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When “Rugged” Protection Alone Isn’t Enough to Safeguard Your Oil & Gas Ops: 3 Ways to Confirm Your Mobile Computer’s True Safety, Security, or Performance Capacity

Over the past 20 years, it’s become increasingly clear – across many global industries – that the proper utilization of mobile technologies can introduce otherwise unobtainable operational efficiencies that help stabilize business performance despite frequent market volatility. Especially in the energy sector.

No, mobile technologies cannot directly equalize supply and demand fluctuations, influence commodity pricing structures or dictate the financial performance of oil & gas corporations. However, mobile devices such as rugged tablets can make-or-break an organization’s ability to compensate for workforce reductions and budget cuts, more strategically manage assets, and effectively maximize new revenue streams when they do emerge. That’s because mobility facilitates faster – and more accurate – data acquisition and analysis via automated and manual sources alike. As such, mobility often equates to greater organizational agility across multiple oil & gas workflows, including drilling and machinery monitoring, resource and materials management, compliance reporting, spill and incident response, workforce and risk management, seismic surveys, and geomapping.

Mobile technologies also create more value throughout the supply chain, by aggregating voluminous data sets that can be thoroughly analyzed – in real-time – to inform business actions and improve a company’s capacity to reduce waste, maintain peak productivity levels, and extract new efficiency from existing business processes.

Rugged Tablets for Oil & Gas

In fact, Oil&GasIQ.com published a set of mobility-related predictions for 2016 that validates a trend we’re seeing in the energy sector: the more expansive implementation of mobile technologies across onshore and offshore energy operations. The predictions indicated that we’re approaching an intersection of mobility and IoT as organizations aim to streamline “real-time device/machine connectivity, data access and decision processing” via a collection of external equipment, sensors, forms, reports, etc. Specifically, they noted the following:

“In line with the decreasing costs of mobile device platforms and the availability and range of standards, lower costs will drive sensors and IoT development at small to mid-tier independents worldwide…A low cost mobility environment could be a saving grace for these smaller companies looking desperately to drive efficiency. Companies now have the ability to fulfil many tasks remotely that, in the past, necessitated costly manpower to adhere to compliance and regulatory reporting criteria. This will drive better and more timely delivery of services and servicing to these facilities.”

Bottom line, the oil & gas market has a lot to gain by investing in field-proven mobile computing platforms that have the capacity to seamlessly interface with highly complex networks of software and machinery – and therefore connect energy workers with the real-time data necessary to take fully-informed actions. However, many of the industry leaders we’ve spoken with have expressed concern about the risk of mobilization. Given the current surge of mobile technology utilization across upstream, midstream, and downstream operations, there’s a chance that worker safety, data and device security, or operational efficiency is being compromised on some level. In some cases, companies are trying to force-fit “familiar” off-the-shelf technology components into an enterprise environment (such as consumer and commercial-grade PCs). Other times, even when the necessity of an inherently rugged computer is understood, there’s an inadequate amount of evaluation being conducted beyond confirmation of the MIL-STD-810G specs or IP ratings.

However, making concessions on the safety, security, or performance of your mobility solution by choosing a “familiar” brand without thoroughly vetting the entirety of the device’s capabilities means you’re potentially compromising the safety of your workers and the security of your operations – therefore impairing overall project success and business performance in a highly competitive market. Consideration must be given to the ancillary system components with which the mobile PC must interface during project and engineering management processes. An upfront assessment must also be conducted to identify the specialized accessories required for safe computer use by heavy machinery operators, walking-and-working personnel, and other field-based personnel.

