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Rag Udd VP Technology Global Transformation BHP at QODE

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Rag Udd, VP Technology Global Transformation, BHP

Speech given at QODE

Brisbane, Australia

It’s my great pleasure to be here as Vice President of Technology Global Transformation at BHP, and President of the Queensland Resources Council. Firstly, I wish to acknowledge the Turrbal and Yuggera people. I pay my respects to their Elders past and present and I look forward to our shared future. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the major sponsors of QODE - the Queensland Government and the Brisbane City Council.


1997. The year when, Steve Jobs returned to Apple. And the year when two Stanford students changed their search engine domain from Backrub to Google. The seeds of the world’s digital transformation were sowed that year. It was also, the year I joined BHP. Fast forward to 2019, and the mining industry is now on the cusp of its own digital transformation, as we re-imagine the way we mine.

Mining has changed – in ways unimagined by me in 1997 – when I started work, as a Project Engineer at the San Juan Mine, in New Mexico. Back then my computer was not in my pocket, it took up half my desk; and the other half struggled under the weight of a dot matrix printer! Now, in my role, I have a privileged vantage point – I can look back on what’s changed and look forward on the changes still to come with the hope of changing it.

Acceleration and disruption

Our industry helped fuel the digital revolution. There’s no doubt about it. Iron ore and coal for the steel used to grow our cities – our buildings, schools and hospitals, or the copper for electric cars and almost every electronic device. Of course, at BHP, we are incredibly proud of our role in this revolution – but the truth is - mining hasn’t progressed at the same pace.

Moving forward, we must make up for lost time – it’s not a challenge, it’s an imperative. Because now is a time when our people, our customers, our communities, and our planet demand more of us - as an industry, as companies and as colleagues. It’s a disruptive time.

Take exploration for example. This field is rapidly evolving from a space where remote drilling, sampling, and core analysis programs are being substituted with aerial and seismic surveys. The time to complete drill programs and turn them into plans has typically been measured in years. With rapidly evolving technologies, we now analyse resource information almost instantaneously - without compromising quality.

In the same way we see it and feel it in our personal lives – technological advances mean our industry has entered an age of acceleration. It’s now driving an exponential rate of change, some fear may exceed our capacity to cope. Clearly that’s not a view that I’m prepared to accept.

Instead, it’s my view that collectively as an industry, in partnership with our suppliers, communities and government - we can do more much more than ‘cope’. A tech-driven future is a reality. It waits for no-one. But is a future that we can shape together.

We must be brave. We must adapt and evolve. We must replicate the success of others – and learn from their mistakes. No one has all the answers – but we can’t be afraid to find new ways to achieve our goals. And new partners to do it with. 

Re-imagining the Future of Work

At BHP, we’re harnessing technological advances, as an opportunity, and a responsibility. Our technology spans the world.

Connecting and supporting 176 locations and 7 seaports, 15 data centres – and a one thousand, three hundred and fifty kilometre rail network – almost the distance from Brisbane to Cairns (Note: 1677km). More importantly, our technology connects and supports the ideas, abilities and ambitions of over 60,000 of our employees globally - from Brisbane to Santiago, London to Moranbah, Perth to Houston.

Connecting everything, and everyone. Helping us re-imagine mining. Helping us re-imagine the future of work. Technology already means a lot of things, to a lot of people, at BHP. It means a lot to a drill operator, who can now operate 3 automated drill rigs from the safety of a remote operations centre.

It means a lot to a re-skilled mining veteran, who now drives a SUV around our Pilbara site operating the latest mine modelling software. And it will mean a lot, to a computer science undergraduate inspired to study STEM at school, when, to her surprise, she considers mining as career option at the end of her degree.

And as our transformation gathers pace, it will mean a lot more, to a lot more people. More flexibility. More opportunity. More diversity.

Building skills and capability - now

But, to realise this future, we must build skills and capability – and we must do it now. By 2030, half of the future workforce will need advanced coding and software design skills. So, in preparation for tomorrow, we’re building a technology savvy workforce, today.

400,000 hours. Think about that number for a moment. That’s the amount of training we will deliver for our people as part of the implementation of just one key technology initiative. Yes, you heard right - that’s just one initiative.

We are actively creating a culture of learning and upskilling – this means more controllers, more builders and more technicians. We are also preparing the workforce of tomorrow – collaborating to tackle the STEM skills gap, contributing more than $55 million to Australian STEM programs.

Again, this means a lot – to a lot of people. It means… students at high schools in central Queensland – more than 11 hours drive from here – are completing Remote Pilot certificates as part of their senior studies. And upon graduation, they will possess the highest possible accreditation for drone piloting in Australia.

As a key investor in this program, we are very proud to be helping set them up for future success. It means... vocational students in Western Australia will soon have the option to study automation. This is thanks to a training alliance established between their State Government, TAFE and industry – including BHP.

The alliance is putting in place the steps needed to build the autonomous capabilities of the West Australian workforce, and will result in Australia's first nationally accredited courses. It’s a landmark partnership – and we are already working to replicate this approach to automation building in Queensland.

But we can always do more – how are we doing this?
Through our shared commitment to the Queensland Minerals and Energy Academy, which – through BHP’s support – now reaches 60 schools across Queensland, with a target to reach 100 schools in 5 years;
Through working with the Palaszczuk Government to provide real ideas to their Advance Queensland review;
Through bringing BHP’s global reach to the table for the newly created Future of Work project through Jobs Queensland and providing advice and ideas to the Queensland Government on what a future workforce can look like.
Beyond this, my offer and my challenge to government, to communities, to educators and academia, to industry leaders – and to all the innovators in this room – is talk with us, tell us what you need, and let’s build our tech-driven future together.

