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Business process outsourcing in the mining industry: A Q&A with Nigel Court

Nigel Court, Managing Director - Natural Resources, Accenture, discusses BPO in mining and his passion for the game of basketball.
Why do you think Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) has become more popular for global companies?

BPO is now part of a standard management practice, and companies and industries are seeing it as part of their business strategy for lowering costs. In mining there has been limited adoption of BPO, but the industry’s emerging challenge is to create a low cost model at the bottom of the price cycle that can keep costs down when the price cycle turns upwards. This creates a cost structure that is both agile and cost effective, irrespective of where they stand in the cycle.

There is also the additional benefit of greater productivity. BPO should be a key aspect of any business strategy. It can provide cost savings and transformation of functional aspects of a business that deliver innovation, business improvements and a new way of working.
The mining industry has been more reluctant to take up BPO than other industries—why do you think that is?

What we have seen is that a number of mining companies have been looking at BPO in a simple way and not thinking about it as a way to drive deeper value into the business. High performance outsourcing is about looking at problems end to end.

In equipment maintenance, for example, it should be about the whole asset maintenance lifecycle from analyzing data, scheduling tasks, executing tasks, capturing feedback and learning from it. Where there is continuous learning throughout the process, master data gaps can be identified and rectified as part of an all-encompassing service (as a basic improvement). BPO can also provide predictive analytics where data determines when assets are to be maintained, not people. Fundamentally, BPO should be used as a way to find better and cheaper solutions that can deliver greater productivity and throughput.

Another reason that comes out when you talk to mining clients about BPO is that they think you need to do everything in one go, when in fact we like to work with the client to decide what is right for them.

It can be beneficial to start small and then scale over time to fit with the broader organization in a way that works for both parties. For example, we’ve used this type of approach in mining in what we call controlled loop optimization where we typically start with a fixed plant, then execute an initial control loop review. Following this, we identify lost productivity and recommend tuning activities to the client. This can be a BPO service to our clients, where we regularly track and monitor the control loop optimization and implement the changes into the product as a full end-to-end service. When the changes work for the control loop, we can then extend them to other areas of the plant and organization in a timely manner and when the organization requires it. The strategy and plans are owned by the client; the diagnostics, recommendations and changes are made by Accenture. 

Clients may not understand that BPO can help you think differently about a problem you need to solve. A recent example is developing and delivery of training materials. Traditionally a trainer had to develop all of their content before flying to a site to deliver training. But through BPO we can develop training content for an online solution enabled on any device, delivered online with everything from simulations to YouTube videos. This has fundamentally transformed the way in which mining clients are able to deliver training. 

You travel a lot in your position with Accenture. What client location have you found most interesting?

I’ve been to Mozambique about a dozen times and I have always found it fascinating. It was in the grip of a civil war for more than 25 years, yet the people have a very positive view of everything in their life, and an aspiration to avoid conflict. You have to try to understand their culture to make things happen—challenging them does not work (they view this as conflict). They love music so I promised to put on their favorite local band to get their training numbers up. The next day we had 100 percent attendance.

You’re an avid basketball fan—the Perth Wildcats is your favorite team. How and when were you introduced to basketball and how often do you get to watch the Wildcats play?

I’m a huge basketball fan. I started playing when I was 10 and have been playing for almost 40 years. I still play now, and coach three teams as well, so I am actively involved in my local club in Perth. I try to watch the Wildcats play every game and only missed two games last year because of travel.

Have you had the opportunity to watch the NBA in the US?

I’ve seen five games of the NBA in the US. The last one was Cleveland versus Chicago—Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. I’m an LA Lakers fan and I had the opportunity to take five clients to a Lakers versus Houston game where we sat right behind the Lakers’ bench to watch the game. It all came down to the last 20 seconds, so that part of the game was shown on TV the next day and myself and the clients were there in the picture!