The full report on the BP oil-well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico has been released, revealing that its real-time data monitoring systems need to be improved.
It also showed that algorithmic software has a place in preventing a repetition of the disaster.
The report found that the two systems used to monitor the Macondo well, displaying real-time data and alerting workers to problems, relied too heavily upon the right person looking at the right data at the right time.
"There is no apparent reason why more sophisticated, automated alarms and algorithms cannot be built into the display system to alert the driller and mudlogger when anomalies arise," said the report.
Experts believe the incident highlights the need for real-time information in other sectors.
John Bates, CTO of Progress Software, believes algorithmic software could have prevented the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by sensing abnormal conditions, using its drill sensors to collect real-time data.
Bates was co-founder of complex event processing software company Apama, which was acquired by Progress Software in 2005 for £30m. Apama was based on research carried out by academics, including Bates, at Cambridge University.
The complex event processing software is able to look for patterns in real-time streams of data to detect threats and predict crises. But it can also be used to identify business opportunities through monitoring online consumers, for instance.
Bates said, "The drills [in oil wells] include lots of sensors, called SCADA, to allow communication between sensors and equipment." But he added that these expensive sensors could be improved.
"Oil companies have to shut down the drill bits to analyse the data these collect, to make sure they are not drilling through the wrong bit. This can cost millions of dollars."
Bates believes the companies could keep drilling and analyse data in real-time using algorithmic software, so saving money and preventing disasters.
Bates said he hopes the industry "wakes up and takes it up proactively".
A recent survey of 300 businesses across all sectors conducted by Vanson Bourne in conjunction with Progress Software found that over 90% of businesses believe monitoring software is a 'must have'.
Airlines already make use of real-time monitoring software to ensure critical services such as ticketing systems remain available to customers.
"Everyone is cuttings costs but you can only go so far when analysing businesses statically. They need to be more dynamic and spot opportunities to respond to customers and detect threats," says Bates.
Robin Paine, former CTO at the London Stock Exchange and current executive for renewable energy system firm, Oxford Sustainable, said the high-level software architecture for algorithmic trading originally used by the financial sector could be used for other industries, like the oil industry.
In the future, Paine said algorithmic technologies could be used to improve the predictability of weather patterns and by the medical industry to improve healthcare.
"Huge data is being generated in drug research trials. It would be great to determine the success of drugs through modelling rather than experimentation," said Paine.
BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill has reinforced the importance of real-time computing in all sectors. As businesses work to identify opportunities, threats and avoid disaster in competitive markets, making themselves responsive in real-time is increasingly important and will be a continuing challenge.
John Bates, CTO of Progress Software, advises businesses on how to get the best out of real-time monitoring software
- The challenge is getting information and patterns communicated to human beings to take automatic action. The software can be linked up to business processes and workers in the form of alerts.
- Businesses need a 'control-tower' to visualise and monitor alerts. Any business users can be presented with on-screen information, even on mobile devices.
- The pitfall most businesses have is they don't have visibility of what their existing systems are doing and data is closed in legacy applications. Capability can be added to allow businesses to deploy interceptors to tap into events flowing through to gain visibility without changing systems.
- Download the full report, Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling.