The Computerworld Honors Program
Honoring those who use Information Technology to benefit society
LOCATION:
New York, NY, US

YEAR:
2007

STATUS:
Laureate

CATEGORY:
Environment, Energy and Agriculture

NOMINATING COMPANY:
Microsoft

ORGANIZATION:
BP

PROJECT NAME:
Hurricane Management System

Short Summary
Energy giant BP got its people out of harm’s way when Hurricane Katrina struck, but the process of locating people and assets, and making decisions about their care, had been time-consuming at a time when every second could cost lives.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, company officials sought a better solution. They wanted to bring their existing, disparate personnel and asset management data together and integrate them with real-time threat information to gain BP’s first-ever comprehensive picture of the risks it faced in an impending hurricane or other natural disaster.

That’s what BP has with its BP Hurricane Management System solution, created for it by Microsoft® Gold Certified Partner IDV Solutions. The solution combines the 3D satellite imagery of Microsoft Virtual Earth and real-time weather data with a visual representation of BP’s people and assets. The result is an immensely more visual—and, thus, immensely more intuitive—display that enables crisis managers to make better and faster decisions in response to imminent threats. The Web-based intelligence solution enables top management in the U.K., the crisis team in Houston, and executives anywhere else in the world to collaborate while viewing the same information in real time.

The solution leverages existing BP infrastructure—such as its Microsoft SQL Server™ 2005 databases and Microsoft Office SharePoint® Portal Server 2003 collaboration portal—and the cost-effective Web services-based Virtual Earth platform, together with IDV’s Visual Fusion composite application engine software. The solution was created in less than 90 days and for half the cost of alternatives. It saves the Hurricane Management team several hours a day by automatically consolidating data from up to 20 sources. Most importantly, the solution’s intelligence enables BP to understand and respond to threats hours faster—with the potential to save thousands of lives and millions of dollars.


Introductory Overview
The Gulf of Mexico, Strategic Performance Unit of BP, the global energy company, is focused on the exploration and production of oil and gas. It is responsible for a complex mix of assets and people, including eight deep water oil production and drilling platforms, feeding thousands of miles of pipelines, more than 100 fuel terminals and offices, and 1,500 people.

Those people live not just in BP’s Houston regional headquarters, but throughout the Gulf states and beyond. When a storm approaches the region, BP has to predict not just whether it will affect its employees—but which employees it will affect. Tracking and projecting storm paths and intensity are crucial to protecting employees and aiding storm victims. The effectiveness of these operations depends on BP having the fastest, most accurate storm tracking and projection capabilities, as well as the most complete understanding of where its people are.

Traditionally, BP managed this process with wall-mounted paper charts and pushpins to represent storm paths and employee locations. The crisis team would use string to measure the distance between hurricane winds and the BP facilities. To obtain the data for this setup, the principal mapping lead for the crisis team, Brian Autio, would spend three or four hours before a planning meeting to pull data manually from up to 20 databases and Web-based sources. He would then import the data into BP’s mapping software, check it for accuracy, and send out e-mails to the crisis team in advance of the meeting. The meetings themselves would become increasingly tense as a storm approached.

“We’d have 40 people lining the walls in a room that might typically only hold 15 or 20 people, trying to find out what was going on,” says Autio. “This isn’t just about employees—these people offshore are our friends, so it was very personal. And it was all about making sure that they were safe.”

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, BP executives began to explore better ways to obtain and manage the information that would keep their friends safe. They wanted a solution that would integrate the BP personnel and asset data from disparate databases and marry that data to visual imagery to make it easy, even intuitive, for crisis managers to understand who was at risk without the hours-long delay of the existing process. They wanted to take advantage of systems that existed outside of BP—weather feeds, traffic feeds, housing feeds—and overlay that with internal data to speed planning and aid. And they wanted a fully Web-based solution that would eliminate the need for deployment and maintenance of client software, while enabling BP people anywhere in the world—at the U.K. worldwide headquarters, at the Houston regional center, or even out on the deep-water platforms—to view and share the same intelligence.

Meanwhile, another BP functional area was considering a solution to engage a similar forecasting ability in the service of identifying risks to BP physical assets.

In this case, BP was reconsidering its method of assessing the after-the-fact impact of hurricanes on its facilities. The company needs to know very quickly what damage has been sustained to drilling platforms, underwater pipelines, and other infrastructure, so it can begin repair operations as soon as possible. Traditionally, BP would send out fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters, as soon as it was safe, to take aerial photographs, which would be evaluated back at BP’s regional headquarters. But with advances in satellite imagery, BP executives wondered if there was a solution that could not only leverage that imagery to depict damaged sites, but also capture pre-disaster images, for comparative analysis.


Benefits
Has your project helped those it was designed to help?   Yes

What new advantage or opportunity does your project provide to people?
“This solution is changing the way we do business,” says Steve Fortune, Information Management Director, BP, Gulf of Mexico, Strategic Performance Unit. “When the data is presented through a map-based interface, it’s pretty amazing. It gives you a much richer, bigger, more intelligent picture of what’s going on. And that picture is one to which you can respond faster and more effectively.”

