When Developers Meet the North Sea

If you, like most of us, haven’t experienced life at an offshore platform – you’re in for a treat. Our software developers got to hop on a helicopter and take to the seas to experience Johan Sverdrup first hand

One of Equinor’s major digitalization projects is named Digital Twin and takes on the challenge of creating digital copies of all our physical assets – both from land and offshore. Working conditions vary greatly from land to offshore, and there are bound to be challenges with every solution we develop.

This is why the Digital Twin teams were invited out to Johan Sverdrup, so they could really find out what it’s like to use their own solutions in extreme conditions. It was the Johan Sverdrup team themselves who decided to host our developers offshore.

Harald Wesenberg from Software Innovation has been coordinating the work on the developer end of it and was excited to see what the trip would bring.

“The goal was to try our solutions in the field and we really got to put them to the test. Especially on one of the days, where we had 20 meters per second winds. Strong winds and extreme weather is the norm when working offshore,” Harald explains.

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“Even though we always take the weather and other conditions into account, it’s something else entirely to experience it yourself. We can always improve in terms of understanding the situations our users face everyday.” 

Harald Wesenberg

 Vegar Imsland was a driving force in making it all happen from the Johan Sverdrup side, and he tells us that they had the future in mind:

“In the next versions of the Digital Twin, there are features that will require more and more testing offshore to ensure quality and usability. And if we’re going to be able to achieve this, we’re going to need more software resources with offshore certificates."

Check out these photos from the developer's trip to Johan Sverdrup! (All photos: Harald Wesenberg)

Rock You Like a Hurricane

Thanks to Harald, a skilled photographer, you can enjoy a handful of photographs from Johan Sverdrup in combination with hearing what our developers thought of the trip. Among them was Andreas Langberg from Software Innovation (SI) Trondheim, who was quite excited to head out, yet still found himself positively surprised.  

“I was expecting it to be more like a sightseeing trip where we just got to check out the platform for the fun of it. But in the end it proved to be really useful, which I didn’t expect at all,” Andreas says.

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The weather was on their side with little rain but they got to feel the strong winds themselves. Offshore conditions are far from like the ones inside our offices, which provided the teams with some rather frustrating situations. Like what Marianne Slørdahl experienced when trying to align the HoloLens model.

“When I had finally managed to align the model I was knocked over by the strong winds, which felt like a hurricane. This got me completely out of sync so I had to re-align it,” she says.

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You have to be a little bit handy while offshore, even as a developer. Before they could head out with the Hololens kit they had to attach it to a helmet.
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Strips keep the glasses safely attached to the helmet, allowing for much-desired maneuverability.

You have to be a little bit handy while offshore, even as a developer. Before they could head out with the Hololens kit they had to attach it to a helmet.

Strips keep the glasses safely attached to the helmet, allowing for much-desired maneuverability.

“I also had to take the big black gloves off to be able to write properly on the HoloLens virtual keyboard.  My fingers got extremely cold and this resulted in a lot of typo’s, which was very frustrating. In the end my fingers were so cold I had to give up,” Marianne adds.

“We learned a lot about which protective gear (such as gloves) worked under real conditions. This will be crucial in ensuring that our solutions can be used with full protective gear while in challenging conditions,” Harald explains.

Even though they had a guide, Andreas and the rest of the team had quite a lot of freedom to move around and go where they wanted when out on the platform. This let them try out a variety of things.

“There were small discoveries all through the day, which all can help to improve the app further and we also realized some untapped potential in the app. Every object has an ID and you can enter this in the app to more easily find what you’re looking for, since it will lead you there,”  Andreas says.

The offshore trip gave our developer's a unique view into what life is really like on an oil rig. 

Getting Out of Your Bubble

Andreas is part of the team that’s bringing drilling samples into the digital world, which will let users place the samples in front of them through a tablet screen. Meeting the people that will be using the app you’re creating is crucial.

“They’re the ones that know what functionality they want or need from the app. When we bring the app out to them we can get their feedback on what works or not, and what potential they might see in it,” he says.

“There’s no point in us thinking we’re developing the world’s greatest app when we’re not the end users. We have to meet the users, so we’re not stuck in our developer bubble - which is pointless."  

Andreas Langberg

At times there can be several hundreds working on an offshore platform, and all Equinor employees carry a tablet around with them.

“Imagining how many people are carrying this tablet around with them on the platform can be quite abstract – until you get out there and see it for yourself,” Thorvald says.

For any developer, it’s important to see that they’re working on solving actual problems. Throughout history developers have delivered quite a few excellent solutions – that solve problems that might not always be rooted in reality. While there can be a variety of reasons for this happening, the aim is to keep on delivering user-oriented products in the future, Thorvald explains.

"In challenging and unique working conditions like the ones offshore, it wouldn't be possible to create a proper solution without a client like Johan Sverdrup. They're willing to go the extra mile in bringing the users and developers closer together."

Thorvald Johannesen

“We got a lot of positive feedback from our users when we were there. They had a lot of faith in the product and a can-do attitude, which is very motivating. After all, they’re the only people who can say if what we’re creating brings any value at all,” he adds.

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Wearing a helmet and HoloLens glasses at the same time is no problem. Photo: Harald Wesenberg/Equinor
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All of Equinor's staff onboard Johan Sverdrup walk around with a tablet under their gear when working offshore. Photo: Harald Wesenberg/Equinor

Wearing a helmet and HoloLens glasses at the same time is no problem. Photo: Harald Wesenberg/Equinor

All of Equinor's staff onboard Johan Sverdrup walk around with a tablet under their gear when working offshore. Photo: Harald Wesenberg/Equinor

New Ideas

Simranjeet Singh Deol, Sunny among friends, was another of our developers who enjoyed a day at Johan Sverdrup, and he shares Andreas’ view on meeting the end user.

He tells us that it’s easy to end up not seeing the forest for the trees – or the code for the functionality – when you’re sitting in an office and coding away.

“There’s no guarantee that we fully understand the reasoning behind developing a certain functionality, why it’s being requested or even what it’s supposed to do, when we’re sitting in an office. Being able to head out and see what the users work was like has helped me see the questions I had in a new light."

Simranjeet Singh "Sunny" Deol

“I also got ideas for other ways to solve other problems entirely. I feel more aware of the difficulties and challenges they face when they’re working, which has left me feeling a lot more motivated and solution-oriented,” Sunny adds.

Safely back on shore it’ll be exciting to see the Digital Twin project going further. Heading offshore may not be a regular occurrence but you can also get a taste of bad weather on land.

“I have a jacket, helmet and gloves available if anyone wants to head out to the shore just outside our office and play around. We have quite rough weather in Trondheim at times so there’s nothing stopping us from taking the tablet out and giving it a go. After all, we need to use what we learned to push ourselves even further,” Harald says.

Curious to see if the experiences our developers had at Johan Sverdrup will help them in their work? Then stay tuned and subscribe to the Loop newsletter. We’ll be featuring more work from the Digital Twin teams.

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