bad news is that these extension mechanisms have primarily been devised for third party suppliers to create custom components that can be marketed separately.

This poses a significant problem. Typically, those third party suppliers will have their own in-house software development team solely dedicated to generating plugins. They will also have in depth knowledge of the programming languages and application programming interfaces involved.

The engineers that have traditionally produced your unique IP, on the other hand, do not. It is not practical, nor is it cost effective, for the engineers to learn enough software engineering to build plugin applications. It is rare to find people with both skill sets and scaling up to a global workforce is impossible.

That leaves two options; build an expensive in-house development team dedicated to producing plugins, or farm out the development work to a third party supplier.

Unfortunately both options are fraught with problems.

Firstly, it is very difficult and expensive to set up the infrastructure needed to produce plugins in-house. The more common scenario is to farm out the work, but this is also extremely risky because it involves letting third party plugin developers see your intellectual property. Naturally, they will look to capture this and incorporate it into their products.

So the big question is; how do you mitigate such risk, while at the same time open up your platform to support genuine innovation within your company?

Moving towards a solution

With E&P platforms now advancing at such a rapid pace it has become crucially important that they are properly engineered so they can be agile in the face of platform change and continual research development.

Through extensive experience, we’ve come to the conclusion that this issue can only be solved by a completely new plugin methodology that isolates the IP from the platform and means that IP stays with the client. The advantage of this approach is that it minimizes the risks if a new platform is needed. It also greatly speeds development, because the platform can be mocked up for a faster develop and test iteration.

We also advocate a plugin architecture pattern that reduces the interaction with the platform to as thin a layer as possible. This means that you can isolate exactly which parts are company IP and track them. Your developers are not entirely dependent on being able to run the platform at all times, so a larger team can share fewer platform instances and reduce costs.

Finally, this kind of architecture also means that more of the system can be unit, integration and system tested without the expense of starting the platform, which improves the efficiency of the development cycle and allows the pace of change to be faster.

At the very least, this approach means you get much more out of your investment in your new platform than you would by simply outsourcing development of extensions to third parties. But more importantly, it gives you a much better chance of retaining and protecting the competitive advantage that is so valuable.

If you would like to find out more, please visit our Oil and Gas pages or if you’d prefer to talk, contact us.


Ray Millward PhD

Ray Millward PhD

Ray Millward has been working at Tessella for two years. During that time he has been primarily ...

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