How Mark Spencer Manages IT for more than 14,000 Employees

Goldcorp’s director of IT operations explains how he and his team of 10 effectively oversee the international company’s tech needs

“In an organization like Goldcorp, the ability to execute really depends on having quality people and effective partnerships with service providers,” says Mark Spencer, director of IT operations. “It has to be a symbiotic relationship.” That’s no surprise. Vancouver-based Goldcorp Inc. is one of the world’s fastest-growing gold producers, with operations and development projects located throughout the Americas. With mines in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, and Chile—and a solid pipeline of projects—Goldcorp employs more than 14,000 people worldwide, all of whom need functional IT services.

1. Hire the right employees and manage them appropriately

“You have to start by hiring the right people,” says Spencer, who looks for staff with a broad range of skills and who can work in a small team. The Goldcorp IT department has taken six months to fill some positions as a result of its desire to find the right candidate and get buy-in from key stakeholders within the company, resulting in an extensive interview process. Spencer also notes that it’s important to give employees key directives and a way to measure results. “Actionable feedback earlier rather than later is key,” he says.

2. Align IT with the needs of the business

“Once quality staff is in place, it’s important to understand the overall strategic objectives of the business, then work with business stakeholders to determine how IT will align with those objectives,” Spencer explains. “We keep stakeholders apprised as our efforts unfold to provide the systems we all believe are necessary to support the business, and we’re always receptive to change.”

3. Decide what gets managed where

“Our job involves striking balance between the need for autonomy at the mine sites and the corporate mandate,” says Spencer, who notes that traditional IT staff at mine sites typically manage local systems, such as file and print servers and mine-site-specific applications such as computer-aided drawing systems, and provide break-fix services. Key enterprise IT services—from e-mail to data backup and recovery—are handled through the corporate IT department.

4. Keep key functions internal

“Security is a good example of something we’re more inclined to insource,” says Spencer. As an example, he points to the company’s decision to bring the administration of security for its SAP Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system in-house. SAP is the primary ERP system for Goldcorp, and a determination was made that the administration of user security settings was too important to outsource.

5. Outsource other functions

“If something is done by corporate, it is almost certainly going to be outsourced, because the size of our team is extremely small,” Spencer says. As an example, much of the development and maintenance of Goldcorp’s ERP systems, critical infrastructure (such as e-mail and intranet), and data centers (backup and disaster recovery) are all outsourced. “We have always utilized this model at the corporate level,” says Spencer, adding that most of these functions are outside the company’s skill set. “Building data centres is not our core business, and we don’t believe we can do it as well as a professional data-centre provider.”

6. Choose the right vendors

“It’s important to put the time and effort into a thorough vendor-selection process,” Spencer says. He evaluates vendors partly on their physical location, and many have a strong presence in countries where Goldcorp has operations. He also looks for companies that are the best providers in their niche, have a proven track record, and impeccable references. “We’re very clear in the selection process to articulate what’s important to us, and we look at incumbents based on their ability to deliver on those requirements,” he says.

7. Manage the vendor relationship

“It’s important to address any legal and contractual issues before you start doing business, so when you begin working together, you’re only managing the relationship,” Spencer says. “One of the bigger challenges we’ve had is delivering complicated IT systems that require several vendors to collaborate. We’ve found that what works best is to be very clear what part of the system each vendor will be responsible for, but also create a collaborative environment whereby, when problems arise, we can get the vendors working on a team. Part of the challenge is learning to detect potential problems and head them off at the pass.”

8. Visit mine sites

IT might not seem like a travel-heavy job, but Spencer and his staff travel 30 percent of the time, predominantly to mine sites. “Each year, someone from corporate IT is required to visit every major site that consumes IT,” he says. “We talk to users and assess the way IT services are being delivered against the corporate standard.”