In just a few years this will be a standard procedure for oil companies, if major IT companies such as Microsoft and IBM have their way. The concept is simple data from all sections, including wellheads, gathering stations, refineries, retail outlets and boardrooms, will be streamed into a central control room, where operators will monitor all day-to-day segments of the business.

‘IT has been a feature of the oil and gas sector in exploration and production [E&P] for 30-40 years,’ says Lorenzo Pengo, Microsoft managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. ‘Before, IT was used in a tactical way, but now it is seen as a strategic requirement something no longer considered a cost but a necessity. IT departments are

increasingly working together with the boardroom in developing strategy.’ Integrative technologies such as Windows SharePoint Services, applicable across industries, give companies real-time sharing of information in terms of mailing systems, instant messaging, document management, data and information integration.

Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) has already used SharePoint to allow its geoscientists and engineers to call up specific data from disparate parts of the company, analyse it immediately and apply it to ongoing operations. Data access was also made available to petroleum engineers, reservoir engineers and managers. Microsoft, together with Schlumberger Information Solutions (SIS), worked on a programme which integrated all components of the business: data management, reservoir management, field development, drilling, exploration, production operations and engineering. The system was customised to the needs of each component and integrated into MyKOC, the online company portal.

Building long-term relationships with national oil companies (NOCs) and IOCs is the aim of both IBM and Microsoft. ‘We dont just provide the product we work with the client to understand what they need and how they can use the technology to achieve their goals,’ says Pengo.

An important example of this close co-operation between IT companies and oil and gas companies is found in Abu Dhabi. In late February 2005, Intel and IBM announced a joint initiative to develop and test new technology strategies aimed specifically at production improving reservoir management by creating these collaborative environments. The initiative is based at the Energy Competency Centre, located at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) Centre of Excellence for Applied Research & Training in Abu Dhabi city. The initiative is one of the first of its kind in the region and was later emulated in April, with the opening of a second Energy Competency Centre in Moscow; a third is planned to open in Beijing by the end of 2006.

It is hoped the development of this new collaborative technology will assist both upstream and downstream sides of the business. ‘Much potentially useful data captured today is not stored and rarely analysed,’ says Takreem el-Tohamy, general manager for IBM Middle East, Egypt & Pakistan. ‘Nor is it distributed to the people who need it most. Common and complex production problems such as sanding, water encroachment, corrosion and scaling adversely affect production and equipment. Solving these problems requires an understanding of the issues, processes and information needed to critically analyse data.’

For Tohamy, the greatest challenge companies face is the difficulty of turning all this data into useful and timely information that can be used around the clock. Added to this are the complications of determining the appropriate a