Subsea Systems Institute director talks proposed digital transformation JIP

February 14, 2017

World Oil interview with Bill Maddock, director of Subsea Systems Institute (SSI)


Q: World Oil

Welcome Mr. Maddock, director of the Subsea Systems Institute, and thank you for agreeing to our interview today. To begin, could you tell us how the Subsea Systems Institute (SSI) was created?

A: Bill Maddock, SSI

Thank you. It is a pleasure and a great opportunity to be able to talk to you today about SSI. 

The Subsea Systems Institute (SSI) was established in 2015 as a Texas Center of Excellence under the RESTORE Act and as a collaboration between the University of Houston, Rice University and the Johnson Space Center (NASA). In addition, the SSI and the University of Houston have partnerships with Lone Star Community College, Houston Community College  and other organizations. There are a total of six Centers of Excellence within the five U.S. Gulf coast states; however, the SSI is the only Center with a science and engineering research mandate for the offshore industry.

Q: Could you say a little bit more about the SSI’s terms of reference?

A: The Terms of Reference for SSI are developed within offshore energy development and include the pursuit of applied science and engineering in order to implement sound practices for hydrocarbon development in the Gulf of Mexico and other regions, including deep and ultra-deepwater assets. The vision and objectives for the institute are to:

  • Provide unbiased third party validation to build public trust in the safety and operation of offshore drilling and production;
  • Support economic and workforce development in the state of Texas through collaboration between research institutions, colleges and industry;
  • Positively impact offshore safety by bringing together NASA, industry and academic expertise to develop sound practices and  technologies, and risk mitigation practices to the Gulf of Mexico;
  • Attract and retain talent for jobs and investments in the local, state and national economy, and reinforce Houston and the state of Texas’s reputation as a global energy hub.

Q: Is SSI focused solely on subsea?

A: Although the institute includes subsea in its title, the institute’s remit is broader and includes the more general offshore space, but with a focus on deepwater, ultra-deepwater  and other challenging environments .

Q: We understand that SSI is involved in leading a digital transformation initiative. Can you tell us more about that work?

A: The emergence of the digital oilfield began nearly 30 years ago when exploration was faced with the need to more efficiently find and extract oil. Many would say that the first applications were in geology (3D seismic) and in drilling (horizontal). 

Now, faced with a new economic reality, the scope is rapidly changing to include production and operations. The entire industry is quickly moving forward to bring near real-time intelligence and predictive analysis to the forefront, with a corresponding quest for digital insights and intelligence. However, the role of digitalization in the future industry business model remains murky and ill-defined. The pace is being driven by economic needs, but the value is being taken on faith. The good news is that many other industries have already gone through this digital transformation with significant gains in corporate value and economic benefit. O&G is probably a laggard compared to other major industries but, fortunately, is now in a good position to learn from others and to accelerate its own transformation.

All said, the strategic question remains: Where is the value to be gained? And how ready is the technology and operational environments to implement this next generation of the digital oilfield?

Q: Can you put that into perspective as to what digital means in the offshore oil and gas industry?

A: Historically, data is retained in siloes, trapped in the facility, either offshore or at the well site, with no easy way to gain access. In the past it has meant transferring data to media and sending to shore for further analysis.  Oil and gas lags behind other industries (for example, aerospace and automotive) in how data is managed and utilized. Processing power has also increased so that very large amounts of data can now be processed and value extracted more easily.  More complex sensors allow for more information, with data that can be processed at source, reducing the necessary bandwidth for information transfer. Real-time monitoring, combined with other new technologies, can positively impact both safety and cost through reduced reliance on manned offshore facilities.

Q: That is very interesting, so please tell us some more about the digital transformation initiative that you are helping to lead?

A: SSI is the program sponsor for the proposed Digital Transformation Joint Industry Project (JIP) and we have partnered with World Oil to provide media coverage and to disseminate the outcomes and results of the JIP. Endeavor Management will supplement SSI in project management and technical expertise, drawing from their Expert Advisory Group of over 100 industry professionals.

Q: How has this been progressing thus far?

A: SSI and the JIP team have met with oil and gas operators, service companies and system integrators and the program has been very well received. We are now looking to sign up more interested companies as we continue to develop the scope of the JIP.

Q: What areas will the JIP initially focus on?

A: We have collectively developed the outline scope of work and are working with our industry partners to grow the work areas that are of interest, and to ensure alignment with the industry needs. The detailed scope of work will be driven by the industry partners. Potential work areas include the following:

  • Real-time decision and acceleration
  • Predictive maintenance and reliability
  • HSE and asset integrity
  • Well and production optimization
  • Facilities and process automation
  • Operational excellence
  • Capital productivity excellence
  • Business sustainability

Q: What do you see as the business drivers for this JIP?

A: There are three principal drivers for this JIP:

  1. Operators’ unmet needs for instrumentation, monitoring, control, and automation:
  •     Better compatibility of IT – interfaces, data and system integration.  There is a lack of standards – “plug and play”
  •     Simplicity of human interface (dashboards, alarms)
  1. Technical challenges related to real-time production surveillance, control, automation and optimization:
  •    Communication availability at facility
  •    Safety barrier verification without interrupting production
  •    Smart analytics
  •    Efficient well testing
  •    Optimizing chemical programs
  •    Optimized start up
  1. Barriers facing operating companies in achieving business objectives:
  •   Third party access
  •   Complexity of multiple, integrated IT systems
  •   Difficulty in standardizing solutions across facilities
  •   Adoption and collaboration
  •   Identifying the key data for making decisions

SSI and its JIP partners believe there is a need to develop a systems approach to the digital transformation in the offshore that is agnostic, and can be efficiently adopted by all the players to ensure a safe and cost effective role for the offshore industry.


For more information on the proposed Digital Transformation JIP, please feel free to reach out to:


Bill Maddock, director of the Subsea Systems Institute (SSI) at wmaddock@Central.UH.EDU or         +1 713 743 0578

Andy McDowell, Publisher of World Oil at or +1 713 520 4463

Christopher Curran, Expert Advisor at Endeavour Management at or +1 832 858 2732

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