On transparency and roadmaps: The Oil & Gas Roundtable

by Staff Reporter | December 31st, 2012

While solutions providers wanted end-users to articulate their problems more clearly, end-users were looking for a clear roadmap from satellite solutions providers. The inaugural SatellitePro Oil and Gas Roundtable at the Yas Viceroy hotel on November 14, 2012, saw a candid exchange of views between satellite solutions providers and end-users in the oil and gas vertical.

Sponsored by Hermes Datacomms, Thuraya, Safa Telecom, Xsat Global and Cygnus Telecom, the roundtable generated a debate on all issues ranging from the extent of free trials for customers and the value vs. cost debate, to criticality of SLAs and getting “that foot in the door”.

Moderator Martin Hughes of Hermes Datacomms kept true to his word and steered the discussion from any sales pitches ensuring that the exchange was about creating a genuine conversation between the satellite solutions providers and end-users in the oil and gas vertical.

“We want to get people for whom data and telecommunications is a vital part of their daily life to talk about what makes them happy or drives them insane – both suppliers and customers,” he had stated in an interview prior to the roundtable.

Given below are extracts from the two-hour long exchange.

How do you get that foot into the door? Would free trials help?

Dominique Audion, Safa Telecom

Dominique Audion: We could have a free trial for a short period, but we try to be careful. Most importantly, we want our clients to understand the capabilities and limits of the technology. Moreover, we try to adapt our solutions to their needs.

When it comes to a free trial, you need to specify a time period – Fahad Kahoor, Director of Market Development, Enterprise, Thuraya

Fahad Kahoor: When it comes to a free trial, you need to specify a time period. What we have done is to create a platform to present new technology. We have two milestones in a calendar year, where we organise specific forums. Our current and potential customers are invited to study the development of products and have an idea of the roadmap. It is an arena for us to exchange and educate.

Gleb Larionov: I believe that if you do not pay for it you will not appreciate it. When you look at the evolution of the industry and our customers’ needs, data needs are growing every week. The pipe is the same considering that a satellite has a lifetime of 15 years. So we have rigid options. The customer wants more and wants to pay less. We would love to do that and that is where compression and other adjustments come into play. Cheaper is not always good. We need to generate value.

What would end-users like to see – are they only interested in getting services for less cost?

End-user: If we can get the same service at a lower price, of course, we would be interested. But we are also interested in the new technologies that allow solutions providers to offer turnkey services. The new bandwidths such as Ka-band and the associated benefits  also interest us greatly.

The clear differentiator is the value-added services solutions providers can offer the end-user.

Gleb Larianov, Xsat Global

Gleb Larionov: The industry is moving beyond hardware. The clients make the mistake of bargaining on hardware and when things go wrong, they will spend so much on technician. Solutions providers detest hardware. End-users should come to us for the services. Regarding hardware, there is enough information online and we could advise the client  free of charge about the best option available.

Nabil Ben Soussia: We know the satellite is already there. That is a given. We need to adapt and work with the technology. It is not always about increasing the pipe, but also about sending more in the same pipe.

Fahad Kahoor: One of the key elements for oil and gas during exploration is filtering the massive data they need to send. The new technologies allow us to offer intelligent upstream solutions.



“What would I like to know about an end-user…his favourite restaurant and bar”

“Cost is secondary for the end-user. This industry is niche – you do not argue cost when buying a BMW!”

“I think we should have a global blackout and write to each other and appreciate what we have today”

“Receiving the first payment is a milestone crossed”

“Getting a call from the client on the weekend after 7pm is never good news”

“Do you expect me to reveal my budget? In the three decades I have worked, I have not disclosed my budget to any solutions provider”

“Some of the clients do not understand how to explain their needs and ask for equipment out of a James Bond  movie”

“The client may even abuse the privilege of a free trial”

It is well known that any downtime in the oil and gas operations could cost the end-user enormously. How much would the end-user be willing to invest by way of cost, to avoid downtime?

Dominique Audion: A typical oil and gas rig site offers a more complicated picture than what we imagine. Some operations are critical no doubt. But there is a range of activity such as welfare, where the client is keen to look at a cost effective solution. So the same company will have varied approaches depending on the criticality of their needs.

