The grill: Marco Orellana

This innovation leader emphasizes the importance of change management over technology.

Every year the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium recognizes IT leaders who pursue innovative uses of technology to further business objectives. This year's Award for Innovation Leadership went to Marco Antonio Orellana Silva, CIO and executive manager of information, communication and automation technology at Codelco. Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile (which translates to the National Copper Corporation of Chile) is the world's largest copper producer.

Marco Antonio Orellana Silva

How do you spend your spare time? Enjoying nature, particularly walks in the nearby Andes Mountains, and exploring the wine world with visits to vineyards.

Proudest achievement? My greatest pride is my family. Last year, I celebrated 25 years of marriage. I've proudly seen my children grow and become adults. Our littlest son is 10 years old and accompanies us now that the older ones are taking their own path.

What goal do you hope to achieve next? I hope to use the visibility provided by the MIT CIO Award to speed up the digitalization process of mining, generating links between different [players] in the industry to achieve a shared vision.

Orellana, who also was recognized as CIO of the Year in 2010 by the Chilean technology community, has focused on modernizing the IT infrastructure in his organization and in the mining industry as a whole.

You've talked about how your vision is "led 30% by technology and driven 70% by the organization's culture." In our experience, when we have a new project, a new technology and important innovation, in general the technology is not the more important part. If you have a good technology person, you don't have problems; you work with companies and providers, and you have the capacity to manage [the technology]. The real problem is related to the capacity of the person to accept the new way of work. The company and the miners are very conservative; it's difficult for them to change the way they work.

How do youmanage change? When we work on a new project and it changes the process, we first need a new vision for the miners. What is the new vision, what happens with this project, and what happens [when it's complete]? When we start new projects, we have a lot of conversations with the miners to explain the new scenario, what's the new situation, what happens with your work, what happens with your knowledge. If you do this when you start, the miners adopt the project.

You've been active in forming a partnership between industry, academia and the mining industry to bring improvements to the copper industry. Why do this? In 2003, we [started to] have conversations with the technology companies, like Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and others. These companies said that mining [is] a very interesting business, but other businesses have more volume, more quantity. We created a community to have a strong relationship with the technology industry and make it more attractive for the technology companies to develop solutions for mining. We have more velocity when we have a community working on solutions and we develop solidarity. We are a community for sharing knowledge.

I understand that you're extending technology into the mines themselves and putting technology into the hands of the miners. How does technology help the miners do their jobs? It's very important for us today to automate. In the past, all miners worked inside the mine. Today, miners work remotely. We drive [equipment] from outside the mine. We're working from the city. And [when someone is in the mine], now we know what miners are working what part of the mine; we have miners connected 100% to central operations. We can provide information in real time to this miner inside the mine. For example, if we have a problem inside one area of the mine, we have the technology today to provide all the information on what happened.

What do you see as the key technologies that enable you to bring innovation to your company and the mining industry as a whole? For the future, we are looking at what will happen with consolidation and the cloud. We believe they can create a new synergy, in particular around the capacity of management of different locations. For the mining business process, we are looking at more automation of traditional equipment, like trucks, and increased integration. Another area is robotics. Robotics will change how we work in the mines.

What are the challenges to bringing technology to the mines? When you provide technology in the office, you have the problems related to the buildings. But to provide the technology inside the mines, the physical conditions are very different. You need technology operations for people who work in extreme physical conditions. Second, you need to get technology with the capacity for working when we're connecting the mine with the city. We need security. You need 100% availability. You need high capacity, for example, for high-resolution video. We need high bandwidth. And you need high integration. You have inside the mines, for example, tracks [with] sensors, and they provide a lot of information. You need to capture that information in real time, and all the technology inside the mine needs the capacity for integration. The other difference is the workers. We need to incorporate technology for this type of person; we need technology that is more friendly.

Are there any traits that specifically make a successful technology leader? A technology leader has to have the capacity to work with a very special worker: a person in IT. People in IT need passion, they need to believe in the project. And you need the capacity to change with that technology. In my case, another difference is you need to work in a community that is more extended than the company itself.

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