Oral-History:David Anthony


About the Interviewee

David Anthony

David Anthony is a senior Information Systems manager in BHP Billiton's Petroleum division, where he serves as lead for IT Strategy. He is also responsible for IT services for Cyber Security, Compliance, Controls and Project Delivery.

Since 2011, David has helped to integrate BHP’s Unconventional oil and gas operations in LA, AR, and TX and drive transformation projects. He is currently combining his passion for people and technology with breakthrough projects in automation and mobility where he works closely with the IT and automation teams to improve workforce productivity.

David has worked for BHP Billiton in the U.S., Europe, and Australia, where he has coached diverse teams while in leadership roles involving strategy, operations, and capital projects. Prior to his current role, David was the IS Manager for BHP’s North America Shale and prior to that a global practice lead for IT operations. Before moving to the U.S., David was based in London, working as the IT manager on several upstream oil and gas projects in the Algerian Sahara.

During the course of his career, David has acquired extensive experience in IT strategy, upstream capital projects, sourcing, and commercial management.

David holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and mathematics from Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia and post-graduate diplomas in computer engineering from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Management from the Melbourne Business School.

Further Reading

Access additional oral histories from members and award recipients of the AIME Member Societies here: AIME Oral Histories

About the Interview

David Anthony: An interview conducted by Amy Esdorn for the Society of Petroleum Engineers, September 30, 2015.

Interview SPEOH000134 at the Society of Petroleum Engineers History Archive.

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Audio File
MP3 Audio


INTERVIEWEE: David Anthony
DATE: September 30, 2015
PLACE: Houston, Texas


My name is Amy Esdorn, and I am here at the Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. Today is September 30, 2015, and I am speaking with David Anthony. David, thank you for participating in this interview.


Thank you, Amy.


Well, let’s begin. My first question for you is: how did you get involved in the industry?


I grew up in Malaysia and Southeast Asia, and my parents educated all of us in Australia, as it turned out. So the particular course I went to had a one-year work experience component, and I wound up getting a job with BHP Billiton, whom I am still working for today. During the course of that year, when I started, I wound up getting an option to join an industry I didn’t know very much about of but I learned a lot that year, and when I wound up graduating, I went back to work for them. So that’s really how it started. And the job itself has really evolved in many different ways. I have had an opportunity to travel and work all over the world, and I hadn’t really planned on any of that as a new graduate coming out of university. But the opportunities have been amazing when I think back over the course of my career.


And what was your first job?


Actually, I helped install the very first IBM PCs at the company because these had just came out into the market in 1985 if you can imagine--as a student. And then in ’87 when I went back to work, I joined as a graduate analyst programmer. And so I was still in the end user computing team, and I was like the resident PC expert. But the technology was very nascent back in those days. We used to have PCs on trolleys, and we would wheel them around and then the entire department would share a PC [laughter]. [00:02:00] It’s pretty amazing. And then I started doing a bit of database programming and I got into software, then particularly software supporting production and production allocation, and also reserves. And back then we didn’t have a lot of packaged software. A lot of this was custom development in-house, and it’s just over time, the software industry matured and companies started making product and then we started buying products.

So my first few years were really programming, and then from there I got transferred. So I started my career in Melbourne in Australia, and I got transferred to Northern Australia to Darwin, where we had a floating production facility. Actually, we had three of them offshore, and we were also doing a lot of exploration in the area between Australia and Indonesia. So I got into IT operations at that point, and I supported the operation for almost three years. I moved back to Melbourne, and then I got into several large projects as we were rolling out big corporate systems and did integration projects. So this was in the mid ‘90s. And then subsequently, from there, I moved to Europe, where I worked in major couple of projects, where we were building large oil and gas plants. And so I had an opportunity again to work and travel in different countries. And then 10 years ago, I moved to Houston as the company was expanding here in the US, and so I’ve been living in Houston ever since and along the way got married, had children [laughter]. It’s been quite a journey, really.


That’s great. So, tell me a little bit more about what it was like in 1985 when you started as far as the computers and the software and all the rest of that.


