Mining’s impending metamorphosis

CORE Skills Ambassador and mining industry heavyweight Ricus Grimbeek shares his views on how the resources sector can best equip itself for a complete digital transformation.

“Transformation is like a caterpillar that becomes a butterfly. There is nothing about a butterfly that tells you that it was once a caterpillar”

Over his 26 years in the mining industry, Ricus Grimbeek has seen significant technological change across a variety of roles. Since graduating from the University of Pretoria in 1991 with a Bachelor of Engineering in Mining, he has worked with many of the leading global resources companies, including Rio Tinto, Lonmin Platinum, BHP Billiton, South32 and now Vale Base Metals.

In the last 10 years, Grimbeek has focused more specifically on how digital technologies will disrupt mining; developing road maps to prepare for the impending transformation and taking a keen interest in resources technology startups.

We caught up with CORE Skills Ambassador Ricus to discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with mining’s necessary metamorphosis. Here’s what he had to say:

How did you first hear about the CORE Skills program?

I heard about CORE Innovation Hub when I worked at South 32 as their Chief Technology Officer. I got invited to come and have a look at what CORE was doing, and I was very excited at the prospect of being part of the CORE professional skills program — helping others get a better understanding of what is happening in the business world around digital and how that is going to disrupt so many parts of our lives. I believe I can help in that space, because I have been doing this type of work for the last 10 years in the mining industry.

What has been your involvement in the resources sector digital disruption space?

At South 32, I was the Chief Operating Officer for a couple of years and then my last role was Chief Technology Officer. In that role, the main deliverable was developing a roadmap to prepare South 32 for digital disruption in the mining industry.

I have also become involved with a few resources technology startups over the last year or so. I am assisting them in formulating their businesses and facilitating connections into industry.

CORE Skills Ambassador and resources industry heavyweight Ricus Grimbeek

One of these startups is called Track’em. I worked with the Founder Kashif Saleem last year and helped him build the commercial model for his business. We also looked for opportunities to expand what he’s doing by looking at the possibility of building a platform for optimising construction in all sorts of industries.

Another startup I have worked with is called Airobotics; an automated drone company who don’t really sell drones any more, they instead sell data and solutions. They are an Israeli company, but they are now headquartered out of an office in Perth and control all their Australian drone flights from there.

I have also been looking at starting a new company that will take a step further into Microsoft predictive analytics software and using that to guarantee safety for people in the workplace.

How would you describe the digital transformation industry challenge?

I have been in the mining industry long enough to safely predict that the next 5 to 10 years will see a profound transformation of the industry due to digital technology. Recent studies show that the size of the prize over the next 7 years could be between $200–300 billion dollars.

That is significant enough to attract many new players into the industry and the current incumbents run the risk of being disrupted by these new players. This risk should be on the agenda of every resources company board because a lot of shareholder value is at risk.

On the other hand, there is the huge potential upside for those that can move fast and think differently. Many people will say that mining will not be impacted because of the physical nature of the business and also the fact that current incumbents have got the license to operate assets. 
I think most taxi companies thought the same before Uber disrupted their world.

What do you think about the state of preparedness of the resources sector and its organisations?

There is a lot of talk in the industry about disruption, but the biggest challenge is that it’s not going to take a change to the current operating world. A total transformation is necessary.

There is a massive difference between change and transformation. A good analogy is that change is like a steam train that over time becomes a bullet train. It’s a very slow meticulous process that you can manage with lots of engineering work. Put it on Gantt charts and you can see where you are going to in a very structured way.

Transformation on the other hand is like a caterpillar that becomes a butterfly. There is nothing about a butterfly that tells you that it once was a caterpillar. The process is not predictable, it is not engineering driven, it is not change management.

Transformations need to be lead. Part of the difference between leading and managing is that leaders need to create a vision of where the company is going and that becomes one of the most powerful and important parts of the process. You need to have a vision of where you are taking the business and you need to enrol so many people.

With all the data and processes being connected, there is a lot more transparency and analytics. Currently data is not the most important thing in our industry, but in a digital world data is everything. Data will become the most important commodity in the resources industry.
“Data will become the most important commodity in the resources industry”

Your structure, your people, your resourcing, every aspect of business is going to shift. The other complicating factor is that this transformation is not going to happen slowly, it is going to be very quick if you look at what has happened in other industries that have been disrupted.

Lastly, because mining companies have been relatively slow at changing, the disruption will mostly be done by outsiders. There is a lot of money to be made in the next ten years in the industry, so there are a lot of people who are looking at the industry from the outside and seeing how they can disrupt it. It is a massive opportunity. The example I use is Uber. Taxi companies never thought that a company that didn’t own one taxi could come in and disrupt the industry. That is a big part of the industry challenge: people may think that because they own the license to operate or because they have these big capital-intensive operations, they will not be disrupted. That is a wrong conclusion.

How do you see CORE Skills playing a part in industry embracing this digital disruption?

Getting the knowledge and understanding of what is going to happen is essential for people in the industry. Companies and individuals that will win will be the ones that equip themselves with the skills to operate in a disrupted digital world. Whether you are a geologist or a line manager or an operator, you must reskill and retool yourself to be able to operate in this new world.

These programs are just the starting point, where people will become more aware of what is coming and then act as a catalyst to embark on an educational upskilling journey to be able to operate in this new industry.
CORE Innovation Hub CEO Tamryn Barker

It is quite exciting that people are queuing up to be a part of the program, because it means that they will still be a part of the resources industry if they want to be. It is not that everyone in the industry is going to be without a job in the next 5 years, but it is your choice, and you have to re-skill and retool yourself. These new roles will be much more exciting, as they will be much more informed with fewer silos, and the industry will be far more efficient and sustainable, with much less waste. The industry will be a much more exciting one to be a part of with fantastic implications for sustainability, safety, and efficiency.

