Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I Have Caught Lihiriatum Digitalis ....

I am sitting on the balcony of a friend's place on Lihir Island, a small, extinct (I hope!) volcano on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean and part of the beautiful country of Papua New Guinea. My friends have been bought here by the gold mine, a rich ore body in the caldera of the now extinct volcano. One of the few independently held gold mines in the world (Rio Tinto sold out their share a few years ago) it is an awesome enterprise - and it is one of the most ecologically friendly gold mines in the world.

The gold mine is the largest geo-thermally powered gold mine in the world. While working inside the caldera of a volcano does present its challenges (the rocks are warm underfoot and try working with explosives when the temperature inside the drill holes gets up over 140 degrees celcius!), when the volcano is in the tropics and it RAINS A LOT (over 7 metres a year), one side benefit is naturally occuring steam .... and lots of it! Lihir Gold Limited uses this steam to power two geothermal power stations which produce around 56 MW of power and power a big chunk of the production process (and the township).

I could go on about the mine (clearly a man never grows out of his fascination with Tonka Toys... some of the machines are really COOL!) and maybe I will in other places, but this blog is about the impact of Digital Services and the things I see as I go about my work and travels.

For the people who live on the island and work in the mine, the internet has fundamentally changed their lives. The mine has installed a fairly significant internet link to the island and this extends to services such as internet access in all company buildings and wireless internet access in the residential areas. For the residents, this is an important connection to the outside world and to families, friends and services which were once, literally half a world away - and this, in discussions with some of the locals, means a big difference in quality of life. Necessities (or luxuries) are now available at the click of a button and the regular freight services mean that many of the things the locals were previously deprived of are now able to be ordered and delivered. This is helping the people stay longer, enjoy their time here more and that is good for the community and good for the business.

For the company, it is also clear that the internet is changing the world. Supply to the island and the mine is more competitive than ever and it is clear that the benefits are filtering through to the operations. The amount of information to support the operation and about new products and innovations is extensive, changing the way the people who run the mine plan, innovate and operate their business.

It has been good to come somewhere as "real" as Lihir to see how the technology and services we have been working on for more than a decade are really making a difference. Living here in a digitally connected environment no longer means that the place these people choose to live and work in defines the opportunity and lifestyle they have available. I am writing this blog from a tropical paradise and have done banking, managed a couple of share investments and even sent a present to a friend while I have been here... looking at a Lihirian Sunset with a cold SP Lager in my hand, it is easy to imagine catching Lihiratum Digitalis.....

When I contemplate this community and this business a decade ago with basic telephone services and compare it to today and the luxury of online commerce and digital services, I get a clear sense that this is a very tangible example of how we have really changed the world.

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