Some Thoughts on Assessing New Technologies
Glyn Hazelden PE
Hazelden Group

We live in a great time when technology is making significant strides forward, and changing our everyday lives. In the new environment of deregulation in the Gas Industry, there are dizzying arrays of alternatives to performing everyday tasks. Whether it is reading meters, installing pipes, acquiring data from remote sensing devices or introducing information systems, the list goes on. Unfortunately, along with the myriad of choices in new technology, there is the unenviable task of making sure that the technology is appropriate while avoiding the perils of blindly adopting newly emerging solutions.

Although it sounds elementary, sometimes the most basic questions are not fully answered before adopting a technology The introduction of potential technological advancements warrants investigation using an approach that minimizes risk.

Contrary to popular belief, most companies do not perform extensive economic review of technologies. The technology is typically assessed for its primary attributes with only a cursory examination of strengths and weaknesses. In order to gain the maximum advantage from new technology we should more appropriately review the key factors the will ensure success.

Is the Technology Developed Fully for Transfer to Commercialization?
Although early introduction of a new technology shows the potential that may be possible, it is important to confirm that the commercialization is a complete system that includes all aspects of what the system may require. If only part of the technology is available, it may severely limit use and change it from a blanket use to a niche use product. Has the package of available components been fully explained? The pressure to bring a new product to market sometimes means that not all peripherals are available which places limitations on the product’s use.

Does the Technology have the Manufacturer’sTechnical Support?
Sometimes early product introduction means the manufacturer has limited field use experience and the user is ostensibly on their own for resolving problems. This can be particularly true if a system is significantly modified to fit each company’s internal requirements. It is important to investigate this aspect as one of the decision-making tools. It will affect the use of the item if you want a turnkey package, but the manufacturer expects you to understand the product is not extensively field-tested for all application alternatives.

How will the Technology save costs
If a company is expecting cost savings then there should be a thorough economic analysis of what the technology will accomplish towards this end. It is possible that the technology can perform tasks or operations that could not be accomplished in the past. In that case there can be a cost-benefit analysis to ensure that the expenses are appropriate in comparison to what will be accomplished. In the economic analysis, capital costs, cost of implementation, operation and also training must be weighed against cost savings.
Occasionally "low tech" approaches have bottom line savings that are more effective than "high tech" solutions whose cost cannot be easily justified. Simple "off the shelf" components can be effective. It is important not to give any technology a "halo" effect that rationalizes its use despite cost/benefit analysis to the contrary.

Will the Technology affect Operational Efficiencies?
This aspect reminds the parties involved that many adopted technologies have a "ripple" effect throughout the organization. The cost/benefit of the adoption of the technology to all areas of the enterprise must be considered. Savings in one area may be over compensated by additional costs in other functional areas affected by the decision. A "whole cycle" approach should be taken for the analysis so that all parts of the corporation are on the same wavelength.

Is this a Niche, or a Blanket use Technology?
New technologies are successful when they are applied to the relevant problem to be solved. This may mean that the technology is specific to a unique problem and is very successful in that one arena. In these cases the company may find itself with a "toolbox" of different niche technologies to use for solving problems. Avoid a "one size fits all" approach when it doesn’t make sense.

Can current Personnel use it; will it need a Skilled Contractor?
The usefulness of technology is very specific to the appraising company. If the activities in question are outsourced, the adoption of the technology becomes more complicated. The company may chose to require contractors to use the technology, perform an analysis to determine if it will mean more or less costs for the contractor, and then negotiate terms accordingly.
New technology may be utilized by the acquiring corporation but will require a specially trained employee(s). These costs must be taken into account.

Is the Technology a "Closed" or an "Open" system?
A very important consideration for data acquisition, or computer-based technology, will be the commonality of protocols or file formats that it uses. Some protocols and file formats can be proprietary to the vendor’s own products, and would have difficulty transferring information to other corporate systems. The architecture of these devices should use common industry protocols in order to be as successful as possible.

Will it support the Preferred Infrastructure?
All corporations have internal systems and communication channels that are either in use, or planned for the future. Any new technology introduced should dovetail into these systems.

Are there Non Technical Considerations?
There are barriers to the introduction of new technology that can be non-technical in nature, which may produce stumbling blocks to their use. These considerations can be "political" or emotional in nature, and no amount of cost/benefit analysis addresses them. The organization will have long term and short term objectives that should be met. Any consideration of new technology should address internal management concerns that directly affect the approval process within the organization.

Where appropriately introduced, applied and used, new technology can help us face the significant challenges present in today’s competitive energy marketplace – let’s tap the full power of the technology by selecting the best for our purpose.