Challenges and opportunities are plentiful in the digital oil field. Data is scattered across different places, a multitude of software is being used and money is tight. However, data is abundant, and technologies exist to put it to use.

Not being able to clearly identify returns on investment for digital technologies, among other reasons, have left some companies in the oil and gas field paralyzed—buried in paperwork, trapped with legacy systems and slowed by the search for data needed to get work done.

But some companies have dived into the digital transformation, and the plunge appears to be paying off.

“Some have seen as much as a dollar or more per barrel being gained in the capital projects area,” Greg Mitchell, managing director for Deloitte Consulting, said during a recent webinar on digital capital projects. “So it can be dramatic and significant, and a lot of those values are being delivered now.”

The move to incorporate more digital technologies into projects comes as the oil and gas industry copes with lower commodity prices and works to gain efficiency. Capital projects groups are starting to attach themselves to the digital transformation wave by digitizing assets and processes, according to Deloitte.

Their actions have ranged from what could be considered baby steps to major leaps.

“Some companies have declared success because they now have all of their drawings in a PDF and have a SharePoint library, or some other document repository, and now people can try to search and find them,” Mitchell said. “That’s really a fundamental step, but there is so much more that can be done in the capital projects area.”

Wearable technology: Instead of accessing hardcopy documentation or looking for documents on a laptop or tablet, smart hardhats or smart glasses could be used to give real-time access to documents and improve communication among staff, according to Mitchell. Further benefits include having access to hands-free handbook information and remote assistance.

Drones: The use of drones has already taken off in parts of the oil and gas industry such as inspections and land seismic operations. Drones can also be used to not only inspect hazardous situations but also to conduct health and safety assessments before work crews arrive.

Blockchain: As defined by IBM, blockchain is a “shared ledger for recording the history of transactions that cannot be altered.” Mitchell said Deloitte believes blockchain will have a dramatic impact on capital projects, especially considering a project can involve many contractors. Being able to see what each other is doing and quickly reconciling transactions are among the benefits. Blockchain, he said, can enable validation on the financial side as well as change orders, transmittals or design drawings—putting everyone on the same page quicker and more efficiently.

Live Fabrication: This area involves companies thinking of themselves more as manufacturers in which they can “rinse and repeat and drill the next hole and the next hole,” he said. Live fabrication could provide more visibility to operations, allowing for tracking of processes, products and raw materials. Potential benefits include “increased visibility into the fabrication process while reducing rework, warranty costs, component inventory and prime product inventory.”

RFID/Tracking and Traceability: Live fabrication complements radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. As explained by Deloitte, the process of identifying materials typically involves manually entering information into a warehouse inventory system. However, RFID technology can read tags faster and include more information. Other potential benefits include reducing the number of tock-outs and repurchases.

Digital Asset Management: An emerging concept is looking at assets holistically, Mitchell said. It involves breaking down silos and connecting, for example, those responsible for geological and seismic work to those doing workovers or building assets or equipment. “Intelligent asset management capabilities can monitor the lifecycle of asset management.”

McDermott is among the companies that is digitizing its processes. The offshore engineering and construction company, working with Dassault Systèmes’ 3D Experience platform, is piloting Project Lifecycle Management (PLM) technology. McDermott aims to simplify work processes into one integrated, agnostic engineering platform with the software. Data from the PLM is combined with 3-D modeling software, creating a digital twin.

“The real power and value is not about individual technologies,” Mitchell said. “It’s about bringing those technologies together in a cohesive way to impact the business process, deliver value and improve things that are happening.”

Velda Addison can be reached at