AR didn’t solve the issue (but it made me realize a better solution)

spencer morrison
5 min readJul 13, 2021

I had the opportunity to lead the implementation of an augmented reality project for US onshore O&G operations. There were 3 business goals for this project:

  • Goal #1: Increase efficiency (jobs per day)
  • Goal #2: Improve action effectiveness (did the action make the well reliable & on target)
  • Goal #3: Enhance operator skillsets (automation, maintenance, troubleshooting, compression…)

Admirable goals, right? Well…

After several demonstrations, I watched the C Suite get hooked on the fantasy of AR. But once we rolled it out across the business, it was clear that we had no idea what we were solving for.

AR was a flashy “solution” that ultimately didn’t address the underlying problems because we never took the time to define the true issue.

I learned the hard way that you can achieve the above goals without millions of dollars, thousands of wasted work hours, and losing trust from the field staff.

I know what you’re thinking — how could AR fail this badly? Easy, just talk to those using it.

Operator: “Hey Spence, your video from the AR app is really grainy. It must be the reception, can you just facetime me?”

Operator: “I can’t get the AR app to start the procedure walkthrough.”
Me: “Are you standing next to the cone that marks the place to start?”
Operator: “Someone moved the cone…”
Me: “Nevermind, I’ll just text you the PDF steps for troubleshooting…”

Operator: “I can’t get the AR app to work. It’s not picking up any of the components on the RTU.”
Me: “Hold a towel up behind you, so the RTU is in the shade. I think we made the AR images for the procedure on a dark & cloudy day.”

How should AR work in operations?

The images below are examples of AR in operations. When an operator is at a well site, they can select a procedure like RTU troubleshooting and walk through the process while AR identifies the components to troubleshoot. AR applications also allow you to “phone a friend” so they can see what you are seeing and help you fix the issue.

You would think that following a defined AR process or walking through the issue in real-time with an operator would increase efficiency, improve effectiveness, and enhance skillsets. Have you figured out what’s missing yet?

AR glasses & phone images to walk the user through a procedure

Getting to the root of the issue

Unfortunately, this is yet another example of ill-thought-out technology forced upon the frontline. Instead of collaborating with front-line stakeholders and identifying the root cause issues, we inappropriately narrowed in on a single solution — AR. It was the only solution management could envision to meet efficiency, effectiveness, and skillset improvements. If you are thinking about AR, please ask yourself the following questions:

Is AR the only way to increase the efficiency of work?

I’ve got news for you, AR images on a phone or glasses aren’t going to be a key differentiator. Efficient work comes from quick, accurate problem diagnosis through well-defined identification & troubleshooting steps. What makes an operator efficient is the quality of the knowledge content, not the augmented reality. If you use AR or not, you will have to generate high-quality identification & troubleshooting steps.

Is AR the only way to improve the effectiveness of work?

Once the problem is identified, effective work is using best practices and knowledge to fix the issue. Operators can become more effective because of the high-quality knowledge behind the best practices, not the technology. I would take the most well-thought-out solutions to common problems over sexy tech any day.

Is AR the only way to enhance the field staff’s skillsets?

Skillset improvements come from operators given the opportunity & knowledge to solve new problems. Operators improve their skill sets as a byproduct of using knowledge-based identification, troubleshooting, and best practice solutions.

Do you still think AR is for you?

Trick question! AR isn’t the solution or even a piece of the solution. Instead ask yourself what is the best method to document, distribute, and continuously improve troubleshooting & best practices? AR is just another disconnected system outside of core operations workflows that will disrupt your teams’ productivity. Seriously…don’t do it.

How many individual vintages, types of wells, components, compressors, RTUs, PLCs, separators, rod lift units, pumps, wellheads, valves, meters, do you have that you would have to make AR procedures for? It took me 4 days to do an entire well site, and I couldn’t carry over the AR images to new locations. And if you think you will have a cool command center where the field phones for AR support via glasses!? Don’t waste your money, verbal communication over a cell phone and texting images is enough.

Lessons Learned

You don’t need fancy augmented reality applications to get more efficient and effective work. You just need to capture the knowledge of your team with descriptive steps, examples, and annotated images to elevate your team to high performance.

Tasq’s solution to more efficient and effective work

Tasq is creating a paradigm shift for operations by providing knowledge, capturing actions, and measuring success through reliability and production. Measuring success leads to continuous improvement of work… and this leads to what? Increased efficiency, improved effectiveness, and enhanced operator skillsets. If you aren’t measuring the success of your actions and continuously improving the knowledge of your team, what’s your business trying to do?

If you decide to go the AR route, you may end up wasting a year and have $500,000 of unused glasses sitting underneath a desk in some field office. Don’t worry… we all make poor decisions. As long as we learn from them, then they aren’t wasted entirely.

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