Microsoft cooks up products for oil and gas industry

Microsoft Corp. is launching an initiative to deliver technologies specifically tailored to the oil and gas industry, making the second gesture in as many days that it is increasing its focus on vertical markets.

The software maker’s energy sector initiative, called Peak Performance, was unveiled at the Global Energy Forum in Houston on Wednesday, a day after it began shipping a version of its Windows XP Embedded operating system aimed at the retail and hospitality industry. That product represents the first time Microsoft has customized an operating system for a particular market.

Its specific plans for the oil and gas industry weren’t as clear-cut as its retail product. Microsoft said that it wants to deliver .Net-enabled technologies for the energy sector with support for XML (Extensible Markup Language). The company is focusing on four industry areas: capital project execution, upstream portfolio management, downstream operational efficiency, and health, safety and environmental issues.

“I think Microsoft is certainly trying to expand into verticals by extending or offering more specific capabilities and doing a little more hand holding,” said RedMonk LLC analyst Stephen O’Grady.

Competitors like IBM Corp. are also making a splash in vertical markets, as they offer vendors an opportunity to tap into new sources of revenue, O’Grady said. By offering a particular service or set of tools on top of a basic technology foundation, vendors can sell companies on the idea of not having to start at square one, he added.

However, vendors can only go so far in terms of providing specific solutions since industry competitors and peers all do things differently, O’Grady said.

Microsoft said it wants to provide the energy sector with project intelligence tools for managing risk and asset utilization, and is working with partners such as Accenture Ltd. and The Project Group Inc. to deliver the technologies.

In the area of upstream portfolio management the software maker will concentrate on collaboration tools, delivered in conjunction with OSIsoft Inc. and Schlumberger Information Solutions. Operational efficiency tools will include technologies for supply chain management and improving asset performance. The software maker said it is working with Aspen Technology Inc., OSIsoft Inc. and SAT Corp. in this area.

To improve products for monitoring, tracking and reporting of health, safety and environmental issues, Microsoft is working with Accenture and Software Architects Inc., among others.