The Larger the Industry, the Larger the Potential of Social Media Tools


I just spent at least 15 minutes searching for some of my colleagues' blog posts about the amount of time that workers spend searching for information, so that I could link to them here. I consumed several dollars worth of my employer's time, and didn't exactly find what I was looking for, though I know it exists.


I perform this task several times a day, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. This is one of the activities examined in a Microsoft and Accenture study, carried out with PennEnergy and the Oil & Gas Journal Research Center, "Oil and Gas Collaboration Survey 2009." The larger the industry, and the more geographically spread out its members, the larger the numbers when it comes to efficiencies that technology may be able to promote. And this is an industry that puts up some big numbers, from record revenues in the last year to opportunities for savings now. The survey puts the amount that could be regained yearly through the use of social media tools for collaboration and knowledge-sharing near half a billion dollars for the oil and gas industry.


Teams searching for new energy resources at remote sites and an aging workforce that is steadily retiring and leaving without passing along institutional knowledge are two of the largest challenges in the industry, survey respondents said. That knowledge is now largely captured through the use of electronic file shares, databases and written documents, but most often in exit interviews, the survey found. Rather than that one-time opportunity to try to capture the employee's knowledge and get it down on paper, respondents named portals, social networking sites, video and photo sharing, blogs and wikis as newer tools that they would like to see better utilized for the knowledge transfer. And, of course, widespread use of these tools would spread the collaboration over not only a larger group of colleagues, but a longer period of time.


Of the engineers, geoscientists and managers surveyed, 70 percent cited collaboration and knowledge-sharing as key to increasing revenue, cutting costs and improving working conditions. But only about a third think their companies are on the right track in this area. Will an industry that is slow to change, but facing intense pressure to lead other global industries in innovation during the global economic crisis, begin to realize those multi-million dollar efficiencies by relying more on social media tools to communicate and collaborate? If it doesn't begin the process in earnest now, it may well find itself doing so under duress in the relatively short term. Microsoft's Mike Sternesky writes that the Society of Petroleum Engineers forecasts that 50 percent of its 67,000-strong membership will retire during the next 10 years, for example. In the shorter term, more veterans will be lost, as oil and gas companies cut capital budgets and workforces for 2009.


And in my search, I found a great recent post by our Ann All on getting users to warm up to wikis. The information here on addressing users' needs and concerns would be applicable for other types of collaborative tools.