BP is a global energy company that operates in 72 countries and has become a leader in its industry for realising the opportunities of big data and artificial intelligence (AI). While the oil and gas industry has been slower than others to embrace big data and AI, the pace of adoption among organisations in the industry has accelerated and is now an area of innovation for most companies. BP’s and other company’s forays into big data, artificial intelligence, digitalization and automation are to enhance their operations. As a result, there’s an increased focus and funding directed to big data and artificial intelligence initiatives.
How BP uses big data and AI in practice
AI would be “one of the most critical digital technologies to drive new levels of performance” in the industry, said Morag Watson, chief digital innovation officer at BP. The company is investing millions into big data technology to improve the use of its resources, safety and reliability of oil and gas production and refining.
More than 99% of BP’s oil and gas wells have sensors installed that continuously create data to help the BP team no matter where they are located understand the realities of conditions at each site, optimise the performance of equipment and monitor maintenance needs to prevent breakdowns which allow the company to realise tremendous cost savings.
In June 2017, BP invested $20 million in Beyond Limits, a start-up that adapts software, originally developed for robotic exploration of space from NASA and the US Department of Defense, for commercial use. Beyond Limits’ cognitive computing systems focus on how to automate human decision processes—it can even fill in missing pieces from data sets.
“Our AI can work with unknown or missing data and figure out hypothetical scenarios and fill in the missing pieces—much like humans with experience do,” Beyond Limits CEO AJ Abdallat told ZDNet.
BP expects Beyond Limits’ technology to provide operational insight at a new level, help them locate and develop reservoirs, enhance how it produces and refines crude oil, increase process automation and operational efficiency, and even optimize business activities such as how it markets its products. This software can aid in decision-making and helps to manage operational risks.
In addition to BP’s High-Performance Computing (CHPC), a supercomputer with extraordinary data crunching capability, and nearly 2,000 kilometers of fiberoptic cable that can carry 5m data points every minute, BP has invested in big data technology for enhancements to its data streaming, storage and processing capabilities. BP is also in the midst of an expansion that will increase its data capacity from about 1 petabyte to 6 petabytes by 2020.
BP’s data sensors are collecting enormous amounts of data about temperature, chemicals, vibration and more from oil and gas wells, rigs and facilities. Streaming technologies for large volumes of data such as Kafka, Apache NiFi, Apex, Amazon Kinesis and Google Pub/Sub have the capability to take the data from BP’s sensors to the data store ready for processing. The very large data sets these sensors create require scalable data stores such as Parquet files on Hadoop Disk Filing System (HDFS).
Once data is collected and stored, it needs to be processed and acted upon to deliver the business advantages such as cost savings and operational efficiencies. That’s where big data tools such as Apache Spark, the most popular open source processing engine, and Hadoop come into play.
One of the innovations BP credits with improving the reliability of its exploration and production facilities has been the creation of a “digital twin” where BP engineers can test critical engineering work through virtual reality before implementing on real facilities.
Ideas and insights you can steal
In a global operation such as BP, putting data at the fingertips of engineers, scientists and decision-makers about the realities of operations all over the world is imperative. This helps identify issues prior to them escalating and improves business outcomes—increasing profits, reducing costs and optimizing operations.
The improved reliability of BP’s exploration and production facilities—from 88% in 2012 to 95% in 2016—is largely attributed to technology. Even though investment is required to support big data and AI technologies, as BP as shown, the return on that investment can be significant.
Bernard Marr is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and advisor to companies and governments. He has worked with and advised many of the world's best-known organisations. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 10 Business Influencers in the world (in fact, No 5 - just behind Bill Gates and Richard Branson). He writes on the topics of intelligent business performance for various publications including Forbes, HuffPost, and LinkedIn Pulse. His blogs and SlideShare presentation have millions of readers.