Building an Open Standard; 1991-1995
In 1991, the PPDM Association was incorporated in Alberta under the Societies Act, making it a membership-based, not-for-profit society. The first Annual General Meeting of the PPDM Association was held in Calgary, in the fall of 1991. It consisted of a technical gathering, with technical papers and workshops, as well as incorporation of the board and the official adoption of the PPDM Association name. (In 1994, a conference was added in Houston, in which technical papers and workshops were presented. In 1999, another annual conference was added in Australia. Increasingly, these conferences covered both data modeling and general data management issues.)
Ian King, who came onboard with the PPDM Association in February, 1991, recalls the early years. “I was the first, full time data modeler, but I also did the marketing and technical writing and conference logistics.” At the time, the PPDM Association didn’t have an office of its own. “We were real vagabonds, getting shifted from place to place. We started out in the Oracle office then moved to Canadian Hunter, then to Home Oil.” All of PPDM’s equipment had been donated. “We had a Digital System work station and an old McIntosh with a floppy disk drive for documentation.”
From the beginning, the PPDM Association laid down a collaborative process to build the open standard data model. Gathering together experts from around the world in a round-table format, standards and definitions for modules were discussed and agreed upon through a vetting process. David Fisher, a geologist with Shell in the early 1990s, was chairman of the PPDM Association board from 1994-98. “In the first half of the 1990s, PPDM was mostly focused on data model development,” says Fisher. “The data model grew quickly to cover well data, seismic locations, land and production.”
In 1993, PPDM and IBM agreed to establish a joint common data model. PPDM would provide its data model, and IBM would provide MERCURY LDM (logical data model) to PPDM. Sponsors would provide $2 million over three years to finance integration and ongoing support. “I think IBM saw it as a good opportunity to be introduced to the O&G community,” recalls King. “But it was a multimillion dollar venture, and there weren’t sufficient funds from the PPDM side to support it.”
During this time, another industry-sponsored organization for information standards, POSC, gained prominence with a sophisticated, theoretical, reference data model. “POSC positioned itself well within the executive suite,” says Yogi Schulz. "They were very well funded by several of the largest global oil companies.” In 1994 POSC and the PPDM Association collaborated on adapting the POSC model to an Oracle relational database system using PPDM's pragmatic development approach. Unfortunately, the test segments of the merged model did not show promise of success. “Faced with this reality, and our much more modest resources, we finally pulled the plug in 1995,” says Schulz.
The PPDM Association returned its focus to building an open standard, and adding modules. Starting in 1995, The PPDM Association began to work with industry participants on Special Projects. “These are projects that are funded by sponsors to meet a need that they have,” says Fisher. “The PPDM Association works with the sponsors to make it happen. One essential stipulation is that the results form part of the open standard.”
One of the first Special Projects was the Spatial Enabling project, in 1995, sponsored by ESRI, Talisman and Chevron. Spatial information is widely used within the petroleum industry to display seismic lines, land, wells and other surface features on maps. Incorporating spatial data would greatly enhance the value of PPDM. In later versions of the project (there have been four spatial projects), members worked out methods to incorporate GIS into the model, and identified risks and benefits to various methods. In January 1995, the PPDM Association had its first paid Executive Director, Mel Huszti, and an administrator, Carol Paulin. Trudy Curtis, the PPDM Association’s current CEO, came on board in early 1996 as a Data Modeler. “My first job was to turn ideas about seismic into a seismic data model,” says Curtis. A seismic model first appeared in Version 3.2, but it wasn’t embedded; it was a separate working piece that led to problems with integration. The PPDM Association had done extensive brainstorming on how the model should be improved, but the methodology, documentation and technical approach had not been formalized. “When I arrived, I had a three-foot high stack of flip chart papers and hand-written notes outlining ideas. These came from the early part of the data model’s development, and there had been a very free-wheeling approach to design. The model was poorly documented and there was no solid process – and the result was a bit of a patchwork quilt.”