In the wake of industry incidents and government initiatives regarding pipeline safety in recent years, pipeline operators have identified significant opportunities to enhance the governance of pipeline records and data. This article discusses options for implementing these projects, including internal staffing, using temporary staff, and strategic outsourcing. The criteria for selecting the optimal approach to project execution are discussed, along with lessons learned for improving records and data processes.
The management of records and data has taken on a significantly higher profile in recent years. An activity that was once seen as simply an administrative function has become mission critical for pipeline companies. Pipeline records and data are increasingly recognized by operators as a corporate asset with strategic value to the business.
From an operations strategy standpoint, the records and data governance challenge has two distinct dimensions: 1) ensuring that records accurately reflect the physical and operating characteristics of pipelines and related “inside the fence” facilities; and 2) implementing sustainable processes to continuously deliver accurate datasets to decision-makers across the entire data lifecycle.
Depending on the maturity of existing records and data governance programs, the scope of improvement projects may include:
• Evaluating current program status, including both assessing compliance with company and regulatory requirements and benchmarking existing processes against industry best practices.
• Creating “one version of the truth” for critical pipeline attributes, e.g., pipeline materials and condition, centerlines, and MAOP. This includes research and engineering analysis to reconcile legacy records and data — current GIS datasets, ILI data, as-built drawings, pressure test records, surveys, records from past mergers and acquisitions, field inspection reports, etc.
• Developing enhanced governance policies and standards, and having the IT systems necessary to ensure sustained compliance and on-going integrity of records and data.
Once the scope of the improvement project is defined, a stakeholder team needs to be established to execute the project. Depending on the project scope, the competencies required for the team may include:
• Business process analysis, including process mapping and risk assessment.
• GIS program design, implementation and management.
• Pipeline and facilities technical and engineering analysis.
• Regulatory compliance.
• Business case development and project management.
• Quality assurance.
Optimizing Project Implementation
The considerations for selecting the optimum approach for implementing records/data improvement projects are similar to those that drive decisions about other major projects undertaken by operators, e.g., engineering for pipeline expansion projects, implementing enterprise software systems. Basic questions that can frame thinking about how to execute projects include:
• What are the core competencies we want to develop and retain over the long term?
• Do we want to develop and manage the internal staff necessary to execute the project ourselves?
• Are we set up to retain, manage and house a large group of temporary staff?
• Should we structure a relationship with a trusted, qualified service provider to handle strategic elements of this work, such that our short and long term interests are protected?
Another consideration is the potential value of an external, unbiased perspective on the status of existing processes. External support can also be useful to support development of a vision (or “to be” state) for the data governance program and for external benchmarking against industry best practices.
Finally, project cost and schedule factors must be considered when optimizing the approach for project execution.
Three general options for executing projects are characterized below, along with possible pros and cons of each. Actual pros/cons will vary depending on the operator’s legacy approach to handling such projects, the operator’s culture, and the current operations strategy.
#1 Internal Staffing
Description: Core staff group for planning, business case development, and project management.
Remaining staff is “borrowed” from other functions as needed:
– Integrity engineers
– Records/data specialists
– GIS and IT subject matter experts (SMEs)
– Inline inspection data analysts / SMEs
– Regulatory SMEs
Supports full integration of short term clean-up projects for records data with strategic initiatives, including business process re-design, integrity management program enhancement, and GIS/IT development.
Competing priorities for internal staff.
• Lack of internal resources; lack of full engagement by assigned staff.
• Lack of defined processes for records/data clean-up.
• Limited access to industry benchmarks.
• Bias toward legacy systems.
• Lack of integration of legacy systems.
• Risk-averse culture.
• Silo/functional mind sets.
• Competency gaps.
• Loss of critical competencies over life of project due to aging workforce.
#2 Temporary Complementary Staffing
Core group of operator staff for planning, business case development, project management. Same competencies required as #1. Select competencies are sourced from consultants.
