Zedi: Persevere and pivot: How an oil and gas technology company can thrive
Zedi celebrates its 30th birthday this year. It's best known in the oil and gas industry for its software-as-a-service (SaaS) support to the upstream sector and for its Smart-Alek device which offers complete remote flow monitoring via cell or satellite, and works under almost any weather condition.
By allowing producers to outsource construction and operation of remote asset monitoring and SCADA infrastructure, saving them the expense of building telecom and IT infrastructure required to monitor or control wells, it soon captured almost the entire Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) market. Today Zedi's customer base is global and its credentials well-established among oil and gas producers, particularly the more entrepreneurial SMEs in that space.
Today, even the larger multinationals are finally moving towards SaaS to manage their assets, says James Freeman, who has been with Zedi for the last 10 years. As CTO and President, New Ventures, and as an engineer, he believes that disruptive innovation, in the sense intended when the term was coined by Dr. Clayton Christensen, is really about changing the business model rather than technology per se.
The potential of the IIoT has given Zedi a huge opportunity, he says, to leverage its expertise and domain knowledge to support its business outcomes.
“A great example of such an opportunity is exactly the managed service that Zedi has provided to O&G companies. You need data and insights to run your business but it does not follow that you therefore need to do the collection of that data, or even a base level of analytics on that data, yourself. You need the outcome of that effort.”
“I believe the advanced manufacturing organization of the future will be an ecosystem where partner companies provide specialized expertise that is non-core, allowing the manufacturer the resources to focus on what is truly IP-building, core domain knowledge required to differentiate itself in the market.”
This is already the experience of Zedi's oil and gas customers, who use Zedi’s underlying IIoT platform to connect their sensors and actuators in the field, manage these devices and gather information about the current state of their remote assets and the production process these assets support.
If something anomalous occurs in the process, real-time configurable analytics alert the customer, so follow-up action can be taken. This allows customers to contain the impact, minimizing down-time and potential loss of production. The other part of the solution gives them the ability to see the results in a coherent form that allows them to make the decisions needed so that the well or associated upstream gathering facilities may be optimized.
Zedi AccessTM and Zedi Go are the customer-facing software elements of the platform, developed over the past 15 years in partnership with world class companies including Dell, ABB, MultiTech and Emerson on the hardware side and Microsoft, Oracle and Tableau for specialized application software, that provide a familiar and simple-to-use customer interface.
No other company, says Freeman, can offer Zedi's level of integration from sensor to the cloud or responsiveness to technology trends and market needs. Neither do they bring the same level of personal support to a robust automated infrastructure.
“Customers can come to us to analyze their business problems, engineer solutions, then procure the equipment, install, commission, and operate it.” IIoT is an ecosystem, he emphasizes. It's about a lot more than just collecting data and analysing it – all businesses are faced these days with the stark fact that they must digitise or die. The IIoT loop starts with sensors (which convert physical reality into data), runs through a decision process involving people or increasingly, people assisted by analytics, and then potentially returns to the field with actuators (the devices that convert data back into physical reality, typically through mechanical means).
However, future growth in oil and gas is restricted by a dearth of new wells coming on stream. Zedi's platform, refined in the most challenging environments met with in the oil and gas sector, is perfectly suited for adaptation in a number of other industries.
Having proved that its value proposition works, its strategy is to persevere with its existing customer base and at the same time to pivot to face other industries, equally faced with an urgent need to digitise, which would benefit by adopting the same solutions.
The food industry is of pressing importance globally, with a value chain that stretches 'from field to fork', Freeman points out. “We have to feed billions off a shrinking land base and farmers have had to adopt technology at a rapid rate – for example, field machinery works almost without human intervention controlled by GPS. With traceability, whether of arable or livestock products an absolute requirement, a huge data lake is built up as they move from producer to processor to retail to consumer.”
Another industry experiencing disruption is energy generation, particularly with the advent of distribution energy resources (DER). The total installed base of operational PV systems, to take just one example, surpassed 300 GW globally at the end of 2016. As the solar industry continues to mature, the focus is turning to asset management, a term used in the power industry to describe the financial, commercial, legal and technical management of power plants and other assets.
“What these industries have in common with oil and gas is a reliance on underlying distributed assets that support some kind of industrial process, whether it is manufacturing hydrocarbons, food, or electricity,” Freeman explains. “Gaining insight into the health of those assets, and using analytics to both optimize and safeguard process integrity, is common to all manufacturing. But many industries' assets operate outside, spend much of the time in darkness, are exposed to weather or environmental hazards, are often off-grid, and require low power wireless technologies for connectivity. All these are problems that Zedi is good at solving.”
The company is very good at seeking out trends and innovations, evaluating them, and, where there is advantage, integrating them into its platform.
A case in point is low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) technology, which has especial relevance in remote monitoring situations. Before it added support for LPWAN technology to its IIoT gateway fleet, Zedi could only connect devices through wired connections, limiting the number of devices connected and their range.
Zedi can now create an LPWAN hotspot, up to 10 kilometres in radius, allowing any number of LPWAN-capable devices within the hotspot to communicate with the Gateway. And since most devices are not yet LPWAN-capable, Zedi created a small new low-cost, low power hardware product called a Zedi Mote to connect to existing devices, and make them LPWAN-capable.
The speed with which Zedi integrated this technology, combined with its use to pivot Zedi’s solution set into other industry verticals, won it the 2017 Outstanding Product Achievement Award from the Canadian Advanced Technology Association (CATA).
As Freeman puts it: “LPWA technology in particular will be a key enabler of the IIoT, and we're excited to be at the forefront of introducing our technology not only to our customer base in oil and gas, but also into other attractive growth sectors.”