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A Dashboard for Pipeline Integrity

A dashboard for pipeline integrity to aid in compliance with US rules for integrity management

“I want to log-on to my computer and be told the status of the system. Today, I have to ask a specific engineer that looks after the area I want to know about who says he will get back to me. Two days later I get an answer, usually with caveats because he doesn’t have all the up to date information.”

anonymous pipeline manager

Sections

  • Problem: a need for situational awareness and process control
  • Integrated data for situational awareness and process control
  • A pipeline information management system (PIMS)
  • Building an integrity dashboard on your existing IT infrastructure

 

Problem: a need for situational awareness

On March 31, 2009 the PODS organization hosted a meeting in Sugar Land, Texas called Mapping Our Pipeline Future.  Seventeen pipeline operating companies participated.  The intent of this meeting was to identify and prioritize operational needs that are not being met by the PODS committee or by vendors.

At this meeting four pipeline operators made short presentations describing their integration efforts to date.  Afterwards the meeting participants were divided into five groups for general discussion followed by specific discussion groups after lunch.

A prevalent thread at this meeting concerned leveraging integrated data.  Some of the wish list items generated along this vein include:

  • “Improved situational awareness and decision making” – Anadarko Midstream, operator presentation
  • “Data should be made to work for the [user] through more empowered processes” – general discussion groups, room 2
  • “Missing is a way to tie/connect business processes to the tasks” – specific discussion groups, key issues facing operators

In general these requests to leverage integrated data fell into one of two categories, requests for improved visibility and requests for better processes.  These two categories can be summarized as follows:

  1. Situational awareness – the need to know what is happening, what has happened, or what will happen
  2. Better processes – the need to orchestrate individual tasks once situational awareness has been achieved

This paper will present a lightweight approach for building pipeline dashboards for key players in the integrity process.  This approach leverages your data, regardless of where it resides, to achieve situational awareness.  This situational awareness in turn allows for better processes.

This approach is independent of your integration platform, PODS or other.  It leverages existing investments in IT infrastructure and gets stronger with each additional  investment.  What is needed to make this solution available to the industry is a set of vendor-neutral standards describing interfaces for data sensors and process actuators.

Integrated data for situational awareness and process control

The illustration below was taken from one of the operator presentations at the PODS mapping our pipeline future meeting.

This image serves to illustrate the hope that many operators have placed in integrated data.  Integrated data is the hub around which the various departments involved in integrity management interact.  With PODS in place, everything should go smoothly.

Ironically, integrated data can actually make situational awareness and control worse, not better.  The need for more people and more procedures means that there are more opportunities for things to go wrong.  Critical conditions can hide within a flood of “normal” data.  Instead of seeing an improvement, many operators are finding that their data is bad, their processes are broken, and integrated data is expensive to maintain.

Integrated data alone can never provide the awareness and control that is needed.  PODS and other data standards simply describe how to store and exchange information.  Data standards are concerned with data, not people or processes.  They do not describe how data is gathered, verified, and inserted into the database.  They only describe where to put it and what format to use.

While integrated data is necessary for better situational awareness and control, integrated data is just a first step.  The illustration above would be more accurate if the central puzzle piece showed a software application instead of a database like PODS.

Software which orchestrates the data, people, processes, and events of integrity management is the next step.  A dashboard which lets you see a summary of the system and to drill into and examine details from a single location would be a big help.  If this dashboard enabled you to respond to this summary information and to alter the process you would have the situational awareness and process control you seek.

A pipeline information management system (PIMS)

Both ASME B31.8S and the integrity rules hint at a global information system which integrates the people, processes, and data associated with maintaining a pipeline.  The intent of this theoretical system is to provide the integrity manager with the situational awareness and control required to orchestrate the integrity process.

These software systems are called pipeline information management systems (PIMS). In a PIMS the integrity manager…

  • has global visibility into past, present, and future activity on every asset.
  • is able to quickly define, deploy, and modify procedures for compliance.
  • sets up alerts which trigger action when warranted.

On its face a PIMS is a dashboard application for the integrity process. In the business world, “the dashboard is the CEO’s killer app, making the gritty details of a business that are often buried deep within a large organization accessible at a glance to senior executives. So powerful are the programs that they’re beginning to change the nature of management, from an intuitive art into more of a science.”

These same benefits apply to asset management and to integrity compliance.

A dashboard application is a console into which gauges and controls that are of interest to an individual user are chosen from a library of prebuilt tools.  These tools are added to individual dashboards and are configured based on individual responsibility.  We’ll call these tools “widgets”.

Each widget needs software to make it work.  To build a widget, a software developer combines the capabilities of software “sensors” and “actuators”.  Sensors monitor data, dates, and events.  Actuators enable changes to a procedure or to data.  This simple concept can provide tremendous value for relatively low cost.  As you improve your underlying IT infrastructure you are able to build better and more useful widgets.

A dashboard doesn’t replace existing IT investments, it leverages them.  The better your underlying IT infrastructure the stronger your dashboard system can be.  If your data is integrated, you can create sensors which monitor this central location.  If you install messaging between your asset data and your work management system, you can take advantage of this new infrastructure to track, or even alter work once it has been scheduled.  If you install a workflow system, you can use your dashboard as an access point to adjust individual task steps as needed.

There is a non-linear return on your investment.  Invest in one widget and you realize a benefit of 1.  Two widgets give you a benefit of 4.  Invest in exactly the right number, and the benefits are immeasurable.  By putting the right information into the right hands a dashboard can have a tremendous impact on reducing operating costs.

Building an integrity dashboard for domestic use

While dashboards for pipeline integrity exist, they are usually custom affairs.  The few commercial solutions available are targeted at international operators who are not affected by the PHMSA rules.  What is needed is an affordable, off the shelf system that has been designed specifically for compliance with the US integrity rules.  What this looks like is a set of dashboard widgets which are generally useful to US pipeline operators and which can be deployed into common IT environments.

Off the shelf solutions are available from other industries and can be adapted to meet our needs. Since the 1970s banks and other information-intensive industries have been integrating their computer systems and processes in a quest for better situational awareness and process control.  They have tried and studied workflow systems, business process re-engineering, and dozens of other techniques.  It is not a simple problem, but recent efforts have been very successful.

Gartner Research says that the most recent round of developments, business process management systems (BPMS), “gives companies visibility into processes that are key to cost management.  BPM is a lifeline in this troubled economy.  It helps companies find and avoid hidden costs – to keep companies in business.”

While this sounds like a major rework of your IT infrastructure, it isn’t.  BPMS encompasses most of the common solutions that get your IT folks excited – integrated data, workflow management, SOA, web 2.0 and many, many more.  The better your IT infrastructure, the better your dashboard can be.

What your IT team needs is some guidance regarding where to make their next major investment.  To do this it would be helpful if you could tell them the kinds of widgets that would provide you with the most benefit in terms of your own situational awareness and control.  Some examples to consider:

  • on-the-fly alignment sheets that follow map view
  • Live flowcharts which enable you to intervene in tasks like data scrubbing
  • project builder/selector or a project budgeter/scheduler

Sure you need lots of help, but where can you get the most help for the least money? To explore this problem, I would like to set up some formal research. After some initial comparison research between pipeline processes and business processes we would develop a series of test software installations with the objective of determining:

  • a protocol for measuring the benefits of dashboard widgets
  • a series of benchmark measurements for return on investment
  • a baseline set of widgets arranged from largest to smallest benefit and from most cost to least cost

 

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