November 2020


From siloed to connected: Why the oil and gas industry is going digital

Oil, gas and petrochemical organizations generate vast amounts of data throughout their operations, from exploration and extraction to refining, testing and real-time monitoring.

Van Cann, B., Thermo Fisher Scientific

Oil, gas and petrochemical organizations generate vast amounts of data throughout their operations, from exploration and extraction to refining, testing and real-time monitoring. Collecting, connecting and utilizing this data in an optimal way is key to maximizing efficiency and accuracy, ensuring traceability and compliance, and protecting productivity and profit.

To this end, petrochemical companies can greatly benefit from the standardization and centralization delivered by advanced data management tools, including chromatography data systems (CDS), laboratory information management systems (LIMS) and laboratory execution systems (LES). Used together, such tools enable integrated end-to-end management of oil, gas and petrochemical workflows, and bring efficiencies and opportunities that benefit the entire enterprise.

The data management dilemma

Data plays a key role in oil, gas and petrochemical workstreams, with each step of each process—from R&D through to QC, extraction, storage and beyond—relying upon, and generating, data.

As hydrocarbon streams, oil and natural gas pass from upstream to downstream, a huge amount of data is gathered across numerous processes by different vendors. This data—and additional data on stock records, instrument maintenance and employee training—is commonly stored across a wide array of different systems, both manual and computerized, at multiple locations.

The prevalence and management of such data is the source of many challenges for petrochemical organizations. How can operations maintain quality, efficiency and productivity, while managing such vast and distinct collections of data? How can all this information be kept accurate, accessible, secure and compliant?

Dynamic, disparate, disconnected

Being able to access desired data on demand is essential for rapid, informed decision-making. However, organizations working with multiple vendors and partners often create “silos” of data, each accessible to only one part of a workstream. Siloed configurations also occur in larger organizations with numerous or distributed departments, each of which may have different preferences and systems for data management.

Silos waste resources, inhibit productivity and curtail valuable opportunities for innovation, preventing organizations from reacting to information and events as they happen rather than in retrospect. Storing data disparately makes it difficult to manage inventory, recognize new or ongoing trends, and readily access the data needed to ensure that procedures are consistent and instruments are well-maintained. It also complicates data traceability, an essential consideration for organizations seeking high levels of accuracy and compliance. Data is dynamic; it is analyzed, transferred, packaged and repackaged (transformed into new formats for other uses) as needed, and even the smallest error has far-reaching implications. For example, errors can require the production process to halt or cause ships to be held at harbor, resulting in significant delay and demurrage costs. To avoid such costly mistakes, data must be traceable so that operators know when a piece of information entered the management system, where it is now and what it has been used for, and can distinguish between duplicates and edits made by different personnel.

Transparency, traceability and efficiency are especially important in the current landscape, in which the oil, gas and petrochemicals industries are facing scrutiny and under increasing pressure to reduce costs and accelerate operations—without compromising on product quality or delivery. Fuel prices are closely watched, and competition is swiftly rising from other sectors, such as renewable energy. Innovation is needed to overcome these challenges, and organizations must embrace digital technologies and advanced software solutions to thrive in a rapidly changing business environment.

However, innovation must go hand-in-hand with compliance. Laboratories must continue to comply with regulations for testing and calibration competence (ISO 17025), prove that they are managing their environmental responsibilities appropriately (ISO 14000), follow industry standards for crude oil, fuel and petroleum refined product testing (ASTM test methods), and implement standard operating procedures (SOP/eSOPs) across all of their activities. This is also true for data. No matter the quantity or complexity of data, it must all be verifiably secure and traceable, as noncompliance can result in stranded investment, compliance penalties and compromised product.

A pressing need for digitalization

With these requirements in mind, digitalization has huge potential for the petrochemicals industry. Digitally enabled science is helping to rethink traditional ways of operating, overcoming business challenges and creating new opportunities for innovation. With advances swiftly emerging in everything from artificial intelligence (AI) to big data to the Internet of Things (IoT), businesses are increasingly valued and divided by their digital “haves” and “have nots.” Digital solutions exist to help keep pace with such developments, including advanced CDS, LIMS and LES.

