Innovation is about more than just new technology

Real innovation is about identifying the opportunities and weakness of your companies and determining a plan to address them, be that through a changed management structure, shifting cultural mindset, or implementing technological solutions.

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Nestor Aleman Esteban

Nestor Aleman Esteban is Regional Manager of IT Projects - West Africa at Kinross Gold Corp. Before he joins us at Mines and Technology London, I sat down with him to discuss his opinions on what innovation really means, the most common pitfalls that miners face when pursuing technology solutions, and how smaller companies can apply the learnings from the majors.

In terms of innovation in mining technology where does the biggest opportunity lie and why?

The biggest opportunity lies in people realising the technology innovation isn’t just about buying new hardware and software. It is about having a strategy. It is about determining where you want your mining in a few years’ time. It is about identifying the opportunities and the weaknesses and coming up with a plan to resolve them. The solution might be to change the management structure; it might be to change the cultural mindset; it doesn’t always have to be about technology. It really is about being innovative in your strategical thinking first  and then seeing how technology can support this.

In what part of mining will technology become more important?

Mining is becoming more difficult as you mine deeper and as there is more waste. Technology can help enhance accuracy in ore extraction but also improve ore pickup after blasting for loading and hauling to plant or dump. Too many minerals are offloaded in waste dumps and too much waste falls into the processing chain. We are focusing a lot of our work on being better at estimating the quality of the rocks and trying to improve mineral processing.

What are the cultural challenges of introducing technological change in a mining company? How do you win ‘hearts and minds?

It partially depends on the jurisdiction and the country as labour issues differ. In some countries where we operate there has some resistance to change due to the cultural differences. Sometimes we haven’t been able to implement changes such as driverless trucks due to legislation, so we have concentrated on solutions that minimise human error such as modular dispatch.

What are the common mistakes miners make in technology innovation?

Poor interoperability and integration. Mining operations are guilty all to often on working in silos rather than taking a holistic view. Too often different departments purchase different pieces of software and then expect IT to get to work together. There needs to be more innovation in interoperability. Mining is further behind other industries such as oil and gas in this respect.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you will be speaking at Mines and Technology? 

Previously at Mines and Technology I have talked about the IT infrastructure required for a remote operation and some of the challenges involved. At Mines and Technology London I’ll be talking about how we have sorted out the challenge of running all our applications on servers-on-premises because external cloud computing was not feasible with the condition of our Internet connection.

Has that helped combat cyber security?

Definitely.  If you go for a 3rd party cloud solution, applications and data management and responsibility is shared with the cloud provider. We feel more secure having the ownership of our data and having the data on our premises. We have full control on who access our applications and data and we can also control restricted and time-limited access for 3rd parties such as vendors.

What has been the biggest benefit that technology has bought your mining operations?

It has bought us cost savings without reducing the number of employees, which was not possible in countries which require a lot of capital investment. Therefore, we have to get the most out of each dollar spent.

I often speak to smaller junior producers and they say “technology is too expensive”; “its only for the big miners like Kinross”; “I can get by on less” – what do you say?

Before I was at Kinross I worked as a consultant advising SMEs, sometimes small companies of only 4 people. They’d often raise similar objections. My response was to point out that there are plenty of ways of innovating without incurring cost. You can innovate in processes; you innovate by streamlining your processes; you can innovate by download a free application. Innovation isn’t just about purchasing things. It may be a consequence of your strategy, but it isn’t your strategy.

Nestor Aleman Esteban, Regional Manager of IT Projects - West Africa, Kinross Gold Corp, will be discussing this topic in more depth  at Mines and Technology London, taking place at the Business Design Centre, 25-27 November. 

Andrew Thake

Head of Content, Mines and Money