GEO ExPro

The Role Of Consultancy in the Exploration Industry

Why and when do we need to use consultants? Philip Angell, Managing Director of Dubai-based consulting firm Vision Project Services DMCC, explains.
This article appeared in Vol. 12, No. 2 - 2016

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How do you define the role of a geophysical consulting firm?

We are the piece of the puzzle that fits in between the client’s technical and commercial project management and the seismic acquisition contractor, whether land or marine. Our personnel ensure that the technical specifications, commercial budget and HSE performance objectives are met and managed effectively, whilst applying our experience and knowledge to the overall exploration task. We have to weigh up the pros and cons of sometimes relaxing certain technical parameters, or widening the aperture, against an increase or decrease in cost in order to obtain the required outcomes. With that comes the requisite geophysical or geological justification which is presented in conjunction with peers for the client’s approval. In short, we act as the technical infield specialists on behalf of the client, which could be an oil company or a multi-client collaborative effort.

What range of services do consulting firms offer?

For the most part, the consulting sector offer a broad suite of complementary expertise that encompasses the entire exploration task. From initial survey design to project management through to post processing supervision and, where required, interpretation services. We also provide health and safety representation and environmental mitigation measures such as Marine Mammal Observers and Passive Acoustic Monitoring.

In-house or outsourced to a consultancy: the pros and cons?

It is quite common for a client to rely on outsourcing all of their field supervisory requirements to consulting firms that specialize in these disciplines. Previously it was normal for a staff member from a client company to be present for the project (and some still do), but with high speed internet and near-real time project management applications, electronic project overview ‘at a glance’ is widely available. However, having the human element of expertise on site will always be necessary in my opinion. As projects are often shortlived, it is a matter of convenience for the client to be able to call upon expertise for only the time required.

What experience and skills does a consultant need?

First of all, physical health: you need to be fit and healthy to work in the field. Academically, it’s generally expected for a consultant in any discipline to be fully qualified in discipline and to have at least ten years’ field experience. This always brings up the discussion of qualifications versus experience. A formal education will always provide the bedrock of knowledge that can be combined with actual field experience. People and communication skills are also highly desired. From a management side, having the field experience and knowledge in-house allows us to select and offer the best people for the task. 

Phil Angell is Managing Director of oil industry consulting firm Vision Project Services, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. He has 20 years of experience in the exploration industry, mostly as an independent consultant on a variety of seismic projects worldwide. Why did you decide to manage a geophysical consulting company?

We opened the Dubai office in 2012 after I had spent 17 years in the seismic industry, predominantly in marine seismic. After experiencing many different and challenging situations, I thought the consulting industry needed a good shakeup. As a very clear (and sometimes too clear) communicator, the values that I apply daily are the same values that I felt were missing in the field. These are trust, transparency and making people feel that they want to work with you. We are not aiming to be the largest consulting firm out there, we will leave that to others, rather we aim to be a manageable sized firm with a real focus on delivering expertise and professionalism. I have to give enormous gratitude to my business partner Bob Lane. He has been in the business for a very long time and was the person who facilitated a head start for myself as a business owner. Finally, in answer, to the question: freedom, flexibility, making a difference and the daily challenges of success and being fortunate to share that success with others.

Are some areas of the world more in need of your services than others? 

The industry is global and the business follows the industry. We provide expertise on all continents. Are there too many or too few consulting companies? Whether or not there are too few or too many consulting firms is not an easy question to answer. 

A better question would be how many have stopped trading in the past? 

Quite a few! We are celebrating our 25th year of business in 2015 and that is testament to constraining overheads and running our business in an efficient and professional manner. We are looking forward to the next 25 years with excitement! 

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