So, we had very simple equipment in the workplace at the time. [00:04:00] Most people had terminals on their desk, and so all the computing power was in a data center. We literally used to say it was all behind glass. We still were using pretty innovative technology for the time and for the day. For example, maps would be digitized, but the digitization would happen by hands. Somebody would stick a map on a board and then hold a pen and then dot the lines around the pen to convert that into points that would be stored in the computer to generate a map. Today, you can buy the data, load it, and run it on your PC, or you can even, with Google and products like, just get it from the Internet. But we were using computers to do very early processing.

I think the main thing that’s happened when I look back over the years is first, we had the advent of computing becoming more and more pervasive and computer’s hardware really becoming more powerful. And so that then helped us do a lot of task and process automation, so repetitive tasks that are getting automated and not just things like word processing but even the transactional systems that we use for processing bills, buying product and services from suppliers. All those of those things became easier with computers. Then largely what happened was really, software became more sophisticated as -- I was saying how we used to write a lot of software, so as companies started writing software, we started getting best practices across industry being built into software. So as the software platforms became more sophisticated, then we started to be able to do more and more things. And so we went from task automation towards really business process automation towards more and more sophisticated forms of collaborating, solving problems, communicating. [00:06:00] So I think that’s what I have seen in the IT industry.

I think the other big innovation has been telecommunications. And again, with cell phones, mobile phones, networks, and then subsequently the Internet in the mid ‘90s which has today totally transformed how we connect with each other, when I think back as -- growing up, really, through all of that, I never really -- you never realize because you don’t step back and look at it. But the rapid pace of change. And yet now when I look back, it’s been constant. Through the 28 years I’ve been working, it’s been a constant blur of change. The cycles of change have got shorter and shorter as well. So when I first started work, we would buy a piece of software and we would use it for 10 years, or another piece of software and use it for five years or seven years. What’s happening now is we’re going from longer cycles like that to we’ll put something and use it for two years or three years, and then we’re on to the next thing and we’re on to the next thing. And in some areas, it’s almost a constant blur of change.


Absolutely. So, you talked about developing software, and I was just wondering, did you collaborate with certain engineers to do that? Or was that just for supporting the business aspect of it? Was that for supporting production? How does that -- reservoir simulation…?


In my early career, when I was doing software development, I was working with the business. So we would -- and really, we had probably medium-sized teams, but we would sit down very much like we do today, gather business requirements and solution very collaboratively, and I worked with drilling and completions. I worked with production. [00:08:00] I worked with a lot of business systems teams as well over the years on products that we had in-house that would do finance, supply, HR, and those sorts of things. Even in the early days, when we had a lot of libraries and those sorts of institutions -- we had an exploration library, and a journal. One of the big systems I worked on was for circulating journals. We would print off lists, stick them at the back of magazines, and put them in the internal [unintelligible - 00:08:23]. All of those things are gone now because everything is electronic.


Wow. Well, you were talking about the different projects that you worked on, but what was favorite project that you worked on?


When I moved to Europe, I got an opportunity to work on several large capital projects that we had in the Algerian Sahara. We were building an oil plant near the Libyan border and a gas plant near the Tunisian border. And at the time, they were the third and fifth largest capital projects in the company, and I was based in London and would fly in and out as needed. We had several in my teams on the IT side working in country as well, and we did the engineering for one project in The Hague and the engineering for another in France in Paris, La Défense. And so, at one point, we had an office in Algiers. We had a desert base in Hassi Messaoud, and we had engineering construction going on in the Sahara in two different locations.

For one of the projects, we had to drill and complete 37 wells, we were running seismic. So when you think back, in its heyday, we had 13 or 14 operational locations that my team now is supporting, and we had the chance to work with people from all the different countries and different cultures. It was very fulfilling actually starting from sort of scratch, building everything out and turning it on and then transitioning it into operations, and I really enjoyed the -- [00:10:00] I learned a lot, actually. When I think back, it was a huge learning experience. There was the cultural side of it because of all the diversity, but even the chance to work in a major capital project environment in Europe on several turnkey PC contract projects and to learn about how contracting is done, how the job is engineered, even the logistics of transporting equipment.

We had two very large slug catchers for the gas plant that we built, and they had to be transported by land from the port in Northern Algeria. And at the time, I remember the whole journey took almost three and a half weeks, and nothing that large had ever been transported by land [laughter] into the middle of the country. So, it caused quite a commotion in some of the small towns that the road trains went through. I got the opportunity to work with some very clever people and very talented people from not just our own organization but the partner companies that we had, the national oil company, Sonatrach that was involved, and also the engineering companies that we used. So it was a very formative time for me.


