Rio Tinto restructure creates global innovation unit

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Rio Tinto restructure creates global innovation unit

Technology operations reshaped.

Rio Tinto has installed the acting head of its technology and innovation business unit Stephen McIntosh as the leader of a rejigged internal 'growth and innovation' group.

McIntosh, who until now has been head of exploration for the miner, took on an acting role for Rio’s technology business to cover the departure of 25-year veteran Greg Lilleyman last month.

A major restructure announced overnight has now made the move permanent.

Sweeping executive and structural changes will see Rio Tinto align under four product groups: aluminium, copper and diamonds, energy and minerals, and iron ore.

“These groups will be complemented by a newly shaped growth and innovation group, which will focus on future assets and technical support,” Rio Tinto said.

“Growth and innovation will provide strategic leadership and technical expertise for the end-to-end delivery and management of growth from exploration to projects."

The new tech future

The remit of the new, central “growth and innovation” group appears to reflect changes that have been occurring in Rio Tinto’s business units.

It appears to bring together emerging work streams for where the miner has been shifting its technology strategy and vision in recent months.

The company had a growth and innovation chief in its copper and coal business unit, which is now being split. iTnews reported late last year on his emerging remit building a team of “translators” to find ways to justify future investment in tech-heavy operations.

It appears that parts of the model are now being expanded to cut across Rio Tinto’s worldwide operations.

It is unclear to what extent the “growth and innovation” group is a rebrand of the technology and innovation unit, which has significant operations in Australia and particularly Brisbane.

A Rio Tinto spokesperson declined to comment.

However, the fact that McIntosh will lead the new operation plays to recent shifts in Rio Tinto’s technology focus.

iTnews highlighted in February McIntosh’s drive to open Rio Tinto’s troves of exploration data to junior miners in the hope they would bear the risk in vetting the data to identify solid opportunities.

The project offered a new avenue for Rio Tinto to use technology to its advantage - one that required significantly less capital expenditure than its flagship Mine of the Future automation and remote control program, which Lilleyman had fronted.

MOTF jitters

While Mine of the Future continues, it has been far less prominent than in past years.

The current body of work in that program to automate trains has run into delays; Bloomberg this week revealed it is two years behind schedule, with investment analysts questioning its viability.

“There was an underestimation of the mechanical work we had to actually do versus the reality,” Rio Tinto’s iron ore chief Andrew Harding told Bloomberg.

“The second issue is working our way through carefully implementing the various software upgrades as we go along.”

Harding told Bloomberg he had “no doubt” the trains would be automated, but the new restructure means he won’t be there to oversee it.

Harding will leave the business on 1 July 2016. He’d been in the role since February 2013.

Iron ore will be led by the current acting chief of copper and coal Chris Salisbury.

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