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Rag Udd, VP Technology, Global Transformation speaks at AustMine 2019

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Rag Udd, VP Technology Global Transformation, BHP
Speech given at AustMine 2019
Brisbane, Australia

It’s my great pleasure to be here. Let me start by acknowledging the Turrbal and Yuggera people. I pay my respects to their Elders - past and present - and I look forward to our shared future.

Thank you also to AustMine 2019 for inviting BHP to share some of our thoughts on technology – both the impact it’s having on our business and our industry. And, as we see it, the immense opportunities for shared-benefits.

Benefits which we believe are both significant and long-lasting – but only if we are all willing to act now. But more on that a little later.

In our industry, like so many others, technological change is not new. But if I am honest, I would also acknowledge that these advances have mostly been incremental in nature.

In thinking and in practice, our industry’s approach to technology has been one of evolution - not revolution.

I have a question for you – is there a single person here who thinks this is what our future looks like?

I think not.

Not the organisers of this event who have chosen ‘Mining Innovation: The Next Horizon’ as this year’s conference theme.

Not the program designers who have nominated ‘Accelerating Transformational Technology Initiatives in a Global Business’ as the topic they want me to speak about today.

Not the other speakers you have already heard from this morning.

And most certainly not BHP.

The next horizon in mining innovation is no secret. It is – quite simply – the acceleration of transformative technology in every corner of our industry.

It’s rapid. It’s disruptive. It’s game-changing. And it’s the only game in town.

As a business. As an industry. As a mining state and as a mining nation. If we are not in that game, the future will simply leave us behind. And, the benefits will be captured outside of Australia.

The paradox in this conversation though is that the thing that will determine who wins in that future – for all of us – is not the technology.

The technology is coming - whether we like it or not. What will determine who wins in this future is people. It’s the rate-determining step

So let me explain this a little bit more...

It’s the people in this room and in our workplaces. It’s the people in our towns and regions. And it’s educators and it’s policymakers.

It’s our willingness to step into an undetermined future that will determine who is differentiated to the positive.

For those that embrace the change, and lean into the conversation – there are spoils to be shared all around. And for those that resist the change, a very different path.

So I ask you today – are we willing to work together to make this future a success? Are we willing to share our challenges, and indeed the benefits?

If we do work together, the opportunities are enormous.

At BHP, there are thousands of things to think about as we consider our transformation agenda. But, there are two things we have consciously placed at the centre - and that we never forget:

First, we embrace that this is no longer an option - it is essential. And second, we welcome that this must be an exercise in partnership, human network building, co-creation and collaboration.

On this journey, we know that our progress and success will be strengthened when we choose not to walk alone - but to partner with others.

And it’s where we see these opportunities to partner with others that I would like to talk a little more about today.

Not "what" we are doing, but "why" we want to do it and "how" we want to do it.

Both inside the gate and outside the gate.

Inside the gate

First and foremost - inside the gate - we must partner with our people.

Over 60,000 employees in 90 locations – and the hundreds of thousands who bring our entire sector to life.

We can’t underestimate the opportunity in front of us. Nor can we ignore that, for some, it won’t be without challenges.

Joseph Fuller, a Harvard professor, recently surveyed 11,000 people – both managers and employees – across 11 countries, on this very topic. Predictably, he discovered that leaders feel anxious about mobilising the workforce of tomorrow.

Employees, however, didn’t share that sense of anxiety. In fact, contrary to what most people believe, the study revealed they are excited about new technologies and are willing to be trained in new skills. Instead, the challenge is that they don’t always know what skills they need and how to obtain them.

As this study shows, we too can’t underestimate the willingness of our people and their ability to learn. As a business and as a sector, we must do a better job at providing clarity.

This means doubling down on our efforts to identify the skills gap – and building capability. We must upskill and reskill, train, and create a workforce that can make the most of the opportunities in front of us.

At BHP, we’re already on this path and, I’m pleased to say, this already means a lot of things, to a lot of people.

It means a lot to the re-skilled 30-year mining veteran, who now monitors the performance of our fully autonomous truck fleet at Jimblebar in Western Australia. I his words: “You learn this skillset - and you’ll be employable anywhere.”

It means a lot to the control team, right here in Brisbane, within our Integrated Remote Operations Centre - or IROC as we know it. Fifty per cent of this team – of 400 people – retrained after formerly operating heavy vehicles. Now, they’re remotely driving our entire East Coast coal business – from pit to port.

And as we gather pace, it is going to mean a lot more, to a lot more people.

Recently, in Queensland, we partnered with the Resources Council, TAFE and the Palaszczuk Government to deliver a training program across the industry focused on enhancing digital capability. The training will reach hundreds of employees, providing vital foundational skills.

At our sites, where the transformative nature of technology is perhaps most significant, we have also launched a concerted program focussed on preparing for the roles of the future. This includes learning more about autonomous equipment and operations, transition pathways, training and upskilling requirements – and much more.

In doing so, we want to create the environment and the tools to ensure everyone is on the front foot. So that everyone can make their own decisions; and so that everyone can shape their own future.

Over time, as we progress – yes, let’s be transparent - this will mean fewer equipment operators. But it will mean more controllers, more builders and more technicians. It will mean less physical and less routine jobs. But it will mean more dynamic, fulfilling careers.

Inside the gate, we are also partnering with our suppliers to ensure we innovate together. I say inside the gate, because our experience tells us – and indeed the subject matter experts in this room have told us – that we can’t truly build our competitive advantage unless mining and METS are considered as one.

There’s no doubt that one of the greatest contributions we make in our communities is engaging local suppliers to solve challenges and in turn, stimulate innovation.

