Plains Midstream Canada’s chief information officer is giving tech providers a seat at the decision-making table
To say that Dan Reinbold has an unconventional background is almost certainly an understatement. After all, the director of information services for Plains Midstream Canada has a degree in history and political science from the University of Alberta and a background providing IT expertise in the healthcare sector. But Reinbold, who moved to Calgary in 2008 to take on the role of executive director and chief technology officer with Alberta Health Services, eventually decided it was time for something different. “I’d been in healthcare for 10 years, and I was looking to broaden my horizons. And in Calgary, oil and gas was an obvious opportunity.”
He was brought in at Plains Midstream Canada, a workplace that he describes as a “small shop,” in December 2010. But it didn’t stay that way for long. In early 2012, Plains Midstream bought BP Canada’s NGL business, and Reinbold was responsible for integrating the IT assets into a single entity. “We had to do a number of really fast IT implementations in order to close the deal in 90 days,” he says. But the more important part of the deal was the fact that it gave him an opportunity to change the way the entire company thought about IT and its role in the strategic process. “When I came into the role, I saw a lot of the disconnect between the business and IS [information services]. IS really wasn’t seen as a strategic partner whatsoever. I think in healthcare, we were a little more evolved from an alignment perspective. A lot of our systems were heavily involved in delivering patient care, so there was a logical connection there.”
One of Reinbold’s biggest accomplishments at Plains Midstream Canada, he says, was creating that same connection. “We do play a pivotal role, strategically, at the table. For me, the lines of OT [operational technology] and IT [information technology] have blurred considerably. It’s not super sexy, but I think it’s one of the biggest things that I’ve been able to do.”
Plains Midstream Canada may be something of an outlier in that respect. “I think there’s still this perception of IT as a utility support service, not a strategic partner,” Reinbold says. “I look at a lot of my peers in the industry today, and I think a lot of them have done a good job of breaking down some of those barriers. But it’s the culture of oil and gas, in some respects.”
So too is the reluctance to embrace new ideas and technologies before they’ve been proven up somewhere else first, which helps explain the slow uptake on cloud-based infrastructure. “They think that if Jennifer Lawrence’s pictures can get hacked, the same thing could happen to our pipelines,” Reinbold says. “And they’re not wrong. So they become insular, and think they need to build really thick walls on our castle, dig a really deep moat and put a bunch of crocodiles in there.” But, he says, that fear blinds companies to the potential benefits of the cloud. “There are still IT guys that like to hug their servers and get into their data centers, because they’re tangible assets that they can see and touch and know they’re protected. I get that. But at the same time, the ability to start turning on applications relatively quickly and spin up activity is an empowering thing for us in IS, and rather than resisting it we should be embracing it a little bit more.”
His openness to technological change and innovation, and his desire to see IT providers involved in the strategic decision-making process put Reinbold near the head of his particular class. But if there’s one thing that pushes him to the top it’s the fact that he’s more than happy to acknowledge that he doesn’t know everything – and doesn’t need to, either. “My leadership style has always been about the engagement and empowerment of my guys. You need to trust them, ultimately. When a CIO thinks that he’s the smartest IT guy in a room full of IT guys, that’s a mistake. When you’re in a room with a bunch of your operations, finance and HR colleagues, you should be the smartest IT guy in the room. But as soon as I’m with my head of network services or my IS operations manager, I’m clearly not the smartest IT guy in the room. And that’s okay.”
Still, make no mistake, Reinbold is plenty smart. And he wants to see that intelligence, and that of his peers, put to work on making the energy sector just as efficient as other IT-dependent sectors of the economy like banking and retail. “They’re efficient because they like to make money, and so they drive a bottom line. That, to me, is the stuff that gets me out of bed in the morning. If $50 oil is a reality, how does IS make that a very profitable exercise?”
Calgary-based Plains Midstream Canada (PMC) has beefed up from its 130-staff startup in 2001 to 1,300 employees today, through its appetite for acquisitions – digesting 34 so far.
Its biggest get was BP’s Canadian NGL business, completing PMC’s seamless midstream integration. PMC is an indirect subsidiary of Houston’s Plains All American Pipeline, and operates in eight provinces and 45 U.S. states.
PMC owns, operates, acquires and develops midstream energy assets, specializing in transportation, storage, processing and marketing services of crude oil, natural gas, and NGLs. It also separates NGLs from natural gas and fractionates them into products.
Its transport network plays a key role in Western Canada. Crude oil and diluent flow along 4,700 kms of pipeline, divided into four main systems: Rainbow and Rangeland in Alberta, and Manito and South Saskatchewan in Saskatchewan. PMC also has 24 crude oil truck terminals and over 800 leased railcars throughout North America. Total crude oil storage capacity is over 4.8 million barrels.
Its NGL infrastructure includes 28 storage facilities, 19 rail terminals and six pipeline terminals, in addition to eight fractionation facilities, four gas straddle plants and two gas processing plants.
Q + A with our CIO of the Year: Dan Reinbold
What is the most important quality that a senior executive can have?
Leadership, and all aspects that fall under it. That includes identifying key people and their attributes, empowering your staff, making the tough decisions with confidence and identifying strengths and weakness in yourself and others.
What is the most important quality that a senior executive can have?
Humility. I learned a long time ago that recognizing that success in IT is not a function of individual achievement – in particular, my contribution – but rather about assembling the best team to get the job done.
What is the least important quality that a senior executive can have?
Vanity. Nothing worse than a leader who thinks they’re the smartest person in the room.
What is your greatest fear?
Which living person do you admire most?
Richard Branson. Great leader and loves life to the fullest.
What is your greatest extravagance?
My 1990 British Army Land Rover Defender. Not pretty, but definitely has dented both my wallet and my time during restoration.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’m a procrastinator.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Raising my two step-daughters.
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