InvestMETS speaks with idoba CEO Sarah Coleman

Emily Roberts

Top image :
Sarah Coleman, idoba CEO
2022 Women in Industry Awards finalist

Perenti Global technology business, idoba, recently welcomed major Japanese trading house Sumitomo Corporation as an equity investor. CEO Sarah Coleman has spent more than a decade in mining technology business leadership roles after previously working with Rio Tinto.

She says she is passionate about helping to build a more diverse, inclusive mining industry.

“It means a lot to me that a couple of amazing women – who are equally worthy of recognition themselves – put their energy into my submission,” Coleman says of being recognised as a finalist in the 2022 Women in Industry Awards.

“We are all very proud and excited to see what we’re doing at idoba being recognised nationally.”

InvestMETS: You would be a mentor to many women in the mining sector, but more specifically the mining tech sector. What are your thoughts on how to get more women involved in this space? And who are your mentors?

Sarah Coleman: I am naturally drawn to mentoring and have a number of formal and informal mentoring arrangements with women working across a variety of tech roles – data science, industrial mathematics, tech leadership, software and app development.

But I also sit on the “other side of the table” too and know first-hand how much of my personal and professional growth has come about through my mentors educating, challenging, and supporting me over the years. I’m currently mentored by a wonderful man who has incredibly rich experience and perspective, having grown, scaled, and sold his own software business many years ago and is now an active leader in the tech space. He brings so much experience and perspective but also manages to create such a safe space for me to learn as well as unlearn. This is really important as it takes a lot of vulnerability for mentees to have their heads cracked open and to have their ideas, perspective, and internal narratives examined and challenged.

The other key mentoring relationship I have is with my team. idoba is a hugely diverse team, all passionate about co-creating a better future. The open, authentic, and approachable environment we’ve worked hard to maintain means that the whole team are mentored, educated, and stretched every day by the clever and creative people around us. But we recognise that’s not always easy to navigate so we have organisational psychologists and coaches in the team to help everyone – including me – along our journey to build an authentic and respectful high trust high performance team.

InvestMETS: How has the landscape changed in your time in the industry (good and bad)?

Sarah Coleman: I think we can all see that mining and mining tech is going through not just an evolution, but a revolution right now. The societal, environmental, and technological disruptions buffeting the industry are demanding a lot of change and at pace. What I’ve learnt over my career is that the only we way we can sustainability deliver innovation is through challenging barriers, thinking differently, unlocking diversity of thought, and creating safe spaces for ideological conflict and creative abrasion. What sort of capabilities does that call for? Creative thinkers, communicators, networkers, knowledge unlockers, curious enquirers, interface managers, connectors, safe space creators, relationship builders, humble intellects, and sharers. These are the sorts of skills that the women I know possess in spades. I’ve had a lot of experiences in my career where “performance” was all about being the smartest person in the room. That’s not enough anymore – we need people who can get the smartest people into the room, and then get the most out of our collective contributions. We need diversity and increasing women’s participation in mining tech is a big part of that. I’d encourage anyone who’s curious and wants to find better ways to connect with idoba – we’re all ears and are so focused on help people navigate different paths to work to their strengths while being their authentic selves.

InvestMETS: What does idoba’s growth path look like over the next 12-24 months? Do you have further M&A ambitions, or is the focus on organic growth?

Sarah Coleman: Sumitomo Corporation’s recent equity investment in idoba is a really exciting partnership that sets us up for global market penetration and growth over this next horizon. This will largely be on the back of our DiiMOS product suite which leverages the data science and scenario modelling capabilities of our Akumen platform and the software and simulation capabilities in our Atomorphis business. Our DiiMOS product suite tackles the issue that there are far too many complex levers for operational optimisation for human capability alone to process, make decisions, and rapidly learn from those decisions to make choices for improved outcomes next time. There’s cost, production, quality, energy, decarbonisation, environmental factors, social factors … and they’re all constantly moving variables.

DiiMOS is a Distributed, Intelligent, Integrated, Mining Operating System that enables companies to operate more effectively, efficiently, deliver value, and anticipate future requirements. It harnesses individual knowledge of each operating domain, combines the silos (subsystems) digitally and uses machine intelligence to identify insights across the end-to-end value chain. This empowers teams to optimise and unlock unrealised value across operations. The exciting thing about DiiMOS is that it’s not just for the mining industry. We are able to support any business or industry who is grappling with navigating too many business-critical variables and trying to liberate information and knowledge from disconnected departments or organisational silos.

It’s going to be a busy couple of years! But idoba will continue to consider the right M&A opportunities that will help us fulfil the aspirations we’re working towards, as well as pursuing more organic growth through partnerships and collaborations with other tech businesses, client partnerships, and adjacent investment opportunities.

InvestMETS: What are the pros and cons of idoba’s business set up from your point of view as CEO of a tech start-up within a large, public mining services company?

Sarah Coleman: This is a great question. Let’s start with the pros. The initial advantage is of course having a large industry player in Perenti who had the vision to invest in and try something that many would perceive as risky or “non-core business”. On top of this they had the humility to realise they needed to try something new to create a different future for their business and a broader definition of what mining services will become.

One of the biggest challenges for tech start-ups is finding that client who’s brave enough to be first mover and that gives the start-up the opportunity to prove their tech or their idea works. A big benefit I see in our model is that our connection to Perenti gives us the operational playground and the rich data sets and lived operational knowledge to test, trial, and tweak our tech products. This is now also augmented by our Sumitomo connection which gives us access to global partners and markets.

The other big pro I see – especially during this growth phase idoba is in – is that we benefit from Perenti’s corporate governance lens, being an 8000-people strong ASX-listed business. This supports idoba to grow and scale responsibly and to sidestep some of the steep learning curves, expensive advisory bills, or “oops” moments other start-ups have to navigate independently along their growth journey.

But as you’d expect there are some shadows to this model too. We are a start-up (or perhaps now a scale-up) in a well-established traditional industry. There is always pressure to conform from people who don’t understand the nature of a start-up innovation business and why it sometimes needs to operate outside Perenti’s “normal” ways of managing and operating. This interface of operating ideologies calls on a lot of curiosity from everyone – idoba included – to understand each other’s needs and constraints. It takes resilience and grit to lean into the diversity of thought and to continually challenge yourself to find new ways.

*See the second part of this interview for more insights into the challenges currently facing idoba, and Sarah Coleman’s advice for zoomers.

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