For example, hurricanes can have a multilevel impact—affecting production and drilling platforms on the surface of the water as well as pipelines along the ocean floor. For the first time, this solution enables a Hurricane Management team to see how various weather factors—hurricanes on the surface and loop currents underwater—affect different assets at the same location, enabling a more comprehensive response. See Appendix 1.

The solution enables more of BP’s people to monitor the crisis and the crisis team response, and to collaborate in shaping that response. All authorized BP personnel, anywhere in the world, can view the same data and crisis response in real time over the global intranet. The information isn’t only better and more useful, it’s also available hours earlier than before, because the mapping lead doesn’t spend hours accessing and processing data from disparate sources—the solution does that automatically.

“Data visualization is the future at BP,” says Autio. “It has totally freed us to look at the data and process the data, rather than spend time locating the data. And that means we can do a better job of protecting our people.”

The solution’s benefits extend beyond BP to the U.S. economy and to everyone who depends on it because, by enabling BP to get its operations up and running more quickly, the solution allows BP to continue supplying oil and gas to the U.S. economy with the least disruption.


Has your project fundamentally changed how tasks are performed?   Yes

How do you see your project's innovation benefiting other applications, organizations, or global communities?
The Hurricane Management Solution was originally conceived to respond to the narrow threat of hurricanes. But two factors have combined to extend the solution to communities throughout BP: First, individuals and groups at BP who see the solution are excited by it and conceive new uses for it. Second, the architecture of the solution readily lends itself to this extensibility.

BP is already at work extending the types of assets that are displayed by the solution, for ever more comprehensive understandings of how hurricanes and other disasters can affect the company. Supply chain data, for example, is being imported into the solution to identify what parts are stored in the company’s various warehouses—to expedite the retrieval of parts needed to start repairs after disaster strikes. The real-time locations of ships and helicopters are being added to expedite the dispatch of supplies to production and drilling platforms as part of rescue and aid efforts. To the solution, all of these assets are data sets that can be easily imported and displayed in exactly the same manner as the original data sets.

Beyond enriching the original Hurricane Management Solution, BP audiences are interested in creating new applications that take advantage of the solution’s data visualization and mapping intelligence capabilities. For example, a drilling unit can use the solution to overlay deep water loop current data with drilling platform locations to identify when currents will hinder drilling operations. The solution’s use of a Web portal and Web parts makes it easy to replicate its base functionality in other applications.


The Importance of Technology
How did the technology you used contribute to this project and why was it important?
The use of Microsoft technologies—including Microsoft SQL Server 2005, Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal 2003, and Microsoft Virtual Earth mapping and location service—and IDV’s Visual Fusion Server were essential to several key aspects of the solution: its rapid and cost-effective development and deployment, and its easy extensibility.

The use of Microsoft Visual Studio® 2005 along with SQL Server and SharePoint Portal Server enabled IDV to create a working prototype in just two weeks. At the core of the system was BP’s established architectural foundation: a Microsoft-based Service Oriented Architecture. With the prototype created so quickly, BP’s top exploration executives felt it was reasonable to see the completed solution in production on an equally fast track: for the start of the 2006 hurricane season, which gave the development team just three months.

The developers met that goal, as well as the requirements for cost-effectiveness, by taking advantage of BP’s existing infrastructure, rather than trying to recreate a new solution infrastructure from scratch. For example, much of the asset data that BP wanted to use already resided in SQL Server databases. The developers used SQL Server Integration Services to pull continually updated asset data into the solution’s SQL Server spatial data warehouse. They estimate that the use of existing infrastructure and Microsoft technologies cut the development time in half, making the three-month deadline possible.

BP chose the Microsoft Virtual Earth platform as the mapping and location service both because it was robust and fit-for-purpose, and because it would integrate more seamlessly and easily with BP’s existing Microsoft .NET-based infrastructure than other market-leading alternatives. On the basis of its discussions with all providers, BP also concluded that the licensing for Virtual Earth would be half as much as for other platforms.

IDV’s Visual Fusion Suite was another crucial component of the solution. The software uses Microsoft ADO.NET technology to pull asset information from the SQL Server 2005 warehouse, convert it to intelligent, spatially-formatted data, and send it to the SharePoint Portal Server portal as XML, where it is layered onto Virtual Earth mapping data.

All of this information—the integrated asset and mapping imagery—is housed in IDV Web parts that are contained in the portal. The use of a Web portal means that there is no desktop software to install. That cuts deployment time and cost to zero and allows any authorized user to immediately access the solution from anywhere in the world. Similarly, as the solution is updated and extended, there is no need to deploy additional software across BP’s global enterprise network. The use of other solutions would have required client software on every workstation, mooting these benefits.


