By Danielle Bochove | Bloomberg
Elko, Nevada, is no Silicon Valley.
A recent front-page story in the local paper hailed inductees to the Buckaroo Hall of Fame, a nod to the town’s cowboy past. Inside, a full-page spread detailed the aspirations of the kids vying for homecoming king and queen.
Yet it’s here, in an unremarkable warehouse in the foothills of the Ruby Mountains, that Barrick Gold Corp. has created an in-house coding hub to design software for its nearby Cortez operation — one step in its plan to use technology to revolutionize the business. From underground WiFi to sensors that track the output of every miner, it’s all part of what Cisco Systems Inc. Executive Chairman John Chambers calls an “audacious goal” by his Barrick counterpart John Thornton to drag gold mining into the 21st century.
“The challenge is to move from thinking of it as a series of tasks to a sort of self-perpetuating machine which becomes the culture,” Thornton said during a recent stop in Elko, about 420 miles from the bright lights of Las Vegas. “You move — to make it slightly dramatic — from being a mining company, to being a digital company that happens to be in mining.”
It’s been 13 months since Thornton, 63, first unveiled his vision to team up with Cisco and transform Barrick’s Nevada operations into a high-tech blueprint for the rest of the company. While Chief Operating Officer Richard Williams is “exceptionally pleased” with progress, it’s been slower than expected, he told analysts on a conference call. Digital remains critical to Barrick’s goal of reducing all-in mining costs to $700 an ounce from $740 to $770 now.
So far, the miner has created C0dem1ne, its Elko software hub; added autonomous mining equipment; and built a nerve center called the Analytics and Unified Operations Center. The latter will become Barrick’s “unblinking eye,” crunching a “data lake” of information fed by tens of thousands of sensors and spitting out analysis to employees.
This year’s digital budget of $50 million is a drop in the bucket for a company with a market value of about $17 billion. But under the watch of Williams, a former SAS commanding officer, Barrick has approached every spend with military precision.
“We have examined, and examined, and examined the value of our digital investment in ways that is out of all proportion to its number,” Williams said during a 90-minute drive from Elko to Cortez. “Why? Because we want to be absolutely sure, at every level of the organization, that this makes sense.”
Read the rest of the story at sltrib.com.