And when was that…?


That was 1997, 1998 through early 2003, just before I came here.


So, you kind of spoke a little bit about some of the people that you worked with just now. Who have been your mentors in the industry?


When I first started work, I will never forget—there’s two or three people, really. [00:12:00] My very first boss, who really was bridging me out of academia, and even though I’d had work experience, but into life in the real world. Always had lots of words of wisdom for us. But I think he really taught me about my sort of thinking early career and certainly would challenge me as I started to sort of get out of the comfort zone and try different things.

After I moved to Northern Australia and then, when I moved back after three years of working in operations, I reported to the department head at the time, and he was a very good people manager, actually. And really, that’s where I learned a lot about working at a different level of responsibility. He was very good at giving us a problem and then getting out of the way and letting us go but providing support at the same time. When I think back to sort of early supervision, it was when I made a change into managing out of individual contributorship. My boss at that time -- and I worked for him probably six years, that was another formative period.

And when I moved to Houston, I reported to the CIO here for our company at the time, and she was in the role for 10 years. So I worked for her for 10 years. She was my longest boss, really. [00:14:00] She taught me a lot about leading. So I went from leading smaller teams to large teams and working in a different level altogether. And a lot about building teams and constructive managing, constructive conflict, engaging, and definitely in managing change and really how to build very strong teams. And also another piece as you become more senior in your roles, particularly in a corporate environment first, working in IT on the services side, how you engage with the business, how do you develop ideas and new thinking, how do you challenge conventional thinking, how do you partner. So that, again, she was one of the most influential bosses I had.


Well, you sort of touched on this earlier, in fact you were talking about how things have changed over the years. But which technological innovations do you think have had the most impact on the industry in the last 60 years or so—and particularly from your point of view in the IT department?


You know, what we do in oil and gas, we are often doing exploration production in remote regions. So one of the things I learnt very early on, the geostationary satellites -- and now we’ve got a lot more options in that area, but they helped with telecommunications. And I was involved with some very early trials on stabilized communications on platforms in Australia. There is much more technology off the shelf now, but back then, we were sort of almost inventing things. We had a satellite dish that had a pendulum on it. So when the platform moved, the idea was it would stabilize the dish but the dish could sort of stay in one position even though the platform moved. And it was on a bevel and a mount. Today you can buy automated tracking satellites that are extremely sophisticated. We’ve got several in operation on ships that are on a floating riser, and basically they spin around the riser and the platform’s track. Satellite telecommunication has been a big thing for us in remote areas of operating. [00:16:00]

Computers generally, I talked about innovation in hardware followed by subsequent innovation in software, and task automation, business process automation. And now the fact that one of the things you hear now in the industry is the Internet of things is what we -- we talk about everything having sensors and everything being connected, and so you’re able to acquire data at an ever increasing rate, but then you can use that data to drive decision making. And so again, it’s the innovation in hardware allowing us to do the data acquisition, and then the innovation in software allowing us to do the analysis. When I first started at university, we were in the very early days of artificial intelligence and a lot thinking around how that was going to flow. But we did not have the computing power or the equipment to gather all the data that was needed. Today, what has happened though is with the progression that we’ve had in that area, we’re starting to talk again about neural networks, machine learning, pattern recognition, all those sorts of things. Recently, I was on holidays in Spain and Italy, and I hadn’t used translator program, really, since the time I lived in Europe. So I downloaded the Google translate software, and it actually has handwriting recognition, so it can read words on signs. And I tried even handwriting words in a foreign language on a white board, and the software, using machine learning, actually, will read what you’ve written. So it knows how to recognize what an “A” is, for example. And that’s just, to me, a phenomenal progression. [00:18:00] The consumerization of technology as well is giving us in the workplace more and more options, and one of the things we are constantly trying to do is figure out—across industry, not just in oil and gas but also from the consumer space—what can we bring in and adapt and use in our businesses. And so, today we have more ideas and opportunities from that than ever.