End-user: We are concerned with SLAs. That is an indication of the commitment from the supplier. I agree with Dominique – for some functions we need high SLAs – but access to Facebook is not mission critical.

“A decade ago, you would have needed a week to set things up on a rig. Now in the next two to three years, end-users may not need us” – Gleb Larianov, General Manager, Xsat Global Fze

Gleb Larionov: Other than varied needs, we also have varied customers as solutions providers. From the oil majors to customers in Balochistan who have never heard of  SLAs but who, for instance want the equipment in a particular colour, of all the factors! I believe that the satellite industry is a victim of its success. A decade ago, you would have needed a week to set things up on a rig. Now in the next two to three years, end-users may not need us. Some smart employee on the rig will set it up and with satellite operators working directly with verticals, what stops an operator from signing up with an oil major directly?

Tayeb Zemzem, Cygnus Telecom

Tayeb Zemzem: When you speak of value added services, you create an expectation and it is critical to fulfill that to win the trust of the client. Value added services always create a loyal client in my experience. Also with core services, the value added feature has to be customised and specified at every level.

End User: For us the main concern is to reach our own target markets. While cost is a factor, our business requirements and operational efficiency is of primary importance. The solution provider needs to understand my requirement and provide a solution and create a value added element depending on my main concerns – which is really simple – if the link is down – the business suffers.

How do we discover this business? Do we buy lunch? If I am not an existing supplier, how do I come up with an appropriate roadmap?

Tayeb Zemzem: As solutions providers, we often make the mistake of going directly to the client and offering our range of services. We forget to listen to the client and understand his needs. The success of our business relates to the success of his business.

End-user: We have a strategy and roadmap based on our business goals. As far as our concerns with regard to communications solutions go, we are looking for alternatives to cable to overcome the risk of cable failure. We are searching for viable satellite-based solutions to ensure redundancy of crucial communications links.

Nabil Ben Soussia, Safa Telecom

Nabil Ben Soussia: Knowledge of the market is critical along with a thorough knowledge of technologies and solutions available. Most importantly, the client should be offered solutions for his particular needs and should not feel that you are pushing what you have in stock.

Fahad Kahoor: Typically it takes two to three meetings to fully grasp the client’s problems. At times we are lucky to meet customers who understand what they want, from fixed and portable solutions to bandwidths available. With such clients it is easy from the first meeting onwards.

End-user: In large companies, solutions providers should not expect to meet the specialist who will use the solutions. You will meet a middle man, who will need to analyse the various options and to whom a proof of concept will have to be demonstrated.

Fahad Kahoor, Thuraya

And despite SLAs, we often see solutions providers disappear on the basis of some small print. We need the providers to be more proactive and transparent in their operations. Internally, we as decision makers have to face the brunt of any failure in communication links – so it is vital for solutions providers to keep us informed constantly.

End-user: We expect the solutions provider to be proactive. Since we have to build five-year plans, we need to have visibility vis-à-vis the roadmap. I expect the solutions provider to know his product well and I definitely need after sales service.

How do clients and solutions providers approach the much-touted about concept of transparency?

End-user: I face transparency issues with my current solutions providers. We are not told about downtimes etc. And these providers should appreciate the fact that my team has to face the music first with the management. While communications is just a fringe element, when it is down, it affects our entire business. Currently, we have an MPLS line to the Far East provided by a Singapore-based telco and we have an MPLS line with local provider in the UAE. We are looking for alternatives, but the alternatives are all terrestrial which does not solve our problem of complete redundancy.

“We can be flexible with our solutions – but we need the end-user to be transparent about his needs” – Shabeer Mohammed, Managing Director, Cygnus Telecom

Shabeer Mohammed, Cygnus Telecom

Shabeer Mohammed: We can be flexible with our solutions – but we need the end-user to be transparent about his needs. Only then can we create a win-win situation and offer a roadmap that is both viable and effective in the long run.

What are the new exciting technologies to look forward to?

Martin Hughes: For me personally, O3b is exciting – it could be a game-changer or it could fall flat.

Fahad Kahoor: The GSM networks are already into 3G and 4G. In the satellite industry we are into 2.5G and we are looking forward to the 3G implementation.

