Opinion piece: Unified data management solutions can help the petrochemical industry with better decision-making, efficiency and resilience

By Iniel Dreyer, Group Managing Director of Data Management Professionals South Africa and Gabsten Technologies

Iniel Dreyer
Iniel Dreyer

The petrochemical industry heavily depends on data for decision-making, operational efficiency, and compliance. However, it faces major challenges in managing data in remote sites with harsh environments and limited infrastructure. As a result, data sources are fragmented, with different formats and varying quality levels, which makes it difficult to integrate and protect sensitive and critical data.

The main challenge that organisations in the petrochemicals industry face is that of access to data. Most typically have head office environments and several remote sites, such as refineries, depots and even oil rigs, across which their data is stored. Even if they do have access to it, they also face the challenge of ensuring that it is properly classified.

Not all data is equal, so companies must ensure that they understand the criticality of different data for different things. Some data might be important for compliance but does not have to be readily available from an operational perspective. Yet other data could be very important in terms of safety, showing for example that a sensor for oxygen supply has failed.

Because of these many disparate sources of data that need to be analysed for decision-making, it would be better for petrochemical companies to store their data in a central location where they can measure trends across their entire business, instead of working with silos of data. This would also help them to be more proactive by predicting certain patterns, enable centralised data protection and data accessibility.

Not always accessible 

With data spread across disparate physical locations, petrochemical companies cannot always have a central repository for their data. They could go to the cloud but then critical applications, which are required at remote locations, might not be accessible when the internet goes down. So, it comes down to understanding the business and having hybrid solutions in place where data can still be accessed , enabling a remote location to continue to work independently if needed.

In terms of disaster recovery, keeping a copy of their data offsite can help companies to recover when something goes wrong. From a compliance point of view if any data goes missing or becomes corrupt due to a cyberattack, they have air-gapped, secure data accessible offsite that they can use to recover and still keep historic information as required. A single pane of glass for data management makes it easier to manage and control these various compliance and recovery objectives.

However, petrochemical companies often use various data management solutions across sites, which contributes to the complexity of data integration. With different systems, it is difficult to have a single view of whether all data is protected or whether there could be any potential exposure. With multiple data management solutions, organisations have to manually check systems that do not integrate and have to track which sites are protected with which application. This adds to administrative overheads for IT departments because different skill sets are required.

Mass recovery impossible

This creates issues for disaster recovery (DR), as  without a centralised solution and access  large scale disaster recovery is not viable, as IT teams have to use various systems and multiple processes. Yet, a centralised data management system does not mean that all data has to reside in one place, but can be stored at various locations, such as the cloud, in hybrid environments or onsite.

Petrochemical companies should adopt data management solutions that can cater for hybrid workloads with data that lives in data centres, remote sites or cloud environments. These solutions help companies understand where their data is, classify this data, understand  the importance of the data and enable data protection. This will define where specific data needs to live and how many copies of the data are needed.

It is also crucial to allow for data portability, which enables data recovery from one location to another. Companies must not limit how their businesses operate because of specific IT solutions that do not fit the requirements. They need to understand what they need and then put solutions around this to make it work.

By looking at the pain points related to their data management processes, companies must create a roadmap that considers disparate sites, different types of data and the criticality of this data. This is key to designing a data management solution. The roadmap should start with where the company is currently along its data management journey and progress to the end state where it wants to be in terms of security, compliance, cyber resilience and efficiency of data recovery. Only then should the plan be implemented in phases, to ultimately reduce complexity and improve operational efficiency and resiliency, empowering petrochemical companies with informed decision-making, operational efficiency and risk mitigation, thus driving competitive advantage.

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