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Don’t Tell Them You Are Using Excel

Some handy oilfield calculators from the days of the slide rule. Source: Stephen Rassenfoss

It may be time for engineers to realize Microsoft Excel is a bad look.

The chief information officer for Chevron, Bill Braun, suggested as much when he said that at work he “describes Excel as the new slide rule.”

The ubiquitous spreadsheet program dates to the early 1980s, around the time when the first millennials were born. If their parents were engineers, those youngsters may have seen slide rules, which Wikipedia describes as “mechanical analog computers”— before the birth of battery-powered calculators made them technological relics.

Braun said the same is now true for Excel when it comes to the world of big data and analytics.

“It is something we have got to retire. You know it has served its purpose. It’s been great but let’s see it in the rearview mirror and move on. There are so many better tools coming out,” he said during the plenary session of the IADC/SPE International Drilling Conference.

Braun said Chevron managers should “spot Excel like they spot paper” as a practice that does not support the company’s drive to become a digital technology leader, competing for the best and brightest talent with the Googles of the world.

On his list of Excel flaws, it is a “terrible collaboration tool” and also falls short as a repository of records. While Excel can still be a handy way to quickly test an idea, “you can make a lot of mistakes with it.”

He spoke at the conference in Galveston, Texas, where sessions addressed the painstaking process of creating drilling plans so detailed they may someday be the basis for automated drilling plans. The layers of numbers, workflows, and schedules—often entered using specific terminology—was mind-numbing.

John de Wardt, a drilling operations consultant known for his role in creating the Drilling Systems Automation Road Map, said Excel is not capable of holding and reliably delivering that detail. Excel spreadsheets are the repositories of decades worth of work by engineers, but some are so old the links to key information are all broken.

 “Using Excel to do scheduling is like running a Daytona 500 in a Ford Focus,” he said.

Don’t Tell Them You Are Using Excel

Stephen Rassenfoss, JPT Emerging Technology Senior Editor

05 March 2020

No editorial available

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