Inspectioneering Journal

Harnessing the Power of Big Data to Drive Improvements in Reliability and Maintenance

By David Aldrich, Management Consultant at North Highland, and Teri Mendelovitz, Vice President - Global Energy and Utilities at North Highland. This article appears in the January/February 2017 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.


Recent studies have shown that effective use of digital technologies can decrease capital expenditures by as much as 20 percent and cut operating costs in downstream oil and gas firms by 2-3%.  However, many companies still struggle to utilize the data within their digital platforms to drive quality initiatives that will yield these results.  Typically, operations teams require assistance interpreting where the underlying value is hidden when analyzing information coming from SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition), DCS (distributed control system), Maintenance, Asset Integrity Management, Materials Management, Procurement, Engineering, and other key information platforms.  Tackling continuous improvement projects across all these systems is understandably complex, lengthy and requires diverse teams with very specific expertise.  The key to managing big data projects that return immediate value is to start small.  Looking in depth at a refinery’s maintenance operations is a great place to begin. 

The downstream industry has spent the last 40+ years improving processes and systems, and investing in expansion projects in order to increase capacity at existing facilities instead of bringing new refineries online.  As a result, significant gains in throughput and operating costs can be made by improving how teams manage and extend the life of the equipment and systems at these aging facilities so that they operate at maximum capacity with fewer critical shutdowns.  Knowing where to look in order to execute these margin improvement programs can often be found by analyzing the right information in a refinery’s CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System).  Creating a view into how your maintenance team is working will often highlight significant optimization opportunities. One major integrated oil & gas organization was able to remove 123,000+ man hours of planned wrench time by conducting a phased, strategic review of their preventative maintenance operations starting with a few selected facilities.

Examples like this represent opportunities to drive increases in top-line revenue and decrease overall operating cost. However, many teams are not sure where to start, what to look for, and how to execute a data and systems-focused performance improvement project.  We have found that by and large, our clients have the data, and by simply focusing on three key areas, organizations have the ability to drive millions of dollars in overhead savings.  These three areas are:

  1. Improving data quality,
  2. Asking the right questions, and
  3. Taking a smaller, more strategic approach.

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