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Geophysical – Sami Khan, Vice President Acquisition & Processing Asia Pacific – Singapore

13.08.2014 / Energyboardroom

Sami Khan of Dolphin Geophysical charts the development of the Singaporean branch of this company, starting with the acquisition of his previous seismic business as an entry point into Singapore. He describes the open CPS software which backs up the company’s tangible boats. These themselves are designed to deliver for the client, having an engine capacity to operate in the most challenging marine environments. Khan also explains his business philosophy, which has driven success in both companies he has previously run and founded, and which now is pushing Dolphin Geophysical as a major contender in the exploration market in Singapore.


You were formerly the founder and president of Quantum Geoservices; how has your previous position compared with your current one?

Processing was Quantum’s main activity, yet this is a small component of Dolphin’s business. Quantum offered both land and marine processing and had been seeking to grow these areas of activity. However, Dolphin’s capabilities have changed the paradigm of the operation. Equipped with two super-vessels operating out of Singapore, the Polar Duchess and the Polar Marquis the APAC business can comfortably operate two vessels with a 12 and 14 streamer capacity respectively. By adding the processing to the acquisition, we can grow the processing faster than we could on our own, and have achieved a significant presence in the Asia Pacific Region.

The Polar Duchess has already proven her capabilities in the region whilst operating for  one of Dolphin’s key customers, TGS, in shooting several thousand square kilometres of data in the Great Australian Bight, the vessel’s performance has been recognised through the recent award of a second season of work in the same challenging environment for two vessels for the 2015 season.- Dolphin’s largest contract award to date. The Asia-Pacific office has management responsibility for these two vessels, whilst they are scheduled to operate in the APAC Regions.

Here in Singapore we also have a processing center. My ability to oversee this activity stems directly from my previous experience  and I have directed this facility’s integration into the Dolphin business. Here, we use Dolphin’s OpenCPS software, which is also a Dolphin company, an advanced processing tool, and are developing some large 3D operation results using this facility at the moment.

You mentioned your asset, the Polar Duchess had successfully operated in heavy seas. What qualities of your vessels set you aside from the competition?

Our vessels stand out amongst the competitors for a number of reasons. Principal amongst these, however, is the ship’s engine capacity. The ships have over 200 tons of bollard pull – which allows them to  operate in marginal sea conditions and continue to acquire data- the vessel’s power matched with Dolphin’s deeper tow SHarp acquisition technique make for a strong acquisition platform in tough operating conditions. This survey that the Polar Duchess shot in the Australian Bight was completed safely and successfully on time – there are few vessels globally operating which could match this achievement given the environmental circumstances involved.

Dolphin’s technical and operational strategists have focussed on bollard pull  and redundancy as a differentiator. At the moment our assets have a good percent redundancy in terms of engine power in our vessels. Should there be an incident, the ship will be able to maintain production whilst addressing any non-planned maintenance issue with relative ease, and the vessels are able to operate in large sea swells with a large streamer spread.

The company has also devised a streamlined work flow for processing. We have our own processing software, OpenCPS, which runs on our vessels in real time. There is consistency of interface across all the stages of our processing software, which speeds return of final results.

Our software development is supported by R&D teams in both London and Houston, and we are building up new modules and software. It is likely in the near future that there will be a further development team here in Singapore. All this technical capability is backed up by vast experience in the geoseismic field.

What was the principal niche in the market that OpenCPS was developed to cover; what are the specific benefits this software brings to the client?

The software’s strength lies in the synergies it offers alongside our other strengths. Whilst Dolphin is a relatively new player- just less than four years old – and the capabilities inherent in the software have marked our company out as a useful amongst the larger players. This adds to the fact we operate newly buil vessels. It is this combination of software and hardware that puts Dolphin at an advantage.

