The geophysical data companies have good
reason to be excited about some pretty esoteric types of data already
in use -- or on the cusp of acceptance -- to enhance the search
But garnering equal excitement are new paradigms
being put in place that will influence traditional business practices
in the geophysical industry, according to Chuck Darden, outgoing
president of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors
"E-commerce, the Internet, selling online -- this
is a trend you can't turn your head away from," he said, "because
of the size of the companies making commitments.
"Schlumberger through IndigoPool is making a major,
major push in that area," Darden continued, "and setting a tone
for something entirely new and on a new order of magnitude.
"It's definitely the wave of the future."
While E-commerce potential for numerous applications
within the industry is vast, geophysical data merchandising has
captured the lion's share of attention thus far.
Indeed, online marketing of multi-client data in
all forms -- seismic, geochemistry, well logs, geologic reports
and more -- is gaining momentum as industry giants such as Veritas
and WesternGeco expose their huge data libraries online.
Darden predicts there will be room for everyone to
jump onto the bandwagon, given how much data there is and how diverse
the client base is for geophysical information.
"Virtually every independent and even the 'moms 'n
pops' are aware of and want to look at seismic data before making
"Also, these 'reverse auction' ideas and things BP
and others are looking at and trying suggest that the client is
looking for access to data easier and faster," Darden continued.
"Supplying it online certainly seems to be a fit for that."
A 'Sexy Issue'
In a reverse auction, an oil company lists a project
online for contractor bids. The thinking among some of the seismic
folks is that they will occur when the buyers have the clout, whereas
forward auctions will take place when the sellers are strong.
It's a controversial issue.
"I don't think reverse auctions are a good idea or
healthy for the industry," said Randy Woodruff, director of E-business
"In our business, it's hard to standardize and rationalize
the thousands of options available," he said. "For instance, all
the boats out there are different, so the way you charge for them
is different, and it's difficult to know what the price of one contractor
means versus the price of another."
Martin Stupel, manager multi-client technology North
and South America at WesternGeco, views reverse auctions as not
much different from the way the oil companies already handle the
bidding process, except they are in real time.
He noted they represent a small component of E-commerce
in the industry, certainly one that pales in comparison to the storage
"We and our competitors have invested a lot of money
to build up huge databases of seismic data that we store and manage
on a day-to-day basis," Stupel said. "Oil companies face a huge
data management task, so why would they want to purchase and store
data when they could just license it and, with a high enough bandwidth
connection, be able to access it from our storage facility?"
Accessing data directly from the vendor also protects
the data and ensures the license agreements are being properly followed.
Small wonder it's creating some excitement among the data companies.
"With tapes, you can put millions of dollars of data
in your shirt pocket," said Marc Lawrence, senior vice-president
at Fairfield. "Online access to data from the vendor is a sexy issue
that gets our attention. We like it."
Stupel thinks application service providers (ASP)
that will enable online data interpretation and processing are the
key to a long-term data management solution. It is anticipated this
now-fledgling technology will take off once the bandwidth issues
For now, the ability to move the data around is inhibited
by available network transfer speed, even in Houston.
Despite the seemingly unlimited potential of online
E-commerce, opinions differ as to how best to capitalize on it.
Steve Mitchell, vice-president division manager at
Fairfield, views participation in an online venue as a defensive
"If someone is cruising through IndigoPool interested
in Gulf of Mexico data and doesn't see Fairfield listed, they'll
wonder about it because they know we have data all through there.
"Also, because they've done such a good job of marketing,"
he said, "you don't want to miss that one guy that's out there looking
"Still, if someone wants to spend half-a-million
bucks, they won't do it across the Internet," Mitchell continued.
"They're going to want to sit down with someone."
Doug Elrod, director of corporate strategy at IndigoPool,
doesn't argue this point.
"In high value business-to-business E-commerce, you
don't attempt to remove human interaction from the system," he said.
"Relationships are still fundamental, and the process of the salesman
going to the client doesn't change.
"But you improve the quality time between the players,"
Elrod added, "making the complex bits go more smoothly and significantly
increasing everyone's productivity. And you try to add fundamentally
new value, such as bringing property markets together with the data
Only time will tell how the multi-client seismic
and other data companies elect to use all the new tools and develop
business models that work for them. The need for data within the
new business models opens up challenges and possibilities to the
data providers to fabricate a data solution they can offer.
"All the raw material and opportunities are being
created," Elrod said. "It's like before a rainstorm when the clouds
are saturated and something is about to rain out of it.
"People just have to get their hands on the tools
and start using them."