Executing large capital projects is a difficult and challenging process that involves many parts—different systems, complex and sometimes competing requirements and the participation of multiple disciplines and organizations—that all need to come together to achieve a common goal. However, in truth, most large capital projects are fraught with issues that can result in a project being late or over budget or both.
A digital execution architecture (or model) is a solution that can address the issues of the conventional capital project methodology and deliver positive results. The digital execution architecture has been around for a few years and has been used in a limited way by some owners and operators in Alberta. Adopting a digital execution architecture does not change a capital project’s development phases—feasibility, concept and design basis, front-end engineering design, detailed engineering, construction, and start-up and commissioning—but it will radically change how work is performed in these phases.
The most important aspect of digital execution architecture is data. Without accurate and timely data and the means to analyze it, there is no valid basis for making decisions.
The current project execution method relies on documents, called deliverables, produced at certain times throughout a project’s development.
Producing deliverables is an important event as they are used to measure project progress. More importantly, these documents are a physical embodiment of the project data and knowledge and are the means by which data and knowledge are transferred between project disciplines, project tasks and between project phases. Data-knowledge transfer can also occur between different engineering companies, as it is common practice for owner-operators to use different engineering companies for different project phases.
The document-driven model has several issues:
- errors and misalignment of data
- responds slowly to change
- data is static
- information silos with multiple data instances
These issues lead companies to make decisions using poor-quality information.
All too often, for a variety of reasons, data contained on a deliverable does not align with data on other deliverables or across the various information systems. Slowly and progressively, data discordance builds within the project. This situation results in a low level of confidence in data accuracy and data users needing to verify the accuracy of the data before being confident enough to use it. This verification activity is all the more important when there is a changeover in engineering contractors between project phases.
Change is inevitable in projects, being able to manage change orders effectively is crucial. Nowhere is this more important than in the latter project phases where change can have a significant effect on cost and schedule. In practice, implementation of changes in the document-based method is slow, complicated and open to error. Documents are static things that present information at a point in time. This is not necessarily bad; it’s just not optimal, particularly in dynamic and complex systems such as capital asset projects. In the early project phases, a design can be quite fluid and undergo many changes to find the best design option. Data changes trigger a document update, which will in turn trigger changes in the dependent documents.
It takes time for the information to work its way through the various project deliverables and systems, and some documents might not be updated while others are incorrectly updated.
Project execution has evolved to use a plethora of information systems (i.e., applications such as CAD) to manage the many tasks involved in a project. In fact, these systems are essential for the execution of complex capital projects. However, these systems can lead to the formation of information silos. Each system has its own source of data, which results in multiple instances of data occurring across the project. Managing data congruence across these silos is time-consuming and inefficient.
The article Top 10 Engineering Documents and Data Management Challenges explores the issues of the document-driven model further.
A data-centric execution method is based on the premise that data is the primary and permanent asset of a project. Everything else revolves around the data. The data-centric execution method has two key advantages over the conventional document-driven method:
- a single source of truth (SSOT)
- up-to-date data
The SSOT involves creating a single data model that is used by all project personnel and information systems. Using a single data source project-wide eliminates information silos created by information systems and their attendant data sources and structures, thus eliminating multiple instances of data. All systems and project participants use data that originates from the single source. There is no data discordance in a data-centric environment as there is only one instance of the data. As data is created or changed, it is made available to all connected information systems—there is no lag waiting for someone to take action and update a deliverable or system, and the accuracy of the data is very high. The value of SSOT is significant as it provides decision-makers with the most accurate and timely data on which to act.
A project data model must be created to establish the SSOT. The data model is a graphical representation of the attributes of things, the relationships between entities and the flow of data. The model comprises several layers of increasing detail and specificity. Each functional application, such as a CAD or procurement system, will read and write through the shared data model.
Data modeling for an engineering design project involves:
- defining the types of assets (tags) such as mechanical and electrical equipment and instrumentation
- defining the attributes that make up each asset type such as pump attributes for each pump type (the number of attributes assigned to an item can be in the hundreds)
- defining the entity relationships to ensure the flow of data between information systems (which entities need to interact with each other)
- defining who (the commercial entity and specific person) is responsible for populating each attribute
- defining who requires each attribute and when
The Data-Centric Project
A data-centric organization understands the importance of data as a project driver, and collecting data is an important first step. The data-centric project must:
- eliminate silos and analyze data simultaneously
- centrally manage data
- improve efficiencies based on new information learned
Although data is of primary importance to the project, digital execution architecture requires people and systems to create a holistic project execution model. Adopting the digital execution architecture and data centricity will transform the nature of project execution for oil and gas capital assets.