Apr 242014

I don’t want to act as the proverbial ambulance-chasing lawyer, but certain accidents lead me to shake my head about the ways in which we prevent effective action in matters of safety. I am specifically referring to the lack of end-to-end information and process integration we see in certain industries and activities.

The tragedy of the South Korean ferry, the Sewol, which capsized last week, killing many people, brings this point home again. But this is not the only situation that comes to mind.

Sunday marked the fourth anniversary of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Macondo prospect in the Gulf of Mexico. While there were many reasons for that tragedy, in fact a whole series of technical and human errors, we also remember the confusion that existed before, during, and after the accident because there wasn’t a coherent source of information or a common process definition shared between all the actors on the rig. Precious minutes were lost when one person wanted to activate emergency shut-off systems, and another one refused. At that time, a remote operations control facility enabled with all the data feeds from all the sensors on the rig could have plausibly taken control away from panicked and conflicted individuals, and made a better and faster decision.

The Sewol tragedy has many common points with Macondo. We have now seen the transcripts where an operator at a vessel traffic services center (on shore) tells the ship’s mate what to do, and the mate refuses because his process is different, or perhaps simply because he had never been trained in an evacuation process, which may or may not have been documented and may or may not have been consistent with what the service center expected. The resulting half-hour delay seems to have doomed many of the young passengers to death.

I’ve been discussing this issue of “process and information integration” in the context of the oil and gas industry for over a year now, in a succession of workshops and information days. With people from several oil companies, oilfield services companies, IT companies, O&G-specific standards organizations like Energistics, and the Object Management Group, we’re building a business case that we hope can motivate companies to stop putting the confidentiality of their processes and information above the obvious (to us) need to share certain knowledge in order to make their operations faster, cheaper, and at least sometimes safer.

The good news is that there is a precedent for fixing these disconnects – the bad news is that it is not being imitated everywhere as it should. The precedent is that after considering the lack of coordination between agencies during the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US government spearheaded the creation of the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM, pronounced “neem”) whose purpose is to “effectively and efficiently share critical information at key decision points throughout the whole of the justice, public safety, emergency and disaster management, intelligence, and homeland security enterprise.”

Every industry that potentially puts people, property or the environment at risk (and that’s a lot of them!) should start getting serious about building and sharing process and information models. How many times do we need to mourn lost lives before people understand that this integration is not just good for business, but it is vital in the literal sense of the word?

Photo source: http://www.tradewindsnews.com

Claude Baudoin

Claude Baudoin is a Senior Consultant with Cutter Consortium's Business & Enterprise Architecture and Data Insight & Social BI practices. He is a proven leader and visionary in IT and knowledge management (KM) with extensive experience working in a global environment. Mr. Baudoin is passionate about quality, knowledge sharing, and providing honest and complete advice.


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