CDS software ties together essential software and chromatography and mass spectrometry systems to bring efficiency, security, productivity and connectivity to the industrial production process. CDS software is proving instrumental in processing sample datasets and performing the necessary system suitability and chromatography tests required for a wide range of laboratory applications. To maximize efficiency, CDS are best used in tandem with LIMS so the two systems can seamlessly connect and exchange information. LIMS also communicate with various other systems—across operations management, batch tracking, enterprise resource tracking and more—to centralize and present the complex information needed to reach the highest standards of safety, compliance and performance. LIMS capture metadata and information from across the sample lifecycle, can be used to auto-check results against stored specifications, and are also involved in review, approval and reporting.

Independently, LIMS are hugely valuable; but their value can be further enhanced by add-on solutions with the functionality to guide and enforce sequential tasks, and to record the progress of laboratory duties that have no associated result other than “completed” or “not.” For this, facilities can rely upon an advanced LES, a specialized system to enforce SOP-compliant procedural execution during testing and flag instances of error or deviation. Various other systems exist, including scientific data management systems (SDMS), all with the same overarching objective: integrated, centralized, streamlined operations and informatics. Implementing such systems brings many benefits to petrochemicals organizations, including extensive connectivity, simplified and integrated workflows, and increased automation—all essential in streamlining processes and enabling informed decision-making across an enterprise.

Towards integrated data management with CDS and LIMS

Most facilities possess a wide range of laboratory equipment and software. Rather than needing this architecture to be rebuilt from scratch, advanced digital systems enable organizations to tie together their existing setups to achieve connectivity and universal instrument, workstation, workgroup or network control. Such systems are easy to use and scalable to suit operations of all sizes, from the level of an individual instrument to an entire distributed network. This brings additional benefits in terms of staff flexibility and training; if multiple locations in a network utilize the same laboratory solutions, personnel can move easily between sites with minimal need for training and adaptation.

The key benefit of integrated informatics is efficiency. By removing numerous manual and staggered steps in the data management process, organizations can vastly improve workflow efficiency, productivity and system uptime, as automated software enables systems to remain operational 24/7 without undue burden on manual operators. Standardized systems also minimize risk and reduce the total cost of ownership. They lower the costs of deploying, licensing and maintaining multiple software systems and data centers, and improve organizational ability to pre-emptively detect errors and manage inventory, thereby minimizing maintenance costs and lowering the risk of project delays. Integrated informatics improves the quality and accuracy of test execution, in turn enabling both easy regulatory compliance and more rapid, informed decision-making.

Such benefits were experienced by Marathon Petroleum Corp., the largest petroleum refiner in the U.S. Marathon Petroleum offers an ideal case study for how enterprises can use advanced digital laboratory solutions to move away from a “silo mentality” and toward connectivity.

As the U.S. regulatory landscape is growing increasingly stringent, the corporation sought an automated, integrated, digital way to simplify their processes and workflows for maximum efficiency. Marathon Petroleum implemented a CDS and LIMS,1,2 and saw efficiency and productivity quickly increase. Rather than needing to request and source refinery data from numerous disparate databases, technicians and data consumers were instead able to access one centralized data repository. Data was automatically traceable and did not need to be transferred between databases by hand, saving technicians hours of manual input and enabling them to focus their time and effort on valuable data analysis. Marathon Petroleum was also able to connect all equipment in their laboratory, irrespective of vendor, and configure instruments to flag troublesome samples or potential hazards, improving the accuracy, safety and compliance of their operations.

Marathon Petroleum plans for increased digitalization in the future, to optimize data systems across the entire organization. They anticipate greater opportunities for collaboration; as all the refineries in their network could be working on a single integrated system, any site could quickly and easily reach out to collaborate, ask for advice and better share best practices from location to location.

Collect, connect, comply

Oil, gas and petrochemical organizations are under pressure to offer top-quality products and performance at lower cost, and remain competitive in crowded, fast-paced global markets. To achieve this, the industry must seek digital solutions that enable integrated informatics and data management, including CDS, LIMS and LES. Such systems offer greater connectivity across petrochemical workflows, and improve efficiency, accuracy and data integrity to maximize productivity and compliance. Integrated data management systems transform data into knowledge and opportunity. They bring data together to improve efficiencies, allow organizations to streamline their workflows and track trends to keep pace with their competition, and enable easy, centralized access to business-critical information for decision-makers. HP


  1. Ryan, M., “LIMS-enabled automation sets pace at Marathon Petroleum—Part 1,” Thermo Fisher Scientific Blog, 2020, online:
  2. Ryan, M., “LIMS-enabled automation sets pace at Marathon Petroleum—Part 2,” Thermo Fisher Scientific Blog, 2020, online:


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