How A Gold Mine CIO Is Preparing For The Internet Of Things

by drjim on January 20, 2016

Even gold mines need an IT infrastructure

Even gold mines need an IT infrastructure
Image Credit: Nicolas Emmanuel-Emile

As the person with the CIO job, you have a challenging job. It is your responsibility to understand that importance of information technology and to keep watch over your IT department as it works to service the rest of the company. If there is an issue, then you deal with it. You visit the people who are working for you and you take trips to the various IT sites that the company maintains. However, things are changing in the world as more and more things get connected to the Internet and then have to be monitored and managed by the IT department. Just imagine what a challenge it would be to be the CIO of a gold mine where most of your IT equipment was located up to two miles beneath the surface of the earth?

Why Bother With Subterranean IT?

When a great deal of your company’s most valuable workers and equipment are located 1,970 feet underground, knowing what is going on is a critical question that every person in the CIO position needs to answer. When it comes to gold mines, status information has generally been hard to come by. A gold mine is a difficult environment in which to work, let along build an IT network. In the past, what IT resources were available down in the mine were provided by what were called “leaky feeder” cable systems that were able to provide spotty service at best.

Rick Howes was in charge of IT at Dundee Precious Metals which owned a copper and gold mine located in Chelopech, Bulgaria. Like other mines, the Chelopech mine had a limited IT infrastructure. Metal prices were falling and Rick knew that he had to find a way to reduce the cost of mining gold at Chelopech. The CIO’s goal was to find a way that would allow the company to look inside of the mine and be able to understand what was happening in real time.

What Rick understood was that his IT department was going to have to customize a communication and tracking system for the Chelopech mine. In order to accomplish what they wanted, innovations were going to have to occur. One of the first things that they did was to implement a digital tracking system. They understood that they needed to be able to track both people and machinery.

The Challenges Of Deep Earth IT

Knowing what you want to do and then being able to do it are two completely different things. The I communications project that they undertook had a price tag of US$10M. Their approach was to use sensors and Internet connected devices in order to expose what was going on at any moment in time. Dundee used Radio Frequency Identification (RIFD) sensors coupled with a Wi-FI network and fiber optic cables in order to create a military grade network underground.

Using the technology that they have deployed, the location of each RIFD tag that is being used in the mine can be determined based on its signal strength. The IT department has created a 3-D map of the gold mine and the sensor data is used to position people and equipment on the map. This provided the mine control officers with the ability to take immediate action when a piece of machinery went into the wrong area of the mine. Additionally, when blasting was going to take place in the mine, the ability to determine where all of the workers currently were is a big help in ensuring that there are no workers present in the blast zone.

Creating a working IT solution deep in a mine comes with its own unique set of challenges that the IT department had to solve. One such issue is the fact that a Dundee geological team inspected the mine and discovered that the walls of the mine contained quartz. This material scatters the radio signs that were being emitted from the 290 network boxes that had already been placed in the mine. In order to get around this issue, the Dundee IT team built parabolic antennas that allow the radio waves that are being given off by the RIFD tags to be properly routed to the network boxes.

What All Of This Means For You

Most CIOs like to have the ability to walk around and see their IT departments in action. They like to be able to visit their data centers and touch the servers and network gear that makes up the company’s network. Additionally, they like to keep the number of individual items that the IT department is responsible for down to a manageable number. The arrival of the Internet of Things threatens to change all of this. One of the CIOs who is on the frontier of this change is in charge of a gold mine.

In the past, what happened down in a gold mine was a mystery to the rest of the company. However, in the Dundee gold mine their CIO took steps to change that. A massive amount of network cabling was installed and RIFD and wireless technology was deployed throughout the mine in order to keep track of both machinery and workers. The environment of the mine presented unique challenges to building a working wireless network and so each challenge required the IT department to create a custom solution.

The arrival of the Internet of Things means that more and more of the company’s assets can now be put online. This means that the CIO is going to have to direct the IT department to adapt to this new world and create systems and processes that will be able to interface and track a very large number of items all at the same time. All of these things can be done, but it’s going to take a CIO who understands what the future is going to look like to guide the IT department to where it needs to get to.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: If you were the CIO in charge of a gold mine how would you get the miners to go along with your IT changes?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As more and more companies create online communities for our customers to interact with us and each other in, CIOs are starting to see a need for a new type of employee. In any online community, there are a lot of things that can happen. I can’t quite explain why some people behave like they do, but the anonymity of being online and not having to confront people face-to-face seems to embolden some people, perhaps too much. That’s why firms are starting to consider having Chief Safety Officers.

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