Tayeb Zemzem: Ka-band will really change the market, I believe. The antenna is smaller, it is more mobile – and we should see radical changes over the next three to four years.

Gleb Larionov: With the satellite-based technologies, any service indoor, would be a plus. Also the user interface should be simplified through a simple tablet providing full control via a simple and clean dashboard.

End-user: Issues of latency are still crucial in the satellite industry. We are looking at smaller satellite terminals with video, voice and data on one single system.

“With the need to move more data , compression tools are critical because the pipe will always be small” – Nabil Ben Soussia, Managing Director, Safa Telecom

Nabil Ben Soussia: With the need to move more data , compression tools are critical because the pipe will always be small. I am looking forward to the new H.265 compression standards that is roughly twice as effective as the current standards to deliver higher quality and more efficient compression.

Whose connection is it anyway? End-users and solutions providers debate the thorny issues of data security and areas of responsibility.

End-user: The service provider manages the link till the router and within that area, it is his responsibility. While we as end-users want transparency in the working of the link, if the link drops, it is the responsibility of the service provider.

Gleb Larionov: Outsourcing is a client decision. Historically, in this region, the end-user  prefers to do everything within their organisation and when there are multiple providers, it is difficult to pinpoint who is responsible in case of a failure.

End-user: We outsource because that is not our core business. But we want to manage end-to-end data security. Also increasingly, our employees want access to Facebook and other social media sites. We do not provide this on the corporate network and the SLAs need to be worked out separately. On the rig, typically, there is a designated area where employees can access the internet – we do not charge them for it but at the same time there are no guarantees of complete reliability of the network.

Nabil Ben Soussia: It is a mistake to offer encryption. As solutions providers, we have to offer options that work with whatever encryption tool the client has. Since we rarely deal with people using our products we need to monitor our links to ensure that the customer is getting the service we were contracted for.

You could physically separate the links for corporate and employee welfare, but would that be an investment the client is willing to undertake? – Martin Hughes, Account Manager, Hermes Datacomms

Martin Hughes, Hermes Datacomms

Martin Hughes: You could physically separate the links for corporate and employee welfare, but would that be an investment the client is willing to undertake? The solution provider could offer bandwidth management solutions where low latency, high quality links are given for mission-critical purposes and administrators can control and prioritise network usage.

Fahad Kahoor: We offer a dashboard system to monitor the links. There is also frequent dialogue between the client and our solutions providers in case of sudden peaks, crew overshooting the use of bandwidth and so on.

Nabil Ben Soussia: No news from the client is not necessarily good news. No news would most probably mean he is talking to the competitor down the road. We want to be proactive. For instance, if he does not call and at the end of month he gets a big bill, he will not be pleased that we did not alert him in time. We need to monitor the network. If we detect high traffic, it need not necessarily be a happy situation. It could be a virus.

Tayeb Zemzem: Some clients are unhappy if we block the subscription in case we detect any problems. It is a delicate situation. The easy part is to sell; the difficult part is after-sales service.

The easy part is to sell; the difficult part is after-sales service – Tayeb Zemzem, Executive Manager, Corporate Sales, Cygnus Telecom

What would you like to see discussed in the next roundtable?

End-user: We would like to see case studies discussed and we would also like to receive feedback on the Ka- band system. Every 18 months, we need to double the bandwidth availability and we would like to see costs of satellite networks compare favourably with terrestrial networks. Overall we are aware of costs of various technologies. We evaluate based on technology and not cost. It is crucial for us to get value, not just reduce cost.

Islam Bugbul: While we would like transparency on all issues, we should have a frank discussion on pricing structures and talk about the whole issue of legacy products and how we can work to integrate new solutions around those products.

Shabeer Mohammed: It would be useful to have an insight into the technical solutions clients are looking for, prior to the next meeting, and while we are talking about advantages, we should highlight the downside of various new technologies as well.

Dominique Audion: I would like to know more about the clients’ vision for the next three to four years. It is also important as solutions providers to spell out the limits of the products. We also need to meet people from procurement because they are often not convinced about satellite-based solutions. They believe they are expensive.

Fahad Kahoor: Among other issues, I would like to discuss with end-users their wish-list with regard to SCADA management.

More images of the roundtable are at http://www.satelliteprome.com/influencers-roundtables/gallery






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