Thinking Outside of the Black Box

Centerra Gold’s Adil Mehmood emphasizes a creative and solution-oriented approach to IT and communications that sets new industry standards

Adil Mehmood, director of information technology and communications of Centerra Gold, is assured about his talents in technology and management. When he talks about the new enterprise resource planning (ERP) software he’s implementing, he says, “For me, I’ve been on the leading edge pretty much for all my career. This is going to be a game-changing ERP implementation.”

But this isn’t so much a boast as a statement of fact. Toronto-based Centerra Gold has mines in the Kyrgyz Republic and Mongolia and is developing projects in Canada, Turkey, and other places around the world. Its communications and technology needs are specific to the mining industry and particularly specific to the needs of a company that works in remote and poorly serviced places.

“I can put a solution together that doesn’t just include the black box. It includes everything around it that it requires.”

“Communications and connectivity and infrastructure, these are huge challenges,” Mehmood says. “Just the availability of equipment and hardware and getting ahold of it was always a big challenge. In the developed world, if you need something urgently, we have vendors that can guarantee that they’ll service your problem within 48 hours. In Mongolia and Kirgizstan, the quickest time you can get a component, if you need it urgently, is about four to five days.”

But throughout his career, he’s been solutions-oriented and proved himself early on when he first started working for Centerra in Mongolia.

“I designed, probably, what would have been one of the first voice-over-IP (VOIP) deployments at a location like that in the world,” Mehmood says. “Back in 2002 when I first introduced the technology into Centerra, it was relatively new, ” he says. “Deploying this very, very new technology made for a reliable communications infrastructure, which I constructed fully from scratch. I sort of jumped into the role, which they required at the time. And they offered me a chance to stay and carry on. And then I took on the role as the head of IT somewhere about 2007. I moved to Toronto to the head office in 2010.”

Looking at the big picture and developing solutions are fundamental to his work philosophy. “A lot of people use technology as a black box. You switch it on and it does something,” he says. “If you’ve got the money, you can pretty much buy anything you want. One of the things that I personally feel is a tremendous value that I always bring to the table is the fact that I can put a solution together that doesn’t just include the black box. It includes everything around it that it requires for what it needs to do—the people around it, the processes, and, fundamentally, the principals that allow that solution to function.”

His plan for the new ERP system for Centerra Gold will take five years. Centerra is now now in the early implementation phase, but over the last couple of years the organization had doubts whether it wanted to remain with the same software. “At the end of the day, the particular piece of software really doesn’t matter,” Mehmood says. “It’s more about how you’re going to deploy your software. The software itself is only one part of the overall puzzle.” Mehmood has spent considerable time assessing and reviewing, working with the vendor, and working with his internal teams to understand the individualized needs throughout the company. “Some of the legacy methodology around ERP was ‘go out and buy a black box, switch it on, and watch it run,’” he adds.

But Mehmood’s trying to do something different. He’s looking at how it’s going to fit Centerra’s model of operation—and coming up with new methods and ideas. There are no black boxes for him, just creative solutions that become industry standards.