What can be done top down vs bottom up in industry 4.0?

From a leadership point of view, it’s important that you get to understand how the industry will transform and also the type of environment that you will have to create for everyone in the workplace to be able to participate in this future workplace. But also, understanding the new wave of data and processes that you will need to manage very differently than what is currently in place. All levels, including management and executives will need to have some level coding experience and understanding.

As you go deeper in the organisation, and you get more specialised, you will need a greater understanding of advanced data analytics, machine learning, coding, etc. These professionals will need to understand how to use technology to operate remotely, connect different data sets and find the connections between different data sources and outcomes, and then model that and build it into smart operating and control systems. These are all things that will be par for the course for anyone in the industry.

At all levels in the organisation, we will have to constantly think about how we can digitise our processes.

How can I take what I am doing today and find a digital way to do that more efficiently? You will need to find ways to turn what you do into data, because that will help you to work more efficiently tomorrow in a very measured way. At all levels — CEOs to operators will all have to learn new skills.
“You will need to find ways to turn what you do into data, because that will help you to work more efficiently tomorrow in a very measured way”

What will leadership mean moving towards 2020. Who could be part of it?

Basically, as I previously mentioned, every single person will be needed. The more challenging position will be the C suite group, especially in an industry that hasn’t been good at spending capital. They will need to create a story for the investors and analysts around the investment that will be needed to turn the organisation into a more digitally enabled business. The market doesn’t seem to understand the impact that this could have on the evaluation of companies.

It is very hard for CEOs to go out and explain that they are going to spend X million dollars on technological or digital initiatives, when the last ten years has been all about cost cutting and productivity.

That whole conversation is going to be a very difficult one that will have to be waded through by senior executives.

How do you see yourself being involved in the future solution?

I stepped out because I really wanted to learn a new way of working, working with startup companies and starting my own startup company has taught me so much about the future of how mining companies will have to be run in a much more agile way.

There are no longer big waterfall 6-month projects, it is all done in 2 week sprints and you just have to be a lot more ready to do the work yourself.

The way I would like to be involved is to be a part of the disruption in a constructive way, whether that is to be delivered by helping other companies, or running a company doing it, or even if it is just running a startup business that becomes a fully-fledged company that provides services to this industry and others.

That is what I am going to do — I want to be a part of the disruption in a constructive way.

Are diversity and innovation intertwined? How do you see the role of divergent thinking in the workforce meeting the need for employers to become more inclusive?

We really need a diverse workforce and we really need to find ways to include creative people in the workforce. Especially when creating new companies with new ways of working and a totally new culture; we can only do this by creating it. It doesn’t just fall out of the sky.

“If you are different to the norm you are branded an outsider or a disruptor, yet that is exactly what we need in our businesses and our industry now”

So, we must find ways to get people’s creative side to show up again. A lot of what we have done over the last 20–40 years in the industry has basically stifled creativity through the structures and processes that have been put in place. And what we need is a place where it is possible for people to speak up, bring their ideas back into the business and be heard.

How do we get outsiders or outside views into the room? In some places that means we will need new people. A lot of our operations have recruited the same people, so in some cases we will have ten of the same person in the room. If you overlay a structure that forces people in that format not to think differently, then you are not going to get any creativity.

It is a massive challenge for the industry, because we need to bring new people in, but we also need to get our own people to become curious again and allow them to ask questions and allow them to bring new ideas to the table, without fighting or rejecting them.

I know how hard it can be even at a senior level of the organisation to be different. If you are different to the norm you are branded an outsider or a disruptor, yet that is exactly what we need in our businesses and our industry now. We need disruptors and we need outsiders to speak up and we need to listen to them in a totally different way to what we have done in the past.

It is not your normal answer around male and female diversity, which is still important, as it does bring a difference into the team again. These differences are important, but the solution needs to be much broader in terms of the ability to let every single person speak up and bring their whole selves back into the workplace again.

We need people to constantly question things. We need people to be willing to experiment with new approaches and these things are often totally excluded in a corporate environment. Experimentation is seen as an absolute no no. We need people who do not accept the status quo anymore and question everything without being branded as mad or difficult.

How do we achieve this? How do we change the culture of industry and organisations? This problem is not just in the mining industry, it is society wide. We are creating very similar people through education systems and processes that are in place.

Airobotics is an Israeli company and visiting Tel Aviv makes you realise just how much work we must do in Australia to create a similar environment for creative companies to prosper. Our society makes it very difficult for startup companies to get going in the first place.

Why should industry professionals invest valuable business hours upskilling themselves?

I would say why not? If you are there then it means you have been given the opportunity, so how do you use it in the best possible way. Timing wise, it is absolutely the best thing to do it right at the start of the disruption process.

You can become a leader in the transformation that has already started. This is the best time to get yourself re-skilled and retooled so that you can be part of it and not be a prisoner. Why not instead be an active participant and leader in creating this new world?
“The types of conversations that will be created; the questioning and stretching of your current paradigm of where things are and how things will be”

Another benefit is having the opportunity to have conversations with others about a topic and bounce ideas off other people. The fact is that creation needs conversation. If you try to tackle this learning in in a traditional format, it is hard to have those conversations where you are really creating and exploring new avenues. That is a part of why these courses will be so powerful. The types of conversations that will be created; the questioning and stretching of your current paradigm of where things are and how things will be. You must be willing to actively listen and depart from your own opinions. You must truly listen to what people are saying from different, diverse perspectives.

We would like to thank CORE Skills Ambassador Ricus Grimbeek for taking the time to talk with us and sharing his insights into how the mining industry can best embrace a complete digital transformation.

CORE Innovation Hub

191 St Georges Tce, Perth WA 6000

CORE Innovation Hub