Production surveillance dashboards are becoming quite common in the upstream industry. They have proven their value by reducing the time spent by asset engineers on routine data collection and analysis activities and thus improving their productivity.
Good visualization is key to effectiveness of these dashboards. By visualization, I am not referring to just look and feel but also the way information is presented to end users. An effective visualization reduces information overload while providing the most critical information to the users in an easy-to-understand manner.
However, good visualization design requires specialized skills. Unfortunately, this is arguably the most underestimated or overlooked part in surveillance dashboard projects causing project delays or suboptimal solutions. Let me talk about a few challenges associated with designing effective visualization that necessitates having skilled visualization designers in the projects.
1. Organization implementing dashboards need to get various end users (often from different departments) to agree on what performance KPIs they would like to see on various dashboard screens and how they need to be visualized. Even for the same performance KPIs, different views may exist on how they should be presented. This leads to a lot of iterations and change requests during requirement gathering and design stages of the project.
2. During asset life, new wells or equipments or instruments may be added or new engineering workflows may be introduced. All this may lead to many-fold increase in performance KPIs that need to be accommodated in dashboards. This kind of scalability is often not factored into initial design of dashboards and often considerable amount of efforts and money are spent reconfiguring visualization.
3. Many dashboards pack too much information forcing end users to spend extra bit of time on information processing and sense-making causing loss of precious productive time. With increasingly reduced attention span of engineers, human factor engineering aspects are becoming critical in dashboard visualization design. Unfortunately many projects don’t have such skills in their resource mix.
Having experienced visualization designers in the projects would help. In terms of skill set I’m talking about domain enabled designers who not only have good experience in dashboard projects but possess broad knowledge of visualization practices within and outside upstream industry. They would be much better equipped to “visualize” end user information needs and provide fit-for-purpose visualization options.
Getting such a skill set, however, may not be easy to find in one individual, in which case project teams could look at more than one individual to get the desired mix. This may sound like a project overhead but one needs to look at the advertising industry which is heavily dependent on creative directors or art managers given their visualization content and target audience.
Surveillance dashboards also need to advertise, in the most effective manner, information to a highly time-constrained workforce. An extra investment in getting visualization right would go a long way in maximizing value from surveillance dashboards.
So next time you get engaged in a surveillance project, ask your sponsor for visualization designer.