Charles Osborn’s Lifelong Education Search Drives Enable Midstream Partners

As a high school freshman in the late 1980s, Charles Osborn traveled 40 miles to a technical college to learn programming and start on a path to IT success

When he joined Enable Midstream Partners in December 2015, Charles Osborn brought with him a lifelong commitment to continual learning. As a high school freshman in the late 1980s, he had to travel about forty miles by bus to a technical college to attend a programming class. “I had to forgo athletics to be able to participate in that class,” Osborn recalls. To explain to his sons the importance of sacrificing for your career, he teasingly details the fact that he rode a bus forty miles—uphill both ways.

Osborn obtained a balanced IT background by starting early in development and computer support when both were still fledgling fields. He then continued his career into infrastructure engineering, application services, strategic planning, and program management.

Before joining Enable, Osborn spent ten years as a department leader for upstream Chesapeake Energy, which operates oil and natural gas wells; he also worked for Koch Industries. “The majority of my career has been connected to the energy industry,” Osborn explains. “It’s been a blessing to work in a small number of companies, but in each case, they’ve been leaders within their industries.”

This varied background has helped Osborn succeed as vice president of enterprise technologies at Enable Midstream Partners. In his current role, he leads a department that provides a wide range of enterprise technology services for the Oklahoma City-based company. “Our department enables the digital business capabilities that support the commercial, operational, and financial goals of our company,” he says. “With our enterprise technology, we encompass all the traditional IT services in addition to our SCADA telemetry.” SCADA, or supervisory control and data acquisition, is software that controls remote devices. Among other tasks, these devices measure the amount of natural gas or oil that flows through the company’s pipelines.

Enable has fourteen processing plants that cover more than 12,000 miles of natural gas and oil gathering pipelines. These gathering pipelines send oil and gas from wells to the company’s more than 10,000 miles of transmission pipelines, which transport the oil and gas to refineries. The company’s pipelines transport 5–6 billion cubic feet of gas and approximately 30,000 barrels of oil daily. In addition to overseeing the technology that supports the pipelines, Osborn’s department of approximately 120 people oversees five data centers, located in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, and on the East Coast. The data centers handle operation of the company’s pipelines and its IT services. To manage all of this, the company’s IT employees must be skilled in various areas, such as enterprise resource planning, automation, SCADA, and cybersecurity.

Multiple Meters

Because Enable Midstream Partners is paid by the amount of natural gas and oil it collects and transports, accurate metering of the volumes that travel through its network of pipelines is the company’s lifeblood. Due to the pipelines’ remote locations, special wireless communication towers are erected where no broadband or cellular coverage is available. These allow the flow being measured by the company’s fifteen thousand meters to be communicated to data centers nearly in real time. This information is crucial to Enable’s commercial and operating teams. It also enables the organization’s engineers to understand how a processing plant is operating.

Recently, Osborn and his team have developed a hybrid cloud designed that will decrease cost while improving the agility and flexibility of its solutions. Enable’s enterprise resource planning, its telepresence systems, and some of its human resources systems have already been moved to the cloud, and operational, measurement, and asset management systems are also being evaluated.

“By moving to the cloud, we don’t have to own the data centers,” Osborn explains. “We look at the cloud as a sophisticated data center that allows us to think creatively and challenge what many see as the status quo.” If you want to have fast performance, speed-to-market, and security, he says, you need a lot of capability around automation and modular systems, which the cloud can provide. “There are partners with a core competency in cloud solutions, and there is an advantage for us to leverage others and let us focus on business capabilities and value,” Osborn explains. “Generally, over time, we’ll be moving workloads that Enable is not required to physically own.”

Osborn and the IT department also partner with specialized companies for such functions as the help desk. “We’re trying to move past just a traditional, reactive IT department and be very strategic in terms of the solutions we’re providing,” Osborn says. “We have recently made an organized move where we’ve taken our end-user team out of a traditional infrastructure team and partnered them with an engagement team to elevate the voice of the customer and partner with them for success.”

To lead his department through these initiatives, Osborn draws on his breadth of experience and passes along the advice that he has learned over the years. “Be a student of your industry and be a student of leadership,” Osborn says. “You’re trying to gain broad experience.Then just be sure that you’re focused on helping others succeed.” In fact, Osborn heeds his own advice. He has continued his education at Oklahoma City University, where he received a master’s degree in science and energy management this past May.

Osborn’s philosophy of continual learning aligns well with Enable’s employee leadership program Liberating Leaders, based on the tools and language developed by GiANT Worldwide, as well as another key leadership resource for employees called Know Yourself to Lead Yourself. “It’s a philosophy based on your understanding of your natural personality type as well as what we call your voice, or style, and then understanding how to adapt that to the situation you’re in,” Osborn explains. For example, one person in a department might be a pioneer—always trying something new—while another might be a guardian, who wants to do things the established way. “Recognizing that difference in our styles can create a stronger team environment,” Osborn says. By building those strong teams, Enable continues to prosper.