Feature Checklist for Oil & Gas

In fact, there is an extensive Feature Checklist that should always be referenced when compiling a short list of suitable mobile computers for Oil & Gas industry application. But there are three sets of requisite questions that should always be integrated into your technology evaluation process, no matter the type of device you’re considering:

1. Safety: Is there any chance that the device will be utilized – or stored – in a Hazardous Location (HazLoc)? If you’re planning on deploying mobile devices in support of oil & gas sector field operations, the answer most certainly will be “yes” and you should read this. Dust particles, flammable gasses and/or other explosive elements are going to be found in proximity to refineries, pipelines, wells and offshore rigs. That means that you’ve immediately narrowed the pool of viable mobile computer candidates. Non-rugged devices are most certainly not engineered with intrinsic safety methods and, believe it or not, many inherently rugged computers are lacking these mandatory four-letter combos from their spec sheets as well: ATEX or C1D2/C1Z2. If a device isn’t designed using intrinsic safety techniques, it isn’t designed for safe use in an oil & gas environment. 
Related Read:   Why C1D2/ATEX Certifications Should Spark More Interest Within Explosive Environments

2. Security: Does this mobile PC platform meet or exceed government-mandated security standards? You must be able to protect the sensitive operational data transmitted via mobile devices, such as production volumes, infrastructure issues, asset locations, and other insights that could be exploited if accessible to competitors or others wishing to harm industry (and national) interests. See the above Feature Checklist to determine which security features you need for your operating environment, such as an integrated Smart Card/CAC reader, fingerprint scanner, etc. Note that many of your required security capabilities are not commonly available with commercial devices, and infrequently seen as standard features with rugged devices as well. And any device using a stock OS versus Windows Professional or Android for Work will create security challenges. 
Related Read: With Android for Work, Your Rugged Tablets Will WorkBetter for You

3. Sustainable Performance: How versatile is this mobile computer? And will it adapt how (and when) you need it migrate to new back-office systems as your workflow requirements evolve and sensor/IoT capabilities advance? The trend towards big data and predictive analytics means that we can anticipate an exponential rise in data processing demands. Automation will become prolific, and your ability to standardize on a single computing platform will be contingent on the device’s ability to preserve the integrity of your entire, and highly complex, back-office infrastructure system. It’s not easy to rip-and-replace an entire mobile PC portfolio considering that all of your mobile workflow software, your security environment and your communication channels are provisioned around that one PC platform. You must be confident – through a thorough testing program – that the rugged, HazLoc-certified mobile computer you choose will be capable of sustaining peak performance no matter what. 

For example, we often hear oil & gas leaders discuss systems integrity and lifecycle in terms of refining or distribution infrastructure. Yet mobile technology’s immersion into all facets of industry operations requires you to give due consideration to the potential integrity – and realistic lifecycle – of the device since it will be highly susceptible to failure if not engineered to automatically adapt to physical challenges or scaling requirements. So you should also ask: 

  • Can this mobile computer sync with sensor and IOT technologies? 
  • Is it compatible with your existing IT infrastructure and workflow software? And will it be capable of interfacing with your future tech systems without issue? 
  • Does it support mobile device management/enterprise mobility management (MDM/EMM) software? 
  • Does it work just as well in an offshore environment as it does on land?

There’s no doubt that those operating within the oil & gas industry can improve the safety, security, and productivity of workers through the implementation of mobility solutions. However, one wrong technology decision can compromise all of the above.

Watch this webinar for tips on how you can minimize that risk and maximize ROI during any mobility project:

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Last thought: Just because a PC form factor is rugged and HazLoc-safe doesn’t mean it has the integrated capacity to support all of your business processes or even the most routine workflow actions, such as visual data capture via a built-in camera. Handhelds’ capabilities are limited to simplified tasks and notebooks are increasingly burdensome to “mobilize” beyond a mounted or desktop setup. In reality, automation and IoT wouldn’t be feasible without the increased computing faculties of today’s rugged tablets, as they’ve emerged as the only form factor flexible enough to transform into any PC form factor your workers need – a handheld tablet, notebook, or desktop – and serve as their primary computer as they transition from the field, to the vehicle, to the office, and back. ATEX or C1D2/C1Z2 rugged tablets are also the only PC platforms adept at expediting both routine administrative tasks such as reporting and specialized,data-intensive GIS-based data collection on wells and pipeline intersections or testing and inspection tasks that require a peripheral gyroscope. Check out these customer insights to understand why. 

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