OpenCPS is the most modern software available in the industry and has been completely written in the 21st century. This means that it has had modern features such as an up to date GUI and parallel data flow built in from the beginning and this implies much greater efficiency than older systems. The software’s strength lies in the synergies it offers alongside our other strengths. Modern vessels and modern software provide a unique offering and mean we can perform significant processing on board thus delivering faster results to our clients succesfully.

You are an entrepreneur yourself; innovation seems to be behind several of the activities, or capabilities Dolphin has sought to pursue to mark itself as different- how is this continuing to drive the company forward?

The people employed by the business are key to moving Dolphin forwards and ensuring we have an original offering. Hiring and training new staff is vital, as we promote from within and offer great career development opporutnities for our personnel . The organisation must create a culture of innovation and at the moment the company is seeking to firmly root its business culture in this spirit of enterprise.

Bridging the disciplines of processing and acquisition is essential to delivering a coherent offering- the better innovation can support this synergistic relationship, the more effective the business as a whole will be. To do this, the company moves employees between the varying segments of the business in order for them to gain a holistic understanding of its processes.

Employees  flexibility also means that they gain experience across the business. This is actually attractive to employees who are seeking experience in a number of commercial settings. The prospects of career development, therefore, tend to keep talented and creative individuals here working with Dolphin Geophysical. Our staff are also rewarded relative to company success, and this means they are highly motivated.

At the end of last year, you were awarded a large contract for TGS. Why did this company choose to work with Dolphin and what was the result of this survey?

We believe that Dolphin won the work based on a good track record of  performance with TGS, and specifically the Polar Duchess performance demonstrated operating in similar challenging conditions in the Southern Ocean offshore South Africa. The ships, including a unique Dolphin designed support vessel,  far exceeded expectations, and this is why TGS was eager to work with these assets once more. Secondly, the track record of Dolphin operating in challenging enviornments  is so strong that any company seeking a reliable business to perform exploration work will give Dolphin serious consideration. To update you on that contract, it was completed very successfully, and TGS staff were very appreciative of our services- and has been followed with a larger,  repeat award,  for 2015.

The Operational and Processing support that Dolphin has in this region means that we are on the doorstep with regard to backing up this operation, with the processing centre here in Singapore, for example. Not only does this mean we have close-in integrated operations internally, it means that we can support customers in this region and manage their expectations quickly and effectively.

We are a full service company, processing data as well as acquiring it. We are happy to have clients come to oversee our efforts and perform quality control tests as well. We are confident in our offering.

This project has been a milestone, though one that does stand alongside large successes in other Regions.

What is Dolphin Geophysical’s strategy for growth- how will you maximise market penetration?

The first step is to gain contracts to maintain the presence of two high capacity vessels here in South East Asia. This is likely the appropriate number to satisfy demand in this region. There may be instances when we bring one vessel more here to satisfy contracts quickly- flexibility being key to maximising utilisation.

Secondly, processing is another area where Dolphin has good prospects for expansion. On the software side, we can sell to 3rd Parties too, and our technology is being utilised by companies such as Sea Bird. This strategy is in place to allow the company to build a foundation- and from there allow further growth.

Dolphin Geophyical is not only aiming for increasing market share, but to increase profitability. The former alone is a meaningless figure in my book. In order to make good margins, we are adhering to the company tagline- delivering powerful solutions– which is exactly what we do.

As an entrepreneur, what relationship do you think an exploration company should have with relative levels of risk- both in taking exploration activities forward as a company and also how do you think you should market your capacity to reduce operating company’s risk?

Risk is always more dangerous as a small entrepreneur. It is one’s life savings one might be risking. To grow any business, I believe one has to input one’s own money. Following this, one needs to engage good partners that will help the fledgling business grow. Angel investors are not what one wants first, rather tangible capabilities of the investors are very important.

When starting a business, everyone is happy as no-one is making money as yet. When money starts to flow in, that is when mindsets change, and one must be careful to ensure that relations remain healthy. No manager wants to run a structure where there is friction between shareholders- a coherent, cohesive focus is required and division does not permit that. Adequate partners are vital, to stress again.


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