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Earth Explorer is an online source of news, expertise and applied knowledge for resource explorers and earth scientists. Sponsored by Geosoft.

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Data Connections

Troy Wilson

How are you connecting with your data?

There was a time when the biggest data problem within the geosciences was the dearth of data, not enough data to support discovery and exploration projects. As more of the world's earth data is collected, digitized and stored in private, corporate and public databases, the problem has quickly become how to deal with the digital geoscientific data explosion.

There are now vast amounts of available data, and the challenge is how to help geoscientists connect with it to solve their discovery puzzle - whether that's pinpointing where to explore for minerals, oil, or understanding the characteristics of an environmental site for remediation.

Geoscientists need to be able to find data, evaluate it based on information about the data (metadata), retrieve it, either in native file formats or by translating the data directly into the context of their applications. Once found, verified and converted into a usable format, the data is analyzed, visualized, interpreted and used to support conclusions, and arrive at decisions that lead to action, which can be both critical and costly. We call this the Data Experience. It is through the Data Experience that geoscientists build knowledge from their data. In this article we take a look at how data management solutions and new technologies are helping to improve the data experience, thereby contributing to reduced risk and better results for exploration companies and geoscience organizations.

The ultimate data experience

What is the ideal data experience? For many geoscientist end users, it's about being able to find, connect and extract value from their data faster and easier. This means having easy access to all available data, and the applications needed to work with the data, via a single interface on their desktop. It's the ability to quickly search and query from local databases and data servers, as well as public servers available on the Internet. It's being able to count on the data's quality and completeness. Finally, geoscientific discovery is an iterative and intuitive process, and the seamless flow of data - often multidisciplinary and available in different projections and formats - across applications is important. As is the ability to quickly add new data as it becomes available to continually evolve our understanding of a changing picture.

Business case for better data connections

Behind the scenes, there are solid business issues driving the requirement for stronger, centralized connections between people, workflows and their data assets. The case for investing in data management solutions often includes financial considerations, protecting and maximizing data asset value on the one hand, and minimizing cost of discovery on the other. When you consider that, within exploration, 1 in 1000 projects explored move into a production environment that delivers return to the shareholder or investor, and that 90% of mines are on properties that have already been explored, it's not hard to make a case for managing your data assets to support smarter exploration. There are also security issues, quality issues, and compliance with regulatory requirements.

The benefits of data management solutions

Formal data management solutions address many of these issues, significantly increasing the value of data resources by establishing stronger connections between data and data consumers.

Improvements in data management help to focus geoscientists on the decision and not the workflow problems, by enabling them to spend more time on data interpretation and knowledge development and less time on data chores and data management issues. Having a consistently reliable flow of data to support projects, increases the number of projects that can be progressed within a given budget cycle. Organizing and managing your data supports effective collaboration and information sharing with consumers, partners and investors. It protects your investment in past data acquisition and makes old data more valuable by enabling it to be leveraged for future projects.

At the end of the day, it's about reducing risk and increasing both the speed, time to market, and quality of business decisions to improve results. Stronger data connections deliver better results.

Developing an exploration data management strategy

Developing an exploration data management (EDM) strategy that connects your data repositories with your data users, within the context of your organization, can be a daunting challenge. Here is a guide to some of the key characteristics of an EDM solution, and some considerations when developing your EDM strategy.

1. Scope of EDM. EDM solutions must address the three key barriers to effective exploration data management: 1) getting exploration data and information into your company repositories, 2) creating a secure environment where data can be catalogued and metadata can be added, managed and maintained for data QC and compliance, and 3) getting data out to data-consumers in a usable format.

2. Simplicity. To add value data management has to immediately contribute to results and minimize efforts. Simplicity is the key here, and it starts with having the right process for getting data in and out of your system. EDM must be supported with a single, well defined and easy process to get data in to the system. It must have one single, way for data users to extract data and get value from the system.

3. Data Repositories. To start, it's recommended you choose one or two repositories for your EDM project. Different data types, geochemistry, drilling, geophysics, geology/GIS, 3D modeling, place different demands on the repository and require different supporting technology. Our experience is that an exploration company will need up to six or seven separate data repositories, each supported by different technology. Examples of exploration Data Repository technologies range from common File systems to data storage systems like acQuire, ArcSDE and specialized 3D systems such as Fractal or GoCAD.

4. Middleware. Middleware is a solution for connecting data users with back-end data repositories. The reality of having multiple repositories, each with its own data access methodologies, limitations and capabilities, complicates data search, extraction and delivery to endusers. Middleware, like Geosoft DAP, creates value by connecting to the various systems, and handling tasks like data cataloguing, managing and maintaining metadata to support effective and standards based user access to data.

5. Performance. There are performance issues inherent in accessing the very large data sets consumed in exploration. Middleware is helpful in resolving these issues. For example, Geosoft DAP performs the function of extracting, windowing, translating, compressing and streaming data to its clients. Repository technologies typically require high-bandwidth access to the data stores. Because of the compression and streaming using standard HTTP, DAP can provide data access over low-bandwidth connections.

6. Integration and Implementation. Integration of your EDM with your data repositories, and its overall fit within your organization is critical to making it all work for you. Choose experienced middleware integrators that have experience with large volume geoscience data, and the services to support your roadmap development, systems integration and global implementation (if that's required in your organization).

Troy Wilson is VP, Marketing with Geosoft.