Electronic document management for North Sea offshore oil and gas platforms

Alan J. Murray, IT Portfollo Head
Shell U.K. Exploration and Production
United Kingdom
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Shell U.K. Exploration and Production have implemented an integrated electronic document management system following a thorough analysis of the document lifecycle process. The system integrates a number of commercially available software products which operate to international standards (e.g. SGML-ISO 8879; CGM-ISO 8632) and have been integrated in such a way that they can be changed out as and when the need arises. The resulting system ensures that information is accurate and up to date. This information is distributed as electronic books to offshore platforms via a CD-ROM, allowing offshore personnel to search for and view documents using a PC. The project faced a number of challenges, some of which were predicted, others had to be addressed as they arose. The learning points include a confirmation of the usefulness of human factors expertise, the value of data and process analysis, the need to adopt and stand by international standards, and the criticality of senior management commitment and support.

Company Background

Shell U.K. Exploration and Production (Shell Expro) is a joint venture partnership between Shell U.K. Ltd and Esso Exploration & Production UK. It is the largest operator in the North Sea currently producing and processing some 600,000 barrels of oil per day and 1350 million standard cubic feet of gas per day from 33 on- and offshore installations.

Document Management - The Business Needs

The principal business drivers for considering an Electronic Document Management (EDM) system were as follows:

Project Background

Two initiatives, one in Well Engineering and one in Production Operations, were the principal instigators of the corporate EDMS project. These instigating initiatives focused on particular activities within the document life cycle but did not consider the complete cradle to grave process; a decision was take early on that the whole life cycle should be considered to avoid sub-optimisation. This decision turned out to be particularly significant as it led to a decision to manage textual information in a standard format rather than as images.

Project Purpose

The project purpose was stated as follows: "to facilitate effective, efficient and reliable operations by providing documents that are easily accessible and fit for purpose, thereby maximising revenue and safety, and thus satisfying Shell Expro's obligations to its shareholders and workforce".

The Business Objectives

The following business objectives were agreed with senior management:

Business Requirements

The project team developed a vision of documents management within the company and defined the business requirements as follows:

Data Requirements

These system requirements could have been met by any proprietary document management system. However, the following data requirements determined that the system would necessarily be firmly based on international standards:

Consequently, documents would have to be stored and managed independent of software applications. The only way to achieve this was by the use of de jure international, vendor independent standards. The following standards were selected by the project team:

The adoption of these international standards allowed Shell Expro:

In addition the adoption of SGML allowed the project team to regard documents as data and to apply standard IT practices and methodologies such as the Systems Development Cycle, data and process analysis.

The Solution

1. The Document Management Process

The document management process is supported by (i) procedures that define how the process is effected and (ii) an organisation in which is defined who carries out the activities in the process.

Procedures - these describe the management of document throughout their life cycle, rather than any isolated activities such as distribution or filing.

Organisation - a new unit was established, the Central Document Management Group (CDMG), with the following prime responsibilities:

2. The IT System (EDMS)

Following a detailed and extensive qualification exercise a number of companies were invited to tender for (i) systems integration services and (ii) software products. The contract for the former was awarded to the SEMA Group, including BAeSEMA to provide human factors expertise. The following software products were selected:


The obvious benefit is that a large and complex organisation now has a system whereby it can control, throughout their entire lifecycle, documents/information critical to its operation, and, importantly, this control can be demonstrated and studied. The principal specific benefits are as follows:

Project Challenges & Lessons Learned

A number of potential stumbling blocks were either anticipated or met along the way. some are common to any large project, some are specific to the business process:


Shell Expro have taken a lead in the Shell Group with the implementation of such a comprehensive EDM system. The process of document management has been revised and increasingly formalised resulting in a system which gives the desired degree of control over the process and the information managed by the process. Also, importantly, the capability of the system can be demonstrated to certifying authorities. The achievements to date are seen as the first important steps towards a wider vision of information management; improvements and further development of the system will add greater value especially in the area of linkage to other business processes/systems.