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How Plains Midstream Canada Mixed AI into its Digital Transformation

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Calgary, Alberta, is home to Plains Midstream Canada (PMC), one of the largest transportation & midstream providers in the oil industry. PMC links petroleum producers with refiners and other customers via more than 8,000km of pipeline, as well as, truck and rail transportation services. It also operates 24 facilities for crude oil and NGL storage and separation of NGL from natural gas. At the end of 2017, and two years into a major digital transformation, PMC turned to IBM to begin work with IBM’s new Natural Resources Innovation program. Through the work, PMC has been able to tap into AI and analytics to unearth insights and accelerate new projects. The THINK Blog recently caught up with Chris Leonard, director, strategy & digital transformation for insights into the progress. The following is an excerpt.

THINK Blog:  When you began with the program, how did you prioritize the AI work?
Chris Leonard:
  I think for PMC, having a digital transformation roadmap in place really helped identify and prioritize the areas of work we needed to enable. We conducted a series of workshops with IBM and our business leaders in operations to identify business-prioritized, data-possible capabilities that we could front-load in the first year. Basically, we came down to a short list of four areas we thought to be manageable from both a change management and resourcing perspective.

Initially we focused on asset utilization, and incorporating advanced analytics work into how we best operate our assets. During the workshops we narrowed that focus down to asset power utilization. We felt strongly that there was some very near-term tangible value that could be achieved by optimizing our own power utilization.

We then wanted to optimize our approach to work management. This had also been identified early for delivery on our roadmap and seemed like an ideal opportunity to accelerate delivery.

Next, we really wanted to focus on our stakeholders and our commitment to maintaining strong relationships. Communication, transparency and the dissemination of information to our many stakeholders is crucial for long-term success. PMC has operations that span across Canada and the United States, and effectively managing, tracking and improving how we can best work with our stakeholders is vitally important to us. We wanted a mechanism to better support our operations in this area.

Probably most importantly, was our identification of a safe work capability in program. At PMC, the protection, security and safety of our employees, the public, and the environment in the communities where we operate is a core value. As part of our commitment to continuous improvement and achieving operational excellence, we welcomed the chance to leverage analytics as a tool for our safety teams to expand upon and help improve our safety performance.

Chris Leonard, Director, Strategy & Digital Transformation, PMC.

THINK Blog: Q3: So, where did you start?
Leonard:
  The first phase of the program was the data discovery phase. As many other companies out there likely do, we had apprehensions around whether the quality of our data could enable adequate analysis. Despite this, we were able to determine quite easily that the Innovation Program can tell us as much about where we need to improve the quality of our data as it can help pinpoint high quality data that we can actually analyze. This is not meant to instigate a huge data program. We are very much focused on business outcomes and analytical insights, and therefore it’s very easy to narrow down those data sources you need to look for.

THINK Blog: What about change management; how is that aligning with your business processes?
Leonard
:  The insights that each “AI-enabled advisor” delivers do not automatically equate to business value. What it does do is give us analytical insights that help create better business intelligence, which in turn we can use to create business value. The value realization will only be achieved through a holistic approach to the corresponding people and process changes.

In the next six months our focus is on working very closely with our business units to start to plan how we are going to adjust our operations work practices in order to drive that value creation. This will be crucial to realizing the business benefits of the program.

Success for me is only achieved when the business value has been achieved, not just the introduction of advanced analytics.
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To learn more visit the IBM Natural Resources Innovation program.

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