Innovation thrives in diversity-rich environments, and it doesn’t get much more diverse than the group who descended on Las Vegas earlier this month for Barrick’s latest hackathon. There were mine operators from Peru, administrators from northern Nevada, startups from Silicon Valley and Argentina. There were engineers from Missouri, community relations experts from Toronto, and even data scientists from Colombia.
“Over the course of the past year Barrick has been focused on creating an event that demonstrates our commitment to the innovation community in Nevada,” says Michael Brown, President of Barrick U.S.A. “This vision became BattleBorn.”
BattleBorn, a name inspired by the Nevada state flag, included a series of boot-camps, a 54-hour hackathon, and a startup exchange that brought together startups with observers and leaders in the mining industry.
In all, more than 80 people participated in the BattleBorn hackathon. It took place March 9-11 at the Innevation Center—a 65,000 square-foot collaborative workspace built by Switch, one of the world’s largest data center operators, and a key partner for Barrick in Nevada.
BattleBorn was Barrick’s sixth and largest hackathon to date. Hackathons bring large numbers of tech-savvy people together and leverage their skills to develop solutions to industry challenges. Barrick’s main partner throughout its hackathon journey has been Unearthed Solutions, an Australian company that helps drive innovation in the resource sector globally. Since its first hackathon in Toronto, Barrick’s approach to these events has evolved. They have become an avenue not only to solve company challenges, but also to spur the growth of an innovation ecosystem both within and outside of Barrick.
“At Barrick, we are laser-focused on becoming a leading 21st century company,” says Tyler Godoff, Manager of Innovation Partnerships at Barrick. “This transformation will be successful if everyone in the company embraces a spirit of collaboration and curiosity: collaboration with people inside and outside of Barrick, and a curiosity about challenging industry assumptions. BattleBorn provided our company and the industry with a platform to embrace this spirit.”
Earlier this year Barrick launched a company-wide contest to source challenges for the BattleBorn hackathon. The initiative underpins Barrick’s objective of building an idea-generation ecosystem inside the company. At the end of the contest, people from all of Barrick’s operations had submitted 130 ideas for improvement in different operational areas and functions.
“The contest was an important step forward in our quest to create an environment of open collaboration and innovation across Barrick,” says Michelle Ash, Chief Innovation Officer at Barrick. “We are extremely happy with the results and level of participation, but we know there’s still room for improvement on this front.”
Barrick is not alone in facing that challenge. A recent report by the consulting firm Deloitte indicates that mining companies face some unique hurdles when building an innovation culture. Many mine operations, for instance, are located in remote regions and face distinct economic and social challenges. These conditions usually favor siloed improvements at the site level over innovation across the organization.
Breaking down siloes and genuinely encouraging employees to share ideas will not only facilitate bottom-up innovation, but it will likely speed up the implementation of new technologies. A workforce in a business structured to embrace innovation is far more likely to adopt new solutions.
“Even though the mining sector has been slow to innovate, events like the hackathon show that there’s a willingness across the industry, and at Barrick in particular, to change,” says Jeff Jensen, Chief Technical Officer at Arundo Analytics, and one of the judges at the hackathon. Arundo Analytics is a Silicon Valley-based startup that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to provide data analytics services to the extractive sector.
The BattleBorn hackathon followed a similar format to previous events: there were four Barrick challenges that participants tried to solve over a weekend after splitting into groups. In addition to the 80 hackathon participants, a number of Barrick experts attended as mentors, ensuring that the solutions were fit for the complex environments and scenarios that are common in the mining industry.
“I think that bringing an event like this one closer to the operation and letting people from site mentor the participants gives us an opportunity to understand what kind of talent is out there, and how we can translate our mining troubles to them,” says Jim Davids, Process Maintenance General Supervisor at Barrick Nevada and a mentor at the hackathon.
The event featured three operational challenges and one risk management challenge. For the latter, participants were tasked with creating a platform to monitor social, political and economic events that could affect the company’s current and potential operations. The first operational challenge focused on supply chain improvements to restock critical chemical reagents. The second challenge asked participants to come up with a way of locating and identifying malfunctioning equipment at a site, and the third challenge required participants to design a solution to track energy consumption and identify savings opportunities.
The supply chain challenge was sourced through the internal contest, and it came from a team based in Barrick’s Shared Business Center in Elko, Nevada. Ashley Theurer, Administrative Assistant, and Kathleen Avery, Contract and Logistics Coordinator took the top prize: a trip to Las Vegas, and a chance to present their challenge to hackathon contestants.
“It was definitely hard to switch gears and talk to people that are not in mining,” says Avery, who was a mentor for her challenge at the event. “But the effort was worth it. The participants were amazing. They had ideas we hadn’t even thought of. I was surprised to see what they came up with in a weekend.”
A team from our Pierina mine, located in Peru, earned the second prize. Farah Carpio Barakat, Multifunctional Operator, and Sacha Henry, Senior Supervisor at the mine’s Leach Pad, also travelled to Las Vegas to mentor participants at the event. Although their idea wasn’t presented at the hackathon, the experience for them was equally rewarding.
“It’s an experience I will not forget,” Henry says. “All the learning and insights are coming back with me to Pierina.”