Beacons for Industrial Digitalization

by David Cameron. From Annual Report 2017, written in March 2018.

2017 was the year in which digitalization took off. You could attend a conference on digitalization nearly every week. Companies appointed Chief Digital Officers and created digital centres of excellence. Breathless speeches warned us of exponential change and disruption. Data was called ”the new oil” and The Economist newspaper caught the zeitgeist by putting this on its cover in May 2017. This metaphor is particularly relevant in Norway and has become linked to a deeper debate about the country’s economic future. SIRIUS’ plans and ambitions lie at the intersection of the “old oil” and the “new oil”.

Digitalization is a vague and all-encompassing concept. Most definitions involve the idea of integrating digital technologies into normal life, business processes and work practices. Gartner Group’s definition is very business oriented: “Digitalization is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.” In SIRIUS, we believe that scalable data access is necessary for this integration. Poor data access can defeat digitalization.

Companies feel that they need to move fast. Management expects agile projects and exponential results. Results are expected after six months. Quick wins are emphasised. How does this fit into a program for research-driven innovation, with an eight-year horizon and built on four-year doctoral projects?

SIRIUS addresses this challenge in two ways. Firstly, we work with the digitalization organizations in our partner companies to identify gaps and challenges in the systems they are using. This feeds into our research agenda in two ways: a fast feedback loop defines prototyping projects with a one-year duration, while a slower loop feeds into our portfolio of doctoral projects. The second way is more strategic. Together with our partners, we have chosen a set of beacon projects that address important issues in the digitalization of the oil and gas industry. Our ambition is that, for each beacon, we will run a pilot project that looks beyond current practice to where the industry and technology will be in 2024.

The beacon projects are aligned with business problems through SIRIUS’ work packages. In this way, the projects reflect the special features of each work package. The chosen beacon projects are:

Exploration Work Package: Exploration and Sub-Surface

Operations Work Package: Exploration and Sub-Surface

  • Planning for projects, commissioning, maintenance and logistics.
  • Digital Twins: mastering the complexity of relating digital representations of things to reality. SIRIUS’ work in knowledge representation, simulation and data science supports this.
  • Digital Thread: keeping track of design and requirements through the entire lifetime of a product, component or system.

Cross-Domain Applications Work Package

  • Personalized Medicine: application of SIRIUS’ methods for scalable data access and analysis to challenges in health services.
  • Arctic Earth Observation: We are working with the CIRFA Centre for Research-Based Innovation to incorporate scalable data access and cloud computing in their research and pilot systems.

Pilots in these business areas will draw on specific focus areas in SIRIUS’ methodological research. Three areas have been identified where SIRIUS’ researchers can make timely and substantial contributions:

Migration to the Cloud. Successful digitalization needs a well-designed and thought-out use of the cloud. Legacy applications need to be migrated to the cloud or made available as cloud services. Trade-offs need to be made between security, performance and robustness. SIRIUS is developing tools that support design, analysis and modelling for complex cloud computing systems. The ADAPT project works in this area.

Sustainable Large-Scale Ontologies. Scalable data access needs good models of the data and its meaning. Building and maintaining these models is complex and tedious. We are developing concepts and tools that allow data models to be built up from templates, i.e. reusable modules.

A Cross-Cutting Technology Stack for scalable data access. Scalable data access methods demand powerful computers. SIRIUS is on projects that provide the best possible interaction between databases, algorithms and high-performance hardware. SIRIUS is working together with the MELODIC EU project and the recently funded eX3 project for Norwegian exascale computing. This will be a main part of the SIRIUS laboratory.