Terri-Jane Yuzda


Malibu Rides Computer Wave
Into Better Well-Test Analysis

Freelance Columnist

Malibu is one of the companies bringing high-tech efficiencies to an established industry.

Remember VisiCalc?

Though barely two decades old, the name resonates only faintly today, like some relic from a distant age. But VisiCalc was one of the most innovative computer programs in history - a pioneering electronic spreadsheet which ultimately led to the development of such programs as Lotus and Excel.

Garry Perry, P.Eng., hasn't forgotten. The first time Mr. Perry encountered VisiCalc, a light switched on behind his eyes.

"At that time we were doing a lot of well-test analysis," recalls the president and CEO of Malibu Engineering & Software Ltd., a Calgary company that's doubled in size over the past 18 months.

"When I saw VisiCalc, I started to get excited. We designed a few applications around it, developing programs to do reservoir engineering plots that we had typically always done by hand."

Previously, the sheer quantity of data forced Mr. Perry - and every other petroleum engineer on the planet - to grind away at such tedious chores with little more than a calculator, a pencil and perhaps a prayer.

"Efficiencies were very, very low," he says, and that's an understatement.

An Age of Transformation
The onset of the computer age meant liberation, as well as a significant wind of change for Mr. Perry's small company. "Ever since then, we've been building applications internally to improve delivery to our clients. We probably added 100 per cent to our volume," he explains.

"Then our clients began encouraging us to share these products with them. In effect, we have transformed ourselves from a desktop engineering consulting company into a full software information management company."

So far, so good.

Business is brisk and Malibu recently opened its first U.S. office, in Denver. All this because Mr. Perry and his 30-member team, an intriguing mix of engineering and software development pros, weren't afraid to lock a firm grip on the future.

A self-described Mr. Fix-it who grew up in Kenora, Ont., Mr. Perry graduated with an honours degree in mechanical engineering from Queen's University. He learned on the job with several Alberta energy companies before launching his own venture in the late 1970s.

Malibu began as a traditional operational engineering company, supplying consulting services to the energy industry. And then those first, bite-sized Macintosh computers came along, introducing programs such as VisiCalc.

Flagship Sets Sail
With Mr. Parry taking on a lead R&D role, Malibu was soon experimenting with DOS-based data-management tools. These eventually evolved into Wellcore, the sophisticated life cycle system for wells that remains Malibu's flagship software product.

Along the way, Malibu earned an ASTech Award in 1993 for innovation in industrial research. Mr. Parry's team was honoured for developing a tool now known as Tally-Ho. This bright idea enabled on-site crews to measure racks of drilling pipe or casing by means of frequency modulation, using laser technology.

"We came up with a distancing tool to send a laser pulse the full length of a pipe, have it bounce off a reflector tool at the back end and measure it according to modulated frequency response," he says. "Previously, somebody would have used a tape measure to do it joint by joint - a slow process, especially when you've got someone trying to work a steel line and write down these numbers in -30 C temperatures."

His early intuition that software provided the means to make life easier for Malibu clients led to the in-house development of Wellcore, for which Mr. Perry and his chief business developer, Ritchie Annand, share creative credit.

Mr. Perry terms Wellcore a "best-of-breed" application, an all-purpose well management package. It combines maximum cost control with a cradle-to-grave ability to keep tabs on data. Tracking data starts at the first whiff of hydrocarbons on any given site and carries on to final abandonment and reclamation.

EnCana Corp. and Talisman Energy Inc. are among an array of customers impressed by the Malibu vision. (Malibu's wholly owned U.S. subsidiary was set up primarily to meet EnCana's needs in the Rocky Mountain states.)

Time to sit back and reap the rewards? No way.

Like most successful engineers, Garry Perry keeps moving. His philosophy: Encourage creativity, follow the adventurous path and "look for that quantum leap that leads to higher levels of performance."

Home | Past PEGGs | PEGG Search | Contact Us