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PERSPECTIVES


Integrated digital value chain in the mining industry: Q&A with George Long

George Long, Accenture Digital Mining Lead, suggests being bold in technology adoption.
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Why do you think it’s important for miners in a period of economic downturn to resist survival mode and instead look for opportunity?
It’s a tricky time for mining companies. The downturn in commodity prices has been combined with increasing costs of production. As a result, the majority of miners have cut overhead costs by reducing headcount in non-core functions and built leaner organizations. The extended timeframe of this downturn, however, has caused some mining companies to look at their businesses from a different perspective: innovation.

Survival mode should be less about battening down the hatches and more about being bold to gain a competitive advantage. Mining companies can do this by positioning their businesses to exploit the uptick in the market when it does come. By understanding their cost and profit basis across the digital mining value chain, companies can better align their operations portfolio to the market.

How do you believe digitalization can significantly improve mining companies’ advantage?
Digital technology is all about gaining flexibility. Social, mobile, analytic, cloud and sensor (SMACS) technologies all make it possible to pursue agile projects aligned to cash flow and paid for through “as a service” or “consumption-based” models. These projects can drive change and real business value in short sprints, but they must be aligned to a central vision or anchored to one platform.

The end goal is an optimized digital mining value chain with clear visibility across the whole business—from “mine to market” and “sensor to boardroom.” For instance, a mining company’s ability to run simulations and provide clear insights can reduce variability in all aspects of the mining process. This translates into increased productivity for lower cost.

What are the characteristics of a company that does digital well, compared to a company that does not?
Digital means change and change needs to be driven by strong leaders who have the respect of the people around them and the power to make things happen. Early millennials are now reaching the senior levels of mining companies. These leaders have less tolerance for traditional, manual processes that occupy skilled labor and eat up precious time. A company with a clear vision and the flexibility to adapt to many factors can really take advantage of game-changing digital technology in an industry that is primed for evolution.

You studied Geology and Geophysics, then lived in France for nine years. How did you end up working with Mining clients at Accenture?
In my third year at university I had a decision to make—either study a Masters in Vulcanology or go to France for one ski season. I opted for skiing and ended up staying in France for nine years! During my time overseas I worked for a start-up technology company and developed a real interest in cutting-edge technology.

When I returned to the UK, I finally used my degree by working for a large software company focused on operational mining. I visited more than 40 mine sites and saw the opportunity for digital technologies. My next professional step was to join Accenture so that I could actively work to guide clients through real transformational change in an industry that I find enthralling.

Have you always been interested in new technology?
I was surprisingly slow to adopt technology. My university friends actually had to march me into a mobile phone shop to buy a device. I also remember when I first looked at an Internet search bar and thought—now what?

This measured approach has shaped how I think about technology. Why build an amazing user interface if there’s no reason to go and look at it? My goal is to bring people to technology and make it worth their while by providing relevant information so they will come back for more.

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