An Interview with Kirby Johnson (Consulting Partner, Wipro)

Written by: Fleming. Team

Kirby Johnson
Consulting Partner


Kirby has over 26 years of mining industry experience, with a track record of achievement at executive level across almost every part of the minerals value chain. He is currently responsible for developing the Business Improvement & Optimisation Consulting Practice and strengthening Wipro’s strategic mining client relationships. He has held senior executive roles including Senior Manager at BHP Billiton, Chief Development Officer at Gloucester Coal Ltd, and Executive Director at RFC Ambrian Corporate Finance. Kirby’s passion for mining technology was sparked while working at BHP Billiton Metallurgical Coal.

He was Project Manager for a highly successful systems and technology integration project called “Reserve to Customer Coal Tracking (R2C)”. The R2C project generated an additional $20M EBIT for the Goonyella coal mine in the first 6 months. Kirby was given the inaugural BMA ‘Operating Excellence & Innovation Award’ for the project, and also gained a 6 Sigma ‘black belt’ qualification. A geologist by first training, Kirby has an MBA from the Melbourne Business School, and is a member of the AusIMM, GSA and SEG.

1. There's no doubt that mining needs to adopt innovative business models. What are the factors that will help the industry effectively drive this transformation?

There is a relentless drive for lower cost in any commodity industry – and mining is no different. However, in a period of lower commodity prices the drive to reduce costs is particularly urgent. Another key driver is the need for better safety outcomes. Within society globally the ‘bar is being set higher and higher’ for Health, Safety, Environment & Community performance, and this is driving mining companies to adapt innovative business models.

2. We are hearing a lot about cognitive computing as a next gen technology. What are it's applications and importance within the mining industry?

Cognitive computing does not currently have a big uptake in mining, but that is set to change rapidly as Use Cases become better understood. A key area for application of cognitive is in more comprehensive geological and engineering models, modelled in real time.

3. What are the common obstacles that companies face in new technology adoption? How can these be overcome?

The obstacles are primarily a function of the capital intensity of the industry. It is not economic to simply discard billions of dollars of fixed and mobile capital that is typically deployed at a big modern mine site. So technology adoption needs to be very carefully focused on maximizing the value of the deployed capital – making the equipment work faster, lower cost and/or safer. So technology needs to be very focused on the basics of mining: Safety, Production, Costs.

4. What is the role of people in driving transformation?

People are essential! All business starts and ends with people. Interestingly, the mining industry is a relatively small employer of people anyway. So the focus for mining companies is to really engage the workforce to understand how technology can (further) enhance the basics metrics of mining: Safety, Production and Costs.

5. Any final thoughts?

The role of the mining technology leader in mining is changing rapidly. From 1965 to about 2010 the typical technology leader was an IT Manager, dealing with mine site-based systems including servers, email, and production control systems. Since 2010 the typically mining technology leader has been a CIO, dealing with business systems (ERP), mining fleet management systems, Remote Operating Centres (ROCs), wireless mesh, and historians. Today we are seeing the role of the mining technology leader evolve rapidly – increasingly mining companies have a CTO, dealing with drones, analytics, cloud, automation and Integrated Operations.


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