By Tim Coogan, Operations Director, Cisco Energy issues are back in the headlines once again with soaring demand from developing nations and more abundant and complex domestic reserves creating new challenges -- and compelling opportunities -- for the petroleum industry. Energy companies are taking a hard look at core business processes, and are looking for better ways to save money and streamline operations. On the business side, reserves replacement remains at the top of the list for most E&P companies and integrated oil companies. And on the financial side, keeping operating expenses (opex) down and accelerating completion of major capital projects are top priorities for all firms. But controlling costs and boosting efficiency is getting more difficult. The days of discovering high quality, easy-to-reach crude oil and natural gas are vanishing, and exploration companies are operating in increasingly remote, unforgiving environments. At the same time, today’s workforce is changing. In the past, when hydrocarbons were found in large deposits on land or in shallow water, it was easy to send Western experts directly on site. An oil company would tell a young, eager engineer to fly to a faraway country, spend weeks or months away from their family, face strange food and unfamiliar surroundings, and the engineer would get up and go. Today, that petroleum engineer with decades of experience may be less inclined to travel if his or her oil company asks him to visit a site. The E&P industry needs to find new ways to recruit and train, monitor, support, and mentor younger people for onsite exploration in tough environments. Environmental health and safety have always been top priorities for the petroleum industry, and today’s remote and deepwater sites are testing safety protocols to the limits. Oil companies care deeply about their people, and need better ways to safeguard crews who are operating in increasingly dangerous environments. So how can E&P companies tackle challenges like reserves replacement and boosting efficiency when they are faced with an aging workforce, remote sites, and dangerous working conditions? By using the right technology, people can share information work together better and faster --from any location around the globe. All of these issues can be enabled or made more efficient by using collaboration technology, including real-time video. In a worldwide marketplace, it’s more important than ever to make the most of a global workforce to share information, make decisions quicker, train more effectively, and improve safety. With video, you can provide intimate, face-to-face contact anytime, anywhere without the expense, delay, and hassle of travel. Video collaboration lets you tap the full potential and deep experience of your workforce and quickly deliver knowledge anywhere around the world -- without forcing employees to travel. Today, with a few clicks of a mouse, a senior petroleum engineer in Houston can work face-to-face with a 23-year-old petroleum engineering graduate from the University of Cairo, who is at a remote job site. Video lets organizations use visual analysis to perform detailed engineering diagnostics to speed up problem resolution and help ensure that the right decision is always made the first time. Video can also remove language barriers and allow experts to closely examine an issue first-hand in detail. The result is fewer misunderstandings and better clarity, minimizing the need for repeat site visits and additional equipment shipments. Collaboration isn’t only about faster communication and minimizing travel. With today’s collaboration tools, people can share more data more easily with larger teams of people and make decisions faster. Using real-time collaboration, a team could examine a rich set of well-bore analytics, and make better decisions about an exploratory site. Instead of drilling multiple exploratory wells over a period of months, an E&P company could speed up its process and drill fewer exploratory wells in a fraction of the time. In an industry where costs are soaring, reducing the time to first oil is more important than ever to the bottom line. There’s no doubt that the petroleum industry is changing fast, and some E&P companies risk falling behind. However, armed with the right technology and some imagination, forward-thinking companies can not only overcome these changing conditions, but can use them as an opportunity to change the way they work -- for the better. In future blog posts, we will provide some examples of how video and collaboration technologies can help improve today’s oil exploration and production processes. Editor’s Note: Tim Coogan is operations director at Cisco.