In an information-rich world, the collection and clever use of data has become a primary source of competitive advantage for businesses in any number of industries, from Google with search to GE and its predictive maintenance for aeroplane engines.

44%

of mining respondents aren't exploring any form of digital transformation beyond IoT

Mining is no exception – information is key to understanding where and how best to extract valuable materials from the ground with the greatest productivity and least amount of risk.

For those mining businesses becoming digital-first the value is significant – with 2025 EBITDA projections for the most innovative companies being 70-200 per cent higher than digital laggards, according to the World Economic Forum. Despite this, mining organisations put less than 1 per cent of their data to effective use. Our own research found that outside of IoT development, 44 per cent reported that they were not exploring any other form of digital transformation. Why is this the case, and what does the industry need to do to take advantage of its data – one of its most significant assets?

In addition to IoT, what other areas is your organisation exploring as part of its digital transformation activity?

13%

13%

Machine learning

26%

26%

Robotics

24%

24%

3D printing

13%

13%

Next generation security

8%

8%

Cognitive AI

3%

3%

Virtual reality

2%

2%

Augmented reality

44%

44%

We are not exploring any other areas

The fact that the analysis and use of data is often referred to as data ‘mining’ is instructive.

— Joe Carr, Director, Mining

The heart of the issue for mining organisations is that they need to look at data as they might do a precious metal, and establish the infrastructure and expertise to extract, share, and