Mobility in telecommunications, different ways of collaborating all makes it far easier for us to be connected and share ideas, and I think those things are huge. When I think back years ago when we had the paper memo that you would have an in tray and an out tray and somebody would write you a note -- we even used to write to each other back formally [laughter]. There’d be a reply. We would use the photocopier [laughter]. Today, you’re doing all those things in seconds on your phone.


So, what innovation that you worked with that came out during your career, what was the most exciting thing that you worked with? When it first came out, maybe you didn’t know that it was going to be as exciting, but it was just something that really made a big impact on your work.


Is there is any one thing… what I’m finding is really being able to combine things now making a huge difference, but I guess the Internet. I didn’t realize [laughter] -- I can remember the day we first turned the Internet on, and I did not realize I had a team of 16 people and we managed a lot of our infrastructure services. And one of the guys said to me, “Can you come over to my desk? I just want to show you the mosaic browser, which was the very first browser at the time—and this was 1992—and we were looking at it, it was all character-based. It was clunky. There was a thing called usenet news groups. [00:20:00] You got largely information pushed to you through email, or you had to hit these groups and pull information down. Search engines were not really there, and eventually, when they came out, they were very clunky. And it was largely text based. So yeah, I think we all looked at it and said -- at that time, we could see the possibility but probably not realize how it was going to evolve this much. And then over the course of a two- or three-year period, very quickly started to see a lot of changes that improved its usability. And I’d say about the mid ‘90s, ‘96, ‘97, it was clear it was going to be a big thing [laughter]. I will never forget the first time the guys called me down to have a look [laughter]. Yeah.


So, I just have a couple more questions for you, and the second to last one is -- so you were talking about working in remote areas and satellite capabilities and everything. How has that technology evolved, and what has it meant -- how has it impacted the industry, both production wise and from your standpoint?


I think that the fact that today, telecommunication networks are so ubiquitous has totally changed. We had a concept in IT that you had to be connected to the computer. And then when you worked in remote locations and you didn’t have a connection, you had to run everything locally. So we had to have the software on the laptop. Everybody had laptops, and we would work. And for a long time, particularly for remote locations where you don’t have connectivity, could you have everything in the cloud. [00:22:00]

Today we talk about cloud computing and not having any software on your machine, for example, and because telecommunications now is so ubiquitous, it’s actually possible to work like that. And again, that to me is a major step forward. Now, not every country -- there are lots of developing countries in the world that don’t have all the telecommunication networks and so on that we have. But if you take what we see here in North America with the shale, where we’re heavily involved in that area, we have private telecommunication networks that are like the phone networks, what we call LTE and 4G networks. And so, they are high-speed. We can push voice and video and data to anywhere in the US even though the regular telecoms may be patchy.

We just had a project -- one of the recent projects I’ve been working on that’s really quite exciting is we, in the Eagle Ford we’ve been automating our well pads and putting in more advanced telecommunication networks. So we can put cameras, we can get data back from the field to the engineers in the office and we’ve been building out surveillance centers with the aim of not having to have somebody visit the pads every day. So, it started as a health and safety challenge and how could we reduce the road miles and then the consequent exposure to particularly the risks of being on the road all the time for the pumpers, the lease operators. We’ve managed to cut driving miles by half. So, typical pumper was driving 4 or 4-1/2 thousand miles a month, and we got that down to 2,000 miles and less. And when you think about it, that’s huge, cumulatively multiplied. [00:24:00]

So, there’s an example of technology being applied to shift the boundary on safety as well as other things in optimizing production, improving asset up time, all the sorts of things that today we are trying to do, particularly in this current low-cost environment with oil prices. We started off with a safety mandate, but you can see the evolution of technology and the options that’s given us today to make a huge difference.


That’s great. So, my last question for you is: how has being an SPE member affected your career?


I think there are lots of very good things about the organization. No single person has all the answers. Being a member provides so many different avenues to meet people who in turn actually have varying levels of experience but give you this great network to tap into, as well as you look at the collective research, the papers that are published, the various working groups and technical committees and things like this particular conference too. You get an opportunity to really step outside of your day job and think differently. And members come from all over the world, so there’s always somebody out there that’s either done this thing that you’re trying to do before, solved the problem you’ve solved before, or if they haven’t, they’re thinking about it and you can find them and tap into them.


That’s great. Well, thank you so much for coming and talking with us today.


Thank you, Amy. I’ve enjoyed it.