Mining industry CIOs want to dig deeper into IT/OT integration challenges

Innovation is challenging in any industry, but for CIOs in the mining sector the way forward is clear: if they want to reap the benefit of the Internet of Things or big data, they have to play a stronger role in integrating traditional IT with operational technology.

As part of the 5th Annual Global Mining IT and Communication Summit in Toronto last week, IT leaders from firms in Canada and beyond gathered to discuss how bringing IT and OT together will mitigate challenges such as depleting grades of ore bodies, remoteness of new deposits, lack of infrastructure and deeper underground mining. OT generally refers to field-based devices connected to the distribution system, and the infrastructure for monitoring and controlling those devices such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Distribution Management Systems (DMS).

A panel of CIOs agreed that while IT/OT integration has been discussed in the industry for years, it’s the recent increase of sensor technology and other business opportunities which is accelerating the convergence.

“It’s nothing we’ve done,” said Joe AbiDaoud, CIO of HudBay Minerals. “We’re being pulled in because IT is inherently becoming a part of these products.”

This will nonetheless become a core focus for IT leaders in mining, AbiDaoud added. Whereas creating a mobile-app might be considered game changing in other industries, mobility in mining might merely be considered table stakes compared with getting more value from OT.

For example, sensors can be applied to monitor equipment operating conditions, trip cycle events, ore quality, payload, equipment or people in proximity and the mine environment. It would make sense for that data to be fed into business intelligence, for example, but that’s not many firms are still in the early stages.

“We have no resources to look for opportunities. We don’t go out and propose things. We’re not there yet,” said Lino Cafazzo, CIO at Agnico Eagle Mines. “Right now we’ve got to put security around it all.”

OT? That’s Mine!

In some cases vendors of OT products approach mining firms about integrating with IT systems, but it can cost a lot more than having an IT department do the same work internally, Cafazzo added. That may be a more subtle way for CIOs to get the go-ahead they need from the senior leadership team.

“There’s a lot of change management required, but where is the change really required?” asked Ajay K. Dhir, Group CIO & CHRO, Adhunik group of Industries in India. “It has to come from the top floor, not the shop floor.”

One possible advantage CIOs have, AbiDaoud said, is a broader perspective than those running the various fiefdoms in a typical mining organization.

“Everyone is so siloed, but we don’t think in silos. We think more connected,” he said, adding that IT leaders should concentrate on collaborating with those who are truly ready to do so. “I don’t waste time seeking out people who don’t get it, or who don’t care. Good business partners are out there.”

Kalev Ruberg, CIO at Teck Resources, said business units can create havoc if left completely to their own devices, giving the example of engineering teams who wrote SQL queries that nearly destroyed a database. What makes matters more difficult in mining specifically, he added, is the often distributed nature of the workforce.

“There are global cultural issues,” he said. “It can be difficult to standardize systems if those working in a different location feel they have no voice, or no choice.”

Ultimately, the role of CIOs in IT/OT integration is based on how data-driven a particular mining firm wants to be, AbiDaoud said.

“Ninety-five percent of the time the data you want is coming from OT. You’ll see that morph and start to look more like IT in time,” he said. “It will really depend on how extensively (the business) uses it that will determine whether it will be under IT.”

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