Resources available to meet peak workloads without making long-term employment commitments.
• Fills competency gaps and enhances bench strength — can retain temporary staff with advanced professional degrees and specialized training and experience
Qualified temporary staff may not be available when needed.
• Loss of knowledge / competencies when temporary staff leaves.
• Resource costs can trend slightly higher, based on specific circumstances.
• Company personnel still required to manage temporary staff.
• Temporary staff may present a perceived threat to internal company personnel (and internal staff may choose to maintain control of all project details).
• Many of the cons from #1 pertain to this option (specifically as regards legacy systems, lack of processes and silos).
#3 Strategic Outsourcing
Small core group of operator staff for planning, business case development and providing an interface to support consultants / experts in obtaining access to legacy records/data and information on existing systems and processes.
• Expert consultant provides and manages all project personnel and required competencies.
• Lifecycle approach to repairing legacy records/data while developing a multi-generational vision of technological solutions and business processes.
• Facilitates development of business case/ROI and a roadmap to support the sell to leadership and the executive office.
• Ability to efficiently benchmark existing processes and identify and deliver industry best practices.
• Supports delivery of a sustainable system and the business processes necessary to allow the operator to efficiently and effectively govern records and data.
• Facilitates the linking of engineering, records and data management, GIS, integrity programs, regulatory compliance and IT.
• Difficulty in identifying / retaining a firm that can act as a trusted partner and that has an “owner’s or operator’s mentality”.
• Need for the consultant to understand the operator’s culture and offer solutions that align with the operator’s risk tolerance.
• Scarcity of consultants that have industry credibility and proven track records.
• Need to ensure that the consultant has competencies / depth across all required disciplines and understands the breadth of systems being considered for possible implementation.
• Need to put processes in place to minimize any loss of knowledge / competencies when project completed.
Beyond staffing considerations, operators should consider their overall strategic plan for operations and how the lifecycle plan for records and data governance fits into that strategic plan. Records and data are a valuable strategic asset. Projects for enhancement of governance processes must be tied to the operator’s view of emerging regulations, the age of the assets, and their overall asset management philosophy. Such an integrated view allows operators to quantify the value of complete and accurate data for optimizing operations and maintenance expenditures, as well as to establish the appropriate level of investment in enhancement projects.
Lessons Learned in Implementing Improvement Projects
There are various practical considerations associated with implementation of pipeline records/data improvement projects. The author’s personal experience, combined with the project experience of the principals of his current firm, are the basis for the following lessons learned regarding such projects:
• It is imperative to brainstorm and document the longer term goals and strategic vision for GIS as part of project initiation. The operator must develop a documented vision — and a roadmap for achieving specific goals — in parallel with identifying near-term objectives. For example, in a phased approach, the near-term focus may be addressing integrity issues and assuring regulatory compliance. However, before work is begun on modelling and migrating records/data, the longer-term vision for enterprise governance of records and data needs must be developed. The motto for such projects and the project teams should be “Think Big, Execute Small.”
• The documented roadmap is a must, with clearly defined project phases, including pre-defined metrics that clearly define incremental progress and “what success looks like” via milestone events.
• It is important to understand what GIS means to the organization. GIS is much more than just software — in fact, software is a secondary consideration. The primary issues are stakeholder business processes, and overall records/data governance (including issues of data modelling, data accuracy and accessibility). Software considerations should not be allowed to drive business process and governance decisions.
• After establishing a repository for records/data, it is important to understand and clearly define which records and data are core to GIS — versus what data is linked and shared by enterprise applications that are managed outside of GIS.
• When GIS development/improvement projects fail to deliver sustainable solutions to the business, it is often because of a lack of senior-management sponsorship and on-going engagement. “Bottoms-up” approaches to launching enhancement projects rarely work, as it is often difficult for technical staff (typically GIS SMEs) to present and quantify the broader business case and value-add proposition for executive management and other corporate stakeholders.