The Power of an Innovation Culture – Q&A with Minnovare Managing Director Callum McCracken
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The Power of an Innovation Culture – Q&A with Minnovare Managing Director Callum McCracken

This article was originally published on the Minnovare website

At Minnovare, we believe in the power of innovation in every sector.  We live in an ever-changing world that is experiencing advancements through technology at lightning fast pace.  Perhaps, more than at any time in history, it’s an exciting time in particular to be in the mining and civil construction sectors. For years, these industries have been slow to adopt the use of technology to drive efficiency and productivity, so now there is an appetite and openness to innovate – to embrace modern technology in order to drive improvement.

But how do you foster a culture of innovation? Because in reality, innovation doesn’t arrive as the consequence of a one-off activity.  It requires an ongoing drive towards change and improvement within an organisation – an embedded culture that exists within the attitudes of the people that work there. We asked Minnovare’s Co-founder and Managing Director Callum McCracken to share his thoughts.

1.What is your personal philosophy on innovation?

Customer-led R&D is essential and the simplest solution is often the best.  There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. That’s not innovation.

2.How would you describe Minnovare’s culture of innovation?

It’s a culture of continual improvement, and not just from a product perspective. Throughout all aspects of our business, we believe lots of small changes will result in significant and sustainable improvement. Culture takes time and it requires buy-in across the board. We try to generate a willingness from everyone on the team to contribute to small improvements regardless of their role and/or department.

3.What do you do to continue to foster this culture?

It’s important to remind everyone that the pace of change is getting faster. Whether it’s through new competitors or new technology being developed, successful companies can quickly find themselves being disrupted by faster moving players. We must be that faster player. We must be nimble and agile enough to stay close to customers and define what value means to them.

4.How do you build a coherent innovation strategy?

There’s four pillars to an innovation strategy

1 – Customer engagement (make sure you know your customer)

2 – Industry trends (stay in the know)

3 – Look for leading indicators from other industries (predict the future in those who have gone before us)

4 – Review and tweak (it’s not a one-off project.  It’s iterative and fast moving).

5.How do you deal with the challenge of resource allocation in the R&D/product dev process?

You have to prioritise by defining what actions we can take today that will make the biggest impact on our business one, five or 10 years from now.

6.What is your philosophy on effective product development? What does the product development/innovation process look like for Minnovare?

I think it starts with partnership where possible. If we can partner with clients to commercialise technology, we’ll generate the best results. We need to test every assumption by involving them in the conversation and try to get MVPs in the hands of an end user in order to ask for critical feedback. They can’t review it unless they have something to trial. Our best product features have always come from asking a customer what they want.

7.Where does your inspiration come from? How do you approach the ideation phase of product development?

Inspiration is quite personal but I find getting out of the office is key. Get the boots on the ground and talk to clients.

Identify their problems and challenges and that’s when inspiration can hit.

Also, other industries are constantly a source of inspiration for us – they’re solving similar problems but in different contexts.

8.What technologies are exciting you at the moment?

IOT / Connected workplaces: The ability to control and capture data from otherwise unsophisticated equipment. The key is how to interpret this data and display it in ways that empower and improve decision making for people – this is where I see a lot of opportunity.

9.What is your view on failure in the innovation process?

The idea of failure is relative. Failure can be a valuable lesson that may actually produce a positive outcome. It’s almost impossible to innovate without some form of failure along the way. It’s important to create controlled environments that properly test and evaluate new equipment without causing major disruption. By that I mean, control the consequences of the failure. That way, if the original hypothesis doesn’t work out, then the “failure” is not catastrophic. Instead the learning generated from it can be built upon to further develop and refine a more valuable solution. It’s often after perceived failures that companies realise their greatest opportunities.

10.How do you bridge the gap between R&D and commercial success?

By ensuring that you have engaged with industry to fully understand their big issues. R&D is about prioritising focus into the highest value areas and this is found in the big issues.  Involving industry as a partner is just as important.  It creates a continuous feedback loop, which not only generates early buy-in, but it ensures a higher chance of commercial success. At the end, industry is more likely to adopt something they helped build and this becomes a working case study to validate success for other companies looking to trial.

11.Who are the key stakeholders in your commercialisation / product development / R&D process?

External

Client and contractor:  Departments, individuals, end-users, decision makers

It’s important to map out all stakeholders and understand the “what’s in it for me” impact.

Internal

Technical team, commercial team, sales and marketing team

We all seek to understand the problem that the client has and establish the value that can be created by a given solution.  Then, how best to communicate that value. 

12.What is your 20-year outlook for technology adoption in the mining industry?

Historically the mining industry has been quoted as 10 years behind other industries at the leading edge of technology adoption. I believe that over time, we can narrow that gap and stereotype. Mining has the opportunity to leverage technology commercialised in other industries which will reduce development and implementation time, as well as associated risk and costs.

Automating labor intensive tasks will save costs, reduce error and drive profitability, so it’s a great place to start but this will change the profile of the workforce towards a higher skill base. For the rate of change to accelerate, the rate of adoption must also, and a key factor will be culture. The question will be, “Is there an openness to change and will companies intentionally reward proactive innovation and improvement?”

Thanks Callum.

You can get in touch with Callum directly by emailing cmcckracken@minnovare.com

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