Innovation equals inclusion and diversity

As technology has made us re-consider the skills profile, it has also allowed us to re-imagine the gender profile of our workforce. With innovation must come inclusion. Let me tell you how we are doing this.

At BHP, we have created new roles and ways of working, forged new opportunities, and harnessed the potential of a more inclusive and diverse workplace.Our Integrated Remote Operations Centre - or IROC as we know it - established just over two years ago, achieved gender balance from the outset. Located here in Brisbane, the IROC team manages our entire coal supply chain from pit to port.

Equally importantly, the IROC created an extensive suite of training and upskilling opportunities for our people – many of whom were long-term miners. Over 50 per cent of the IROC’s mine control team have formerly operated heavy vehicles.

I’m talking about trucks, diggers and graders – some the size of a small house. One of these controllers, a truck driver for 16 years, describes his transition into the IROC as: “The best thing I ever did”.

Our Minister for Innovation in Queensland, Kate Jones, visited our IROC late last year.  Minister Jones, who we know loves technology tweeted: “The team at BHP IROC are using robotics, automation and data to make mining safer, grow jobs and re-skill.” Hashtag – “Queensland workforce for the future.”

The importance of working in partnership

We can do a lot, as an organisation and as an industry, to solve for the future. But we can do more when we combine our capabilities with others.  Strategic partnerships can connect us with today’s biggest thinkers and tomorrow’s brightest talent.

Alongside industry, government, and communities, our people are leading the way. We are creating alliances that bring multiple partners together to collaborate on shared problems.

Take robotics and automation for example. We know they are catalysts for future economic growth. There is a clear pull for robotics capability across many sectors – well beyond mining. But despite this demand, Australia still trails other leading industrial powers in adoption of robotics and autonomy.

We have approximately 0.6 robots per thousand employees compared to the OECD average of 1.6 . If we can increase that adoption, we have a real opportunity to develop best-in-class industrial robotics and remote asset management.These capabilities, like the commodities they help extract, can be exported throughout the world.

For this reason, at BHP, we are working hard to establish an Industry-Led Australian Robotics Cluster – right here in Queensland – to drive this forward. Again, this is a partnership approach - with Government, educators and other sector leaders – to future proof not only our industry…. but our state as a whole.

The Advance Queensland review is also an opportunity for Queensland, one of the world’s leading resource producers to reaffirm its position as one of the sector’s leading innovators – and lead the disruption.

Why do we want to lead – particularly in the areas of robotics and autonomy? To make our industries more productive. To make our operations more sustainable. To make the work of our people safer and their careers even more fulfilling and even more rewarding. In doing so, we can continue to attract the talent we want and need.

Queensland has the opportunity to lead. In industries, like mining and agriculture, Queensland has the opportunity to make its economic strengths stronger through the adoption of these technologies.

To do this, we must embrace disruption and collaboration – and engage in a frank conversation about what this actually means. Let me make this very clear – this is not a one-way conversation about fewer jobs. It’s a plan for safer jobs, for redesigned roles and for creation of entirely new ones. At BHP, we are excited by the opportunity – and I really hope you are too.

Stimulating innovation along the supply chain

There’s no doubt that one of the greatest contributions BHP makes to the places where we operate is engaging our suppliers to solve our challenges and in turn, stimulate innovation.

Why here? More than 60% of the world’s mining-related software is written in Australia.  Growing those businesses with our own creates shared value for our local communities.

Our national BHP Local Buying Program is a great example of this contribution in action. What it’s done is broken down barriers to doing business with us for local suppliers in our host communities across Australia, especially here in Queensland.

We made it easier for local businesses to competitively bid, through a streamlined procurement and payment process, including 21-day payment terms. Further afield, in South America – and in partnership with the Chilean Government, we use an open platform to connect our unique mining challenges with suppliers and innovators.

Very excitingly, this initiative recently delivered a new maintenance robot – the first of its kind – created by a local business. Not only does the robotic arm keep workers out of what can be a dangerous work environment, but it also performs the work much faster.

This a big a win for us – particularly as our people are safer. It’s also a win for local suppliers and it’s a win for local innovators and entrepreneurs. 

I’m pleased to share we are now piloting this program at one of our Australian assets, with a view to establishing this nationally. Why? To further grow our commitment to innovation and economic development here in Australia and in Queensland.

Reflections and summary

Reflecting on what we’ve achieved to date – on ways we’ve harnessed technology across our global operations – reinforces the importance of thinking bigger than mining. Harnessing technology at BHP, is about transforming the way we work; the way we connect; the way we learn; and the way we share.

Now is the time to “THINK BIG”. To step up, stand out and work together. Technology and innovation is here to stay and it is moving fast. Like I said earlier, no one has all the answers – but we must be brave. And we all have a role to play. Not just large companies like ours. It’s every single person in this room.

Now, all of this is a vision that I could not have imagined back in 1997, when my career in mining began and when the only drone was the noise of that dot matrix printer. I couldn’t have imagined the rate of change, or the impact of technologies, that have propelled our industry into this era of acceleration.

An era that will present significant opportunities for those who harness these technologies to accelerate their own transformation. And significant challenges, for those that don’t.

Like you, I want to use this conference as an opportunity to connect, to talk to with each of you, to learn from each of you. I believe we have reason to be excited about the future.

Steve Jobs - the guy that took computers off the desk, and put them in our pocket, once said:  “It’s not about faith in technology, it’s about faith in people”. At BHP we put our faith in the people behind the machine. We put our faith in you.

Thank you.