Perth gaining a worldwide reputation as mining IT hub

SINCE the microchip revolution of the 1970s and early 80s, computer, information technology and network specialists the world over have looked to San Francisco’s Silicon Valley.

Now, as one successful software developer and soon-to-be exporter claims, people in the know in mining industry IT are looking in an entirely different direction – Perth.

Is it just the extensive mining industry presence in WA, or do Perth’s software engineers and communications technologists have something special to offer?

Dr Julian Verancombe – producer of new 3D mineral deposit-finder computer program SpaDiS – believes the mining world sees Perth IT as the place to be, and he thinks the reason is two-pronged.

“People developing the technology are in the midst of an active environment,” he said.

“Also, exploration in WA has never been easy – deep deposits require technologies to extract. This compares with other areas of the world where many ore bodies outcrop at the surface.”

Not everyone substantiates the claim word for word, but one thing everyone agrees on is that IT in WA is still buzzing, and mining is largely the reason.

Leyland Pitt, Professor of Marketing, Curtin University School of Marketing, believes like attracts like.

“First, it’s because of the proximity of mining and mining corporations,” he said. “But then again, successful industries attract successful supporting industries.”

And it wasn’t just because resource and mineral houses needed cutting-edge IT to stay ahead of the game. According to Pieter Struijk, Investment Capitalist at Technology Park’s Entrepreneurs in Residence, mining managers saw the technology boom for what it was – an opportunity to make money.

“During the IT boom a lot of these companies invested in IT companies as well as their own IT needs,” Mr Struijk said. “This created huge opportunities for IT companies located in Perth.”

And does the thriving IT industry in mining go hand in hand with Perth’s famed spirit of isolation? If so Nick Archibald, managing director of software house Fractal Graphics, believes we need to work it to our advantage by blowing our own trumpet. “Isolated environments have to be more innovative to get themselves on ‘radar screens’,” he said.

Interactive Virtual Environments Centre director Dr Rod Thiele also points to the positives in an enclosed industry.

“There’s a good spirit of cooperation permitting initiatives,” he said, “such as the Australian Resources Research Centre that involved the combining of the CSIRO’s Petroleum Research and Exploration & Mining with Curtin’s Petroleum Engineering and Exploration Geophysics departments.”

So if it’s true, how can we capitalise on such renown? And if it isn’t, how can we make it? Dr Vearncombe is emphatic about responsibility.

“The solution has to be in government policy, “he said.

“They need to encourage exploration and research, and they need to encourage industry to do it. It’s simply not good enough to give money to universities or the CSIRO – it’s industry that converts research into technologies and commercialises them.”

So where does the future lie now that most sectors are facing painful economic adjustment – particularly mineral exploration?

“If you consider September 11, impending global stagnancy, the rationalisations in mining and huge trends away from exploration then you have a new industry none of us are used to,” Nick Archibald of Fractal Graphics said.

“The political rhetoric and the push towards IT will continue while mining will be a poor cousin despite its huge history in Australia’s development.

“Mining and mining IT development are now closely linked as we have to dig deeper and explore further. We need significant advances in technology to get investor returns out of exploration, and the only way we can do that is get smarter at finding new ore bodies so the cost of discovery is reduced.”

And there’s the vastly unexplored human factor.

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