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How ExxonMobil is drilling for unified data to fuel business capabilities

Mark Samuels Profile picture for user Mark Samuels August 7, 2023
Summary:
The multi-national oil and gas giant has created a cloud-based platform for the creation of insight and the exploitation of emerging technology.

drilling

ExxonMobil has developed a centralized data hub using Snowflake technology that is helping the oil and gas giant to build a consolidated foundation for all enterprise information.

ExxonMobil has spent the past 18 months collapsing the number of siloed data stores across the organization into a single platform. Today, Snowflake sits at the heart of the company’s data ecosystem strategy and allows the company to have a joined-up view of information. Andrew Curry, Manager of the Central Data Office at ExxonMobil, explains: 

We have a centralized place where we have multiple business capabilities coming together. That data is being built into data products and consumed by both applications and analytics.

This approach became increasingly crucial to executives as they recognized the company would be unable to make the most of its information assets without such a platform. Bringing information together in a single place makes it much easier for the business to achieve its data-led targets at an enterprise-wide scale, says Curry: 

They're saying, ‘How do we create a global supply chain for the whole corporation?’ and, ‘How do we create a single order-to-cash system for the whole corporation?’ You can only do that kind of thing if you break down the data silos.

ExxonMobil has a complex business environment that means it has historically relied on 10 different ERP systems. Curry says the business wanted a consolidated view of this enterprise data: 

Having a single pane of glass into finance really reduces time and effort. It means we have new analytical insights and capabilities because we can access information across that broader view. Also, this data is instantaneously connected and continuously available to the business.

Data architects in the Central Data Office use the cloud-based environment to work on projects for various lines of business, whether that’s in supply chain, trading or somewhere else. Curry explains:

It's allowed us to drive consistency and speed. We're not curating data twice. Data is purposely built with the intention of reuse. And it's much quicker to redeploy that data. So, we’ve really sped up multiple initiatives across the corporation and we’re getting to value faster.

By bringing information together and enriching it with third-party insight, ExxonMobil has a much broader view of the data it holds and can look for cross-organization opportunities that it might otherwise have missed. Curry suggests: 

For example, do people who buy this chemical product also buy this lubricant product and, if they don’t, should they? It sounds simple, but when that data is not easily accessible, those types of things are harder to do. Now, with Snowflake, that information is coming instantaneously to the business owners.

Building a platform

ExxonMobil was already using Snowflake in smaller pockets across the business, so the IT department was already aware of its strengths. After evaluating a range of platforms and providers two years ago, the company selected Snowflake because it was keen on the platform’s features and its multi-cloud approach:

ExxonMobil operates in a lot of countries – we’re a large, complex corporation. We also wanted a technology that we could control and that would allow us to manage the costs. Access to these features is what helped us say that Snowflake would meet our requirements.

As well as the Snowflake Data Cloud, ExxonMobil uses some of the vendor’s other services. Curry’s team is beginning to make use of the Snowpark development framework. The company is also a big user of the Snowflake Data Marketplace, which is a collaboration space that allows companies to exploit a variety of third-party datasets. Curry says ExxonMobil aims to make more use of the Marketplace going forwards:

We have quite a significant amount of third-party data that we acquire every year. We believe the fastest way to integrate our data is to either acquire it through the Data Marketplace or through a direct share with a peer who also uses Snowflake. Where speed matters and time is money, the Marketplace provides clear advantages to us.

Curry recognizes Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) will be key technologies going forwards. It’s impossible to be successful in those areas unless you have access to high-quality data. With the preparatory work on data strategy that’s already been undertaken, Curry says the company is well placed to take advantage of whatever comes next:

You can't have an AI/ML strategy unless you have a data strategy first. And so, in that sense, we're well positioned. We now have a secure data strategy. We know what data is ready for advanced AI and ML capabilities, and which isn't.

When it comes to his thoughts on Snowflake, Curry does have a word of caution for other business and digital leaders – with any consumption-based tool, you need to monitor its use and put best-practice policies in place:

We've been very fortunate to have done our due diligence, but we very actively monitor and manage our Snowflake environment. So we have staff who ask, ‘Are you right sizing the environment for these queries? Have you over-configured this? Do you have poorly written queries that are inefficient?'.

He advises other IT leaders to proceed with care, especially when they first start using Snowflake:

In those early days when you're building your foundation – and if you only see cost growth, because there's a lag when the value comes afterwards – you're going to be defensive on your journey. So, leverage Snowflake appropriately. Understanding how to manage it is the key to being successful.

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