What it takes to be an innovative company | Virginie Hannah
Virginie Hannah, Group Manager - Procurement, Supply and Manufacturing, leads the innovation strategy, supply and manufacturing of Bis’ pipeline of patented surface and underground haulage solutions, including the award-winning Rexx mining dump truck, which boasts lower mine development costs, superior fuel efficiency, increased range and better safety outcomes.
She also played a key role in the negotiation of the company’s joint venture with Israeli Aerospace Industries to deliver Auto-mate, a world-first agnostic technology solution for mine site automation.
Virginie was recently short-listed for
the 2022 Women in Resources Technological Innovation Award.
The road to becoming an innovative company is challenging and full of never-ending twists and turns; but with the necessary investment, culture and resources, your company could be well on its way to reaching its innovation milestones.
Anyone who works in the mining services area knows how competitive it can be. Companies like ours, therefore, need to offer a value proposition to our customers that is different, appealing, and most importantly, delivers business efficiencies – and this can be achieved through innovation.
Investment is essential to innovation
Ideas are one thing, but the means to explore them is another; therefore to deliver on innovation a certain amount of investment is essential, and you need to be smart and flexible with that investment.
The whole point about being innovative is that there might be something around the corner that you didn’t anticipate coming your way, and you need to be prepared to back this opportunity when it arrives. The old saying "nothing, ventured, nothing gained" can be perfectly applied to a company’s quest for innovation.
You need the right minds in your company to come up with those innovative ideas.
There are many different shades of grey to being an innovative thinker, and you don’t have to be Marty in the shed from Back to the Future to be classified as ‘the innovator’.
As a leader in Innovation, I need to encourage and leverage my colleagues’ expertise on how me might apply our thinking to a problem differently to how our competitors might do it.
As a company, we have created a culture where it’s safe to challenge the status quo. What might appear as a small, and silly idea at the start, can quickly become something worth pursuing. Having a ‘curious mind’, being agile and a fast mover to market is essential to innovation success.
First things first
Before a company embarks on developing an innovative idea into a tangible solution, it’s important to check that there is customer demand for the product or service
It’s all very well to be innovative, but if you haven’t sound-checked your market, to find out whether there’s actually going to be a demand for it, there’s no point in investing the time and money into building it.
The voice of the customer is key to our innovation success at Bis; solving customer issues is always at the forefront of designing and implementing our innovative solution.
Customer feedback is however not a one-off; ongoing customer feedback and customer input is critical at all stages of the project, to ensure that the innovation will in fact solve the problem for customers that nobody has been able to solve in the past, and therefore is commercially viable.
Our customer account representatives and field services technicians identify opportunities through our various customer relationships, which are then used to inspire innovation solutions that deliver value to their operations by our in-house engineering team.
In addition, as a leading equipment provider, owner-operator and original equipment manufacturer for both the surface and underground mining sectors, Bis has a unique business model that allows us to really take an operator’s mindset to our innovations.
Closing the loop
We employ this ‘closed-loop’ approach to identifying customer challenges; engineering unique solutions; and then rapidly deploying them into the field through our own hire fleet, thereby “standing behind” our own innovations.
Bis’ recent innovations including Rexx, and our real-time safety monitoring systems, are very good examples of this – developing new products and applying an operator’s lens to delivering a solution, in response to market demand and extensive customer feedback.
It’s vital to have the right processes in place to harness those innovative ideas and develop them into something real.
Innovative ideas without the necessary processes in place to incubate, test, amend and drive them towards a tangible outcome will simply remain at the ideas stage, so you need to know how to harness that thinking and how to deliver on it.
You may find the need for a very different mix of individual thinking, behaviours and leadership styles at this stage, in order to drive the idea towards a commercial outcome, using the ‘try fast, fail fast’ methodology.
There is no end to the innovation highway
The road towards becoming an innovative company is a continuum of lifelong learning, so as an organisation you need to continuously foster that mindset that you are on the learning path.
Just because you’ve been successful at implementing an innovation one year, it doesn’t mean that the job is done and you can ride on the success of that for years on end.
You are only as good as your last innovation and you need to keep working at it.
The phrase ‘it’s about the journey, not the destination’ is no truer than when it comes to innovation, but it certainly has the potential to be an incredible and rewarding journey for those companies that are prepared to blaze their own trail and venture out beyond ‘business as usual’.