We Need to Talk About Those Well Files

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After years of working with oil and gas companies, you start picking up on behavioral patterns and common themes. A recurring one is “Our well files are a mess.” Granted, well files are messy by nature. Older documents need to be checked out from the file room, and newer information is scattered across multiple shared drives with no apparent order. Business units have different conventions for organizing well files, and acquisitions complicate things further. Too often, there is enough mess to require a search party to locate a document!

Every now and then somebody raises the issue, “We need to talk about those well files.” But once the discussion starts, doubt starts to creep in. How are we going to scan all those documents? Where are we going to store those scanned files? How are we going to get everybody to be consistent? The reality of all that may be needed to fix the problem is daunting. So much so that in many cases everybody returns, somewhat dispirited, to dealing with well files as they know them: a mess.

When I’m invited to these conversations, here are a few points I like to offer about addressing the well file mess.

Let’s talk Electronic Well File (EWF) and Well Portal

Many of our clients are choosing to improve their well files and work towards implementing an Electronic Well File (EWF). An EWF is a repository for well documents using document management best practices (taxonomy and metadata for document classification) so that documents for all wells are organized in a consistent manner, simplifying the tasks of uploading new documents and finding existing documents. An excellent platform for managing well documents is SharePoint, which is a very popular platform for collaboration and is frequently deployed at oil and gas companies, small and large.

The business value of the EWF is straightforward: timely access to information is key for productivity and operational efficiency, and this is achieved by making it easy to find documents and making it clear where new documents go. While an EWF can greatly improve operations by dealing with electronic documents (email, Word docs and spreadsheets), the benefits are exponential when physical documents (maps, reports, etc.) are scanned and added to the EWF. An EWF enables several (remote) users to access documents simultaneously, and disaster recovery is now available with simple database backups.

How does an EWF improve operational efficiency and change the status quo for the better? Without an EWF, if somebody in a field office needs a document in the well file, they first contact somebody in the file room with the request. The person in the office retrieves the physical file and then possibly puts it out for interoffice mail. The file is picked up by office services and mailed/sent to the requesting office. At a minimum at least three people are involved in fulfilling a simple well file request, with a delay of two to three days before the request is satisfied. If the documents had been systematically scanned, however, when somebody needs a document, she just logs into the EWF, searches for the well and finds the information there. Access is immediate and does not require involvement of support personnel. It’s a big difference.

Some of our clients go beyond the EWF and implement a Well Portal, i.e., a full application providing centralized well information from separate sources, including the EWF, to present the complete picture of each well, covering structured data (well header, production, financials) and unstructured data (EWF).

And Rome wasn’t built in a day either

Without fail, my points about the benefits of an EWF are welcome words, but doubts can quickly resurface. “How do we do it? Where do we start?” While there is not a single answer that is right for every situation, you need to realize that there’s no need to do everything at once. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the EWF doesn’t have to be done in one “Big Bang” phase. In fact, that’s the wrong approach. Instead, look at it as a journey.

When planning your EWF journey, let these three driving forces guide you:

  1. Have a vision for the future. The EWF should be seen as a forward-looking solution and reflect how you want well files to be handled in the future. Resist the urge to give up on your vision just because “that is not the way things have been done so far.”
  2. Choose a starting point. It will be overwhelming to implement everything you want at once. Instead, choose a good starting point. This could be a business unit or department, wells from a recent acquisition (or legacy system) for which you have metadata/tags, or a group of enthusiastic users. Use this starting point as the foundation for your EWF and then expand.
  3. Keep users engaged. Maintain good communication with your initial users. Keep them happy and they will be the best promoters of the solution, making it easier to expand the EWF from the initial scope to a larger audience and eventually to a Well Portal.

It will be worth it, trust me

Now, I am not going to lie. Implementing an EWF is not a trivial task. It takes commitment and discipline from the project sponsors to keep the goal in sight and from the technical team to put in place a solid solution that will deliver on the vision for well files. But trust me, your efforts will pay off.

I have gone on this journey with several clients, and once they had the EWF or Well Portal, they were happy with the results. The IT director for one of my clients, which went through the systematic effort of scanning all their physical files into an EWF, told me, “Before we had this system, it was okay to wait two to three days for the file room personnel to deliver a document. Now users complain that the page for a well takes longer than five seconds to load.” On the next development phase, we made changes so that a well page would load even faster.

Now, tell me: Wouldn’t that be a well file problem you’d love to have?


NEXT STEPS: To learn more about our EWF and Well Portal solutions, CLICK HERE to schedule a complimentary one-hour whiteboard session.