During his 46-year career with ExxonMobil, research chemist Mike Siskin has authored more than 130 company reports, contributed to over 100 issued U.S. patents, and written more than 100 technical publications.
When the senior scientific advisor for ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company (EMRE) starts a new project, his first stop is the ExxonMobil Downstream Technical Information Center.
Located at EMRE’s facility in Clinton, New Jersey, the Downstream Technical Information Center is one of four that make up the ExxonMobil Library Information Network. Staffed by experts with advanced technical or information science degrees, the centers provide timely, cost-effective and quality information for the company’s toughest information challenges.
“For the last 46 years, they have been the go-to department for me,” says Siskin, whose downstream research has led to breakthroughs in delayed coking processes, development of next-generation absorbents and greater refining efficiencies.
Siskin begins each new project with a request to the center for abstracts and articles. “You really need to understand what’s been looked at before and where the gaps are so as not to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “You learn from what’s been done, what should have been done … and it helps you take the idea from there.”
Each information center specializes in a specific area of research:
- The Chemical Information Center in Baytown, Texas, provides technical information and intellectual property support in the areas of basic chemicals, intermediates and polymers for chemical research and technology centers worldwide.
- The Corporate Headquarters Information Center in Irving, Texas, focuses on business research, including financial, company, economic, industry, market, government, geopolitical and biographical information.
- The Downstream Technical Information Center in Clinton shares science and engineering information and intellectual property support.
- The Upstream Technical Information Center at the company’s Houston campus specializes in geoscience, engineering and commercial technical information, as well as intellectual property support for Upstream Research, Exploration, Development, Production, Gas and Power Marketing, and XTO Energy.
Together, these centers form a network of information resources that employees use to do their jobs better, faster and with greater confidence.
Specializing in answers
“What is the grain size of sand in the air in the Eastern desert of Saudi Arabia during a dust storm?” “What are the salaries of Norwegian helicopter pilots?” “Can you provide demand, capacity, past growth and future growth to 2030 for this list of 20 chemicals?” “What is the stress point for steel on rigs in the Arctic?” These are just a sampling of questions posed to the 15 information specialists who staff the information centers.
While the ExxonMobil information network features historical documents and data – including company publications and technical reports from heritage companies as far back as the 1890s – it has evolved with technology services to meet current business needs.
Kristin Sandefur, supervisor with the Corporate Headquarters Information Center, says the centers go beyond the stereotypical image of a library with shelves of books. “While we treasure our history and maintain historical print materials for research, we look at market resources and trends to provide information sources that give the most value to the company,” she says.
Sandefur and her team are instrumental in providing research for the yearly ExxonMobil Outlook for Energy report. Every day brings new requests for business or financial information.
“Someone in Procurement may request pricing information in a certain market, or Public and Government Affairs may need to know about political and social issues in a particular country where we operate,” she says.
In this day of Google and other search engines that provide instant links to information, the centers help employees sort through the clutter and zero in on quality information.
“As the Internet grows, it can be difficult to find precisely what you’re looking for,” says Rebecca Rucker, section head at the Downstream Technical Information Center. “We have the tools and expertise to sort through myriad information to find what’s relevant and accurate for employees to do their jobs.”
That includes information for project teams, searches for technical data and patents, management of proprietary information, and answers to copyright questions.
“While today’s workers are very adept at searching for information,” says James McLennan, supervisor of the Upstream Technical Information Center, “the difference is that we have proprietary internal ExxonMobil documents and reports that aren’t available in external databases.”
Besides providing access to leading industry books, journals and periodicals, the centers subscribe to databases that provide quality industry, technical, patent and intellectual property information.
“If an engineer wants to calculate a formula for a pressure vessel, we subscribe to a service that allows them to use interactive formulas,” says Dean Gronostaj, Chemical Information Center supervisor. “We also provide access to a search tool that allows a chemist to draw a molecule and conduct a search on it, resulting in the display of patents and journal articles containing chemical reactions and synthesis for that molecule.”
The centers produce daily, weekly and monthly news alerts for senior managers, industry news for business and technical teams, competitor information, and technology updates for company analysts and engineers – all designed to provide insights into current industry developments.
“We help the company anticipate industry trends, which aids decision-making,” Rucker says.
While each information center is specialized, they work together to coordinate resources to provide the most effective access to knowledge. For example, staff from the centers recently participated in a benchmarking survey of worldwide pipelines.
“The company’s cross-functional information specialists provided us comprehensive, globally sourced data to help our engineers develop approaches for mitigating pipeline risks,” says
Brian Lawless, ExxonMobil’s manager of global pipeline integrity.
Fast and accurate
The staff prides itself on quick turnarounds. “The advice one of our information centers gives – ‘If you can’t find it in 15 minutes, contact us’ – really applies to us all,” says Information Specialist Dana Higgins. “We want our clients to get the best information in the timeliest manner so they can make the best decisions.”
Jay Dias, chief scientist with ExxonMobil Chemical, says that rapid input is critical for discovery. “A day in the library can save you a year in the laboratory,” Dias notes. “The information centers provide the foundation for research. Their input forms the basis for new projects and also provides quick access to evolving trends in science, technology and business.”
For Tim Nedwed, senior technical professional advisor with ExxonMobil’s Upstream Research Company, speed of information is powerful. “It allows my group to cycle through ideas quickly,” he says, “making the research and development process much more efficient and enabling us to stay on top of technology.”
And that’s the real value the network brings. “We’re here to accelerate development and support innovation,” McLennan adds. “We’re about enhancing the agility of our various businesses, vetting information to make sure that it’s accurate, reliable and timely.”