Originality
What are the exceptional aspects of your project?
BP’s Brian Autio, the principal mapping lead for the crisis team, sees several exceptional aspects of the solution.

“We’ve never seen anything like it before – the ability to look at all the assets at one time, the simplicity of it, and the depth of detail,” says Autio. “Each of these factors by itself is extremely important. Taken together, they make up a truly exceptional intelligence solution.”
Another exceptional aspect of the solution, according to Fortune, is speed. The use of Web services to integrate weather data feeds means the solution is always displaying real-time information. Moreover, BP crisis team members gain the benefit of that speed because they don’t have to wait for the screen to catch up with the actions of the crisis team.

One of the things that differentiates this application from a lot of what we’ve seen is the lack of screen recovery time,” says Fortune. “You pan in and look at your data and it just happens. Other mapping applications can stall or take a long time for screens to update. When we’re in crisis mode, people can’t wait for the technology to catch up with them. If it took even 30 seconds for the screen to refresh, our people would turn it off.”


How is it original?
“The very concept of the solution is original,” says Mark Morrison, CEO at IDV Solutions. “You hear a lot about composite applications—mashups. This is a mashup on a global enterprise level. It combines internal data from enterprise systems, external data in the form of Web services, and composites that data with Virtual Earth global imagery and other mapping and location data provided as a service. The result is a highly focused view that addresses an extremely specific business need: protecting people and assets from hurricanes. Yet, it can also be easily adapted to address virtually any other business intelligence need of the enterprise.”

Is it the first, the only, the best or the most effective application of its kind?   Most effective

Success
Has your project achieved or exceeded its goals?   Exceeded

Is it fully operational?   Yes

How many people benefit from it?   27,000

If possible, include an example of how the project has benefited a specific individual, enterprise or organization. Please include personal quotes from individuals who have directly benefited from your work.
Real people are benefiting from the Hurricane Management System today. When tornados struck central Florida in February 2007, BP’s Hurricane Management team used the solution to identify employees in harm’s way. The information was exported to a Microsoft Office Excel 2003 spreadsheet and emailed to the humanitarian aid team. Team members there could open the spreadsheet and click on an employee’s name to bring up a Web page with a map of the person’s location, real-time status of roads and weather, and relevant details on the employee. The team then used that information to contact the employees as quickly as possible to ascertain their status and deliver aid as needed.

A powerful aspect of the solution is its ability to be used for crises completely unimagined when the solution was conceived and designed. For example, BP used the solution during a bombing incident in Philadelphia in 2006 to identify employees at risk and to deliver aid. While the solution was created for the Gulf states region, the worldwide coverage of the Virtual Earth platform enables it to be used for any crisis or situation, anywhere in the world.


How quickly has your targeted audience of users embraced your innovation? Or, how rapidly do you predict they will?
The embrace of the Hurricane Management System has been immediate and complete. Fortune and Autio report that every group and community within BP to which they’ve shown the solution has expressed strong interest in contributing to it or adapting it for additional applications. Top management, which had responded positively to the pilot, was equally enthusiastic. The intelligence solution was ready on June 1, 2006, for the start of the hurricane season, and was immediately put into production use by the Hurricane Management team, replacing all previous methods.

Global management in the U.K. is now planning to use the solution to enable BP to respond to worldwide pandemics, such as avian flu. Units such as pipeline management and supply chain operations are using or planning to use the solution to monitor the daily status—crisis or not—of their operations. As mentioned elsewhere, the drilling unit is able to integrate deep water current and drill location data to identify favorable and unfavorable times for drilling activities.



Difficulty
What were the most important obstacles that had to be overcome in order for your work to be successful? Technical problems? Resources? Expertise? Organizational problems?
The biggest challenge facing Information Management Director Steve Fortune was that three areas within BP were pursuing separate solutions for distinct but related problems: safeguarding people and providing humanitarian aid, predicting hurricane risk to physical assets; and assessing damage after the fact to facilitate repairs.

“It wasn’t inevitable that they’d pool their resources for a joint solution,” says Fortune. “They were looking at Google maps, ARC GIS software, and manual solutions. We understood that a single solution would benefit the company by eliminating the redundant development and maintenance effort, and by providing a greater, larger, more accurate store of information than any one solution would have.”

To convince the three areas to sign on for a common intelligence solution, Fortune demonstrated to them how that solution, based on Microsoft technologies easily integrated into the existing infrastructure, would give them more and better information, and greater ability to use the information for decision making, than they could get with isolated solutions.


Often the most innovative projects encounter the greatest resistance when they are originally proposed. If you had to fight for approval or funding, please provide a summary of the objections you faced and how you overcame them.
There was no fight for approval or funding. Top management approved the solution as soon as it saw the pilot. Functional areas considering independent solutions also signed on when presented with the greater functionality that the integrated solution could provide. The rich intelligence available with visualization of the combined information streams instantly demonstrated the compelling benefits.
Digital/Visual Materials
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