Bricks and Spackle

January 22, 2024
Zack Warren

Software applications, as much as we love them, are like Bricks – they fill a spot in a wall, but they never exactly fit together.

The gaps between those tools can be frustrating and costly to fill, which is why we believe so strongly in investing in good Spackle.  What the heck do we mean by that?

In an E&P company, enterprise software applications are like big, often awkward, and sometimes even irregularly-shaped Bricks.  They are designed to enable a certain set of digital workflows and occupy a given “slot” in a company’s technology stack.  We’ve written about these “slots” in previous posts like The Big Six and The Distant Dozen, which attempt to frame the most common categories of software packages at an E&P company.

Ideally, our proverbial Bricks fit cleanly together – vendors work to make data integration and cross-disciplinary reporting possible.  Data flows smoothly, no gaps visible.  Budgets tie to actuals, and everyone goes home by 5pm.  No Spackle required!

In our experience, that never happens.

There are always gaps – well lists don’t match, cost center numbers haven’t been QC’d, and poor Susie in the Revenue Department is left with 40 hrs of VLOOKUP work each month.  Or maybe INDEX/MATCH if she’s feeling fancy.

Enter that magical substance, Spackle.
a character from the movie Encanto wearing a bucket on his head and holding a putty knifeFor the prisoners of Disney+ like me

We see two main forms of Spackle at E&P companies large and small:

  1. Data warehouses and Business intelligence (BI) reporting
  2. Data integration and Master Data Management (MDM)

Data Warehouses and BI Tools

We’ve discussed data warehouses before – if you’re still exporting data from 5 different systems to spreadsheets, you should know that there’s a better way!  A good data warehouse consolidates information in a single spot, making it easier for people around the business to understand what’s happening and where opportunities to improve live.  They are cheaper and faster to set up than ever before.  Give us a call if you haven’t gone down that road yet.

Business intelligence reporting is something that we spend a lot of time on.  Well-implemented, a BI tool can overcome a wide range of weaknesses in tools that you already have – better interfaces, blending data with other sources, mobile access, and more.  Whether you’re using Power BI or Spotfire or another tool, they can make a profound difference for your team’s productivity and communication.

A quick story – we’re working with a client that uses a very, very old piece of accounting software.  Think the Jimmy Carter administration (ahhhh, the 1970’s!).  When we started working them, they were still on a 32-bit version that no longer worked with standard ODBC connectors.  Their data was completely locked away – if anyone needed information about spending, revenue, or cash flow, someone in Accounting had to manually pull a report that took all night to run.  Next month, they had to pull a new manual report.  Painful!

Enter data warehousing and BI tools – we found a 64-bit version that they upgraded to, wrote some wicked SQL to transform the data into more usable structures landed on an Azure SQL server, and pulled that data into Power BI reports.  Now their team can literally pull up a Lease Operating Statement on an iPhone in the middle of nowhere, see Electricity or Chemical costs per well per month, and drill through to individual transactions.  That extends the life of the accounting system, reduces work for the Accounting department, and helps field personnel manage their costs!

Data Integration and MDM

When data integration works, it is magic.  Approved invoices flow into the Accounting system.  SCADA tags flow into the Production Allocation system.  Daily production volumes flow into the Reserves system.  Data quality improves and everything is more efficient!

Getting there can be tough, and in our experience, the juice is only worth the squeeze when the data transfers are large and frequent.  Daily workflows make sense most of the time.  Monthly workflows?  Ehhhh, maybe not.

What makes data integration so tough?  It’s the basic difference between Read and Write.  When we’re reading data from a database (like for a data warehouse or BI report), we can usually get to success with trial and error.  Try something, compare to the official export.  Iterate until they match!

But Writing data to a system is much more delicate.  The risks of doing it wrong are higher, so you have to do more testing to find edge cases where the transfer could fail or cause errors.  More time, more cost.  With experience and repetition, those costs come down, but Writing is never as cheap as Reading.  Oftentimes, relying on a little bit of manual labor in a data integration is the right choice – having a team member go to “File -> Import” once a month can be a better ROI than fully automagic transfers.

MDM is another area where less is often more.  For large, complex companies, implementing a robust bi-directionally synching system is a good investment.  But smaller, simpler businesses often benefit by matching well lists, vendor lists, and such through something like MDM Lite.

Cleaning up this worksite

So how well do your Bricks fit together?  How much are you missing out on when systems can’t talk to each other?  How many opportunities to improve production, cut costs, or reduce risks because you’re missing things like good reports and nightly data transfers?  If you’re ready to make those parts of your life better, give us a call.  We love talking about this stuff!

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