Frontiers in Technology Dissemination
Jeff Spath, 2014 SPE President
I must write my final column, before next month’s recap, on the most fundamental mission of SPE, our core purpose, our raison d’etre: the dissemination of technology. More precisely, I am talking about the part SPE plays in the dissemination of independent, unbiased, trusted, and reliable technical information and knowledge. SPE is recognized worldwide for its role in this area and it is the topic that makes up the heart of our mission statement, which incidentally has not changed in 35 years.
The rationale for quality technical information dissemination and knowledge sharing is at least twofold. Firstly, for individual members to progress in their career and take on more challenging roles of increasing responsibility, they must develop, maintain, and improve their skills and expertise through knowledge sharing and by having access to quality, reliable technical information. Secondly, the value proposition of most companies in our industry hinges on the technical expertise of its people, so it is necessary to continually develop employee expertise as a competitive advantage. A large part of this development comes from SPE-provided literature, training, and knowledge gained from conferences, workshops, and forums.
Many of our knowledge domains are undergoing rapid change, which elevates the importance of SPE’s ability to share technical information and knowledge in a timely manner. Deepwater exploration, shale gas and shale oil production, subsea development, and heavy oil recovery are a few examples of subjects for which yesterday’s technical information is inadequate. The globalization and remoteness of our industry’s workforce is another reason we must continually advance the ways in which we distribute technical information. Finally, the retirement of many of our longest-tenured experts requires that we accelerate the learning of the younger professionals and the efficient dissemination of quality technical information is the key.
If your mission and livelihood is to disseminate technical information, the quality of the information is paramount and must override any measure of timeliness, affordability, accessibility, or availability. If you do not have the utmost confidence in the quality of the technical information or the knowledge being shared, it does not matter the user-friendliness of getting the information. There is no doubt that the number of technical presentations and papers being written has grown rapidly over the last decade, tied to the significant growth in the number of conferences and workshops.
SPE has recently developed several initiatives focused on ensuring that the technical quality of our content is maintained and improved, despite the increase in quantity. The first initiative, done at the request of members, was to conduct an analysis to determine whether there was a downward trend in technical quality, given the increase in technical papers submitted. The data and feedback obtained from the analysis did not indicate a downward trend. We followed this with a series of focus groups during the Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE) last year, with the same result—technical quality has not declined. Nevertheless, to ensure that the quality would improve, we have recently embarked on the following initiatives:
- Updated abstract submission forms to ensure quality information is provided to program committees when selecting papers for the meeting
- Submitting manuscripts to a plagiarism checker to identify any problems
- Improved training of Session Chairmen to better review papers before they are presented
- Launched “How to write a good paper” workshop and YouTube videos on the topic
- Strengthened peer review criteria and scorecard to ensure a paper is technically sound and contributes to the body of knowledge, as well as evaluation of readability and understandability
- Hiring of a SPE technical quality manager to oversee these initiatives
I am confident that the quality of technical information and knowledge will continue to improve as a result of these efforts.
In addition to publishing journals and books for disseminating technical information, there are a growing number of online applications for efficiently delivering timely material. I discussed the social media methods in my November column last year, but there are several online tools that are growing rapidly in content, popularity, and usefulness.
OnePetro (OnePetro.org) is one of SPE’s most successful methods of disseminating SPE content and content from 18 publishing partners. Earlier this year, OnePetro added the ability to rate papers, and we expect this measure of quality to grow over time as a way of identifying the “best” papers on a topic.
Member-provided content within PetroWiki has been growing steadily. To accelerate the addition of material, SPE staff is looking into adding material from classic petroleum engineering books. Imagine being able to search for specific keywords, definitions, or equations in some of our industry’s most popular and definitive textbooks. The ease of searching for knowledge on a particular subject within PetroWiki is definitely catching on, as evidenced by the recent huge increase in visits coinciding with the university final exam season. As members engage in discussions about topics in SPE Connect, the discussions are vetted for information that should be added to PetroWiki. This can be viewed as a simple knowledge management system, which offers a formal approach to capturing and transferring expert (and retiree) knowledge.
Despite the technologies available, the social media options for information dissemination and the immediacy with which we now expect to acquire our technical information, the method of classic instruction is still very popular and hard to beat. Having a worldwide expert on a particular topic fly to an SPE conference, for example, teaching a roomful of students, answering questions live, customizing the course content to individual audiences and sharing personal experiences is infinitely more valuable, in my opinion, than any written paper regardless of how it is acquired. SPE recently has placed greater focus and effort into increasing the quantity and quality of our training programs.
In fiscal year 2014, we provided 188 training courses to 3,491 attendees versus 115 courses to 2,377 attendees in 2012, representing a 47% and 63% increase, respectively. With the rollout of the free SPE Competency Assessment program at the ATCE in Amsterdam, I expect the training metrics to continue to grow significantly. The investments made in training, as an integral form of technical dissemination and knowledge sharing, are clearly paying off.
The Future of Technology Dissemination
Knowledge and technical understanding is infinitely diffusive. However costly it might be to create the first published account of how to log extreme-reach wells, for example, or how to predict the future performance of a shale gas reservoir, subsequent copies, whether printed or virtual, have minimum, if not zero, marginal cost. Furthermore, knowledge and technology does not respect geography. Acceptability and adoption rates of new technology differ geographically but, as mentioned, access to the information that SPE delivers is now global. These two notions, combined with the well-known growth rates in information and technology developments in our industry, mean there will continue to be far more material available for dissemination than members can realistically absorb.
The future methods of SPE’s technology dissemination must continuously improve on user-friendly and timely delivery. Importantly, they must begin to rely more on narrowcasting, or the ability to send quality technical information to those, and only those, who are interested. It is all about individual relevance. The growing number of web events, for example, is developing into an extremely useful and efficient method of getting specific subjects delivered to only those who are concerned with the topic. I predict the number and the variety of web events will grow significantly in the near future and play an essential role in delivering user-friendly knowledge and technical information.
Another technique of disseminating technology, which SPE will be experimenting with in the future, is the collaboration with companies and universities on corporate massive open online courses. The ability to blend fundamental science from course curricula with practical knowledge and experience from corporate experts, and delivering the combined material online, on demand, to only those interested will provide a step change in the way SPE continues to train and educate our more than 124,000 members.