David Phillip

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David Phillip
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Latest company Concept Systems

The Cecil Green Enterprise Award is being presented to Alastair Hay and the late David Phillip, the founders, and Alan Faichney, the key architect, of Concept Systems. Phillip and Hay started Concept Systems in 1983 to provide a new generation of PC-based navigation and data acquisition systems for the marine and offshore exploration markets. Faichney joined shortly thereafter as their key technical architect for all of their eventual products. This resulted in the development of the GridNav family of navigation QC systems, which became an industry standard for marine seismic surveys throughout the 1980s.

In the early 1990s, Concept identified an industry need for faster turnaround of processed navigation data in the 2D and 3D marine seismic acquisition and processing cycle and in 1993 lauched the Unix-workstation-based SPRINT Navigation Processing & QC system. The SPECTRA navigation system and the REFLEX binning system followed in 1994 and, in combination with SPRINT, has become the leading integrated navigation and data processing system for marine operations and is currently installed in more than 50 vessels worldwide.

By the mid-1990s, Concept extended its range of in-field acquisition products with the GATOR OBC Navigation System, introduced in 1997, to meet the specific control, data management, and processing demands of ocean-bottom and shallow-water operations. Concept Systems was awarded the Queens Award for Export Achievement in 1997. During the latter half of the 1990s, Concept expanded into the GIS and geophysics arenas with a range of geophysical analysis and QC tools and services for optimizing quality and costs throughout the design, deployment, and acquisition phases of a geophysical survey. In 1998, Alastair Hay became managing director after the death of David Phillip and in the same year 3i, Europe’s leading venture capitalists, became a major shareholder in the company. In February 2004, Concept was acquired by Input/Output.

Biography Citation for the Cecil Green Enterprise Award

Contributed by Ian Jack

Let’s start with a quick look at offshore navigation prior to the intervention of David, Alastair and Alan. This was pre-GPS, so we used several radio positioning systems, all idiosyncratic, requiring complex corrections due to the vagaries of radio transmission across land and water, random outages on remote stations, relocations of antennae, phases of the moon, etc. With some systems, cyclical noise could so obscure the signal that real vessel movement could be removed by overzealous smoothing! And that was just the boat—the positioning of the streamers was problematic too. Early streamer positioning consisted of a few in-streamer compasses which needed time-consuming calibration, and a tailbuoy radar reflector which was sometimes visible on the bridge radars of the small boats as they crabbed along. After twin streamer configurations appeared, compasses were augmented by acoustic positioning, which was often unreliable and added considerably to the data volume and processing difficulties.

This processing usually took many months (in some cases well over a year), holding up the seismic data processing and resulting in overall turnaround times which compromised the usefulness of the entire survey.

To most of us geophysicists, these onboard navigation systems and subsequent processing were opaque—the hardware and software were proprietary and the processing was done remotely from the vessel, and so much later that the details of many of the problems of the radio propagation and of the base stations were lost in the mists of time. The oil companies badly needed a window into this navigation black box. Firstly, there were safety issues in towing equipment close to offshore installations. Secondly, since positioning was probably the most important technical element of a seismic survey, some assurance about its fidelity was essential.

Dave Phillip and Alastair Hay formed Concept Systems to do this in 1983, joined soon after by Alan Faichney, who was to become the main technical architect for the product line. As is often the case in a new company, the first few years were loss-making and involved much sacrifice of time, and risk of personal financial ruin. Astuteness, tenacity and technical competence paid off, however. They chose a computer supplier called Grid who had a patent on a portable fold-out screen (which we now know as a laptop and at the time cost US$9000 each) which with some equally innovative software and interface hardware from Concept became the GridNav package which could be moved on and off seismic boats easily and allowed assessment of the radio positioning systems in real time.

The company achieved its first operating profit in 1988. Gradually, as vessel positioning improved, the focus shifted onto the trailing gear and the navigation processing time. Pressure from the oil companies led Concept to develop packages for streamer positioning and navigation processing, and so the Sprint and Spectra products were born.

It wasn’t long before some contractors’ offshore staff noticed that the Concept Systems packages provided more useful, reliable and faster data than their own. When this was pointed out to the relevant CEOs, they were of course quite defensive and maintained that their own “proprietary” navigation systems were distinguishing features of their own companies’ services, a statement with which I could only agree. Inevitably, many contractors eventually gave up the unequal struggle, and Concept moved from providing QC, into prime navigation products and processing systems. This was of great strategic importance to the industry. It allowed smaller contractors to move into the 3D market, which was booming at the time, and it allowed new contractors to emerge.

Although GPS has simplified many aspects of positioning, the quantity of deployed equipment has continued to multiply and turnaround time requirements to shorten, so there has been continual pressure on Concept to improve and develop their product lines, which have been extended into multicomponent ocean bottom cable surveys, shallow water transition zone work, and even into the land environment. Meanwhile the offshore focus is changing with the arrival of time-lapse surveys, and recent research points to a much greater stringency in positioning. Concept has risen to this challenge with innovative analysis capabilities for real-time assessment of repeatability. In their early days they were “outsiders”—they attended only the specialist navigation conferences and contact, if any, was through our “navigation departments.” Fortunately, for many years now they have been part of us—and the hospitality at their booth has set new standards at geophysical conventions.

Very sadly, this award is posthumous for Dave Phillip, but it is richly deserved. These three people, through their technical innovation, competence, tenacity and business acumen have transformed this area of the industry


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