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Barrick Gold partners with Cisco in bid to boost productivity

An overview of Barrick Gold Corporation's Pueblo Viejo gold mine, one of the world's largest, is seen in Cotui December 11, 2013. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

By Nicole Mordant

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Barrick Gold Corp (ABX.TO), the world's biggest gold producer, said on Monday it would partner with Cisco Systems (CSCO.O) to incorporate digital technology in all aspects of its mining business, aiming to improve productivity and reduce costs.

Toronto-based Barrick said it planned to spend around $100 million between now and the end of 2017 working with Cisco to embed technology in various parts of its operations to deliver better, faster and safer mining.

Mining sector players have long lamented the lack of technological innovation in the industry although some miners such as Dundee Precious Metals (DPM.TO) have started using wireless technology and software platforms to track underground operations in real time.

"Barrick of three years ago is going to be very, very different indeed going forward," Barrick Chief Operating Officer Richard Williams said in an interview.

"We think actually that all mining companies will have to do the same if they are going to remain in existence," he said.

The technology project is the latest move by Barrick Chairman John Thornton to transform the miner into a profitable, low-cost producer after cost-blow outs, overpriced acquisitions and a weak gold price knocked 80 percent off its share price between 2010 and late-2015.

Williams said the technology initiative will help Barrick meet its target of reducing its all-in sustaining costs to below $700 per ounce of gold by 2019.

Barrick's Cortez gold mine in Nevada will be the first operation where it will roll out new technology. Early projects there include using technology to predict maintenance in its fleet of haul trucks to reduce down time, said Michelle Ash, Barrick's senior vice president of transformation and innovation.

The company also plans to set up a central data repository where any Barrick employee can access any piece of data across any site.

"At the moment it sometimes takes us weeks to compile as all our data is in silos and you have to access to that particular silo, and we have hundreds of them," Ash said in an interview.

Barrick said the technological shift will help it reduce its environmental impact and allow it to be more transparent with indigenous communities, local governments and non-governmental organizations.

Barrick's shares were up 2.2 percent at C$23.39 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, in line with other gold stocks.

(Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Will Dunham, Bernard Orr)