We also know that many of the best ideas come from those who are either more agile than us or further advanced on the journey than we are. Innovators, start-ups and entrepreneurs. Other industries.

We believe that we have to embrace new ways of working and new partners to do it with. Looking, listening and learning beyond our organisation and industry.

Earlier this month, in Perth, we put our heads together with some of the best METS minds in Australia – some of whom I see in the room today. As a group, we agreed to work as one, with one voice. To create value for all.

And, we also acknowledged that we will need to work differently to achieve our goals – and we have plans in place to do just that. This includes removing barriers to doing business with us.

Excitingly, we have already begun some great work in this space, with our Supply Innovation program which originated in Chile. This program has seen us create an open platform to connect our unique mining challenges with local suppliers and innovators.

Rather than ask for a specific service or equipment – as has often been the way in the past – the platform enables suppliers to bring their ingenuity to bear on our business.

It was this ingenuity that recently delivered a new maintenance robot – the first of its kind – created by a local Chilean business.  Not only does the robotic arm keep our people out of harm’s way, but it also performs the work much faster.

I’m pleased to share we are now piloting this innovation program at our Olympic Dam mine in South Australia, with a view to establishing this nationally, including in Queensland. As I said earlier, this is about shared value – and shared benefits.

Outside the gate

Now, this leads me to outside the gate, in regional communities, we know that we are all stronger when we work together. We want to bring our expertise to the table and be part of a collective approach to enhancing regional prosperity.

Central Queensland is an important example. As new technology becomes available in our sector, stronger partnerships in this region will be essential.

That’s why, late last year, we established a partnership with the Greater Whitsunday Alliance aimed at enhancing the economic sustainability of the Mackay, Isaac, Whitsunday regions.

This partnership is particularly focused on creating shared value by preparing workforces of the future; and by strengthening local supply chains.

Another exciting initiative in the region is the Resources Centre of Excellence. This centre was announced last year by the Palaszczuk Government and the Mackay Regional Council in partnership with the Resource Industry Network.

Today, I’m pleased to announce that BHP is also committed to making this centre a success. For us, it’s an investment that makes perfect sense. The centre will be a vital nexus between research, education and the resources industry.

It will be a one-of-a-kind facility in Queensland, featuring an underground mining simulator; a research lab; and enhanced education facilities.

Crucially this is another vote of confidence in Central Queensland. An area that many of our people call home. And, an area that we intend to be part of for the long-haul.

Outside the gate, we also take our role in helping prepare the workforce of tomorrow very seriously. And through strategic partnerships, we are connecting with today’s biggest thinkers and tomorrow’s brightest talent.

We are collaborating on multiple-fronts to tackle the STEM skills gap, contributing more than $55 million dollars to Australian STEM programs. Actively preparing the next generation for the future.

Like I said earlier, this means a lot – to a lot of people.

It means a lot to high school students in central Queensland who are completing Remote Pilot certificates as part of their senior studies, giving them the highest qualifications for Drone Piloting in Australia.

It also means a lot to school principals, who recently toured the State’s best schools for automation and robotics. Now, they are embedding their learnings in their own communities – ensuring their students have access to cutting-edge curriculum.

And, it means a lot to vocational students in Western Australia who will soon have the option to study automation at TAFE. Longer-term, we are working to nationalise this course, ensuring it will also mean a lot to students around the country, including Queensland.

As a key investor in each of these programs, at BHP, we are very proud to be helping set the next generation up for success. Ensuring they have the right skills and capabilities for the future.

Finally, outside the gate, let’s talk about government.

The result of Saturday’s election was another reminder about just how important our industry is to Queensland and to Queenslanders. 315,000. That’s the number of Queenslanders that are working in the resources sector.

Queensland is also the most expensive tax and royalties jurisdiction for Coal mining in the world. Last financial year, Coal royalties totalled nearly 3.8 billion dollars – well over half of the State’s entire goods exports.

The State and Federal Governments must invest in our mining communities. We believe the best investment we can make is to ensure the people who are the backbone of Queensland’s prosperity – miners of today and tomorrow – are equipped with the skills and capabilities to ensure they can thrive in the future jobs of mining.

Because, as we know, the future of mining is changing. We want to work in partnership with government and policy makers – at all levels - and bring everyone together to collaborate on this transformation. And the new jobs it will create.

We believe Australia has a real opportunity to lead. To develop best-in-class skills and capabilities, particularly when it comes to robotics and automation. Like the commodities they help extract, these capabilities can be exported throughout the world.

For this reason, we are taking a leading role in establishing an Industry-Led Robotics Cluster – with the Palaszczuk Government – right here in Queensland.

In industries like ours, Australia has the opportunity to make its economic strengths stronger through the adoption of these technologies. But to do this, we must embrace transformational technology – and engage in a frank conversation about what this actually means.

As I have said previously – in this very building actually – this is not a one-way conversation about fewer jobs. It’s a plan for safer jobs. It’s a plan for reskilling and upskilling. It’s a plan for re-designed roles and for creation of entirely new ones.

No one has all the answers – but we all need to step up. We need to bring our collective expertise to the table and we need to work together.


I’ve covered a lot of ground today, but as I draw to a close, I hope two key themes make a lasting impression on you:

Firstly, people. People must be at the heart of our sector’s transformation.

The people in this room, in our workplaces, in our towns and regions – and beyond. As I said earlier, our ability to work together will be the rate-determining step.

And, secondly, partnerships. We will all be stronger if we navigate through this period of rapid, disruptive change in partnership.

And we all have a role to play. Not just large companies like ours. It’s every single person in this room. We have entered 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.

So today, I say to you - join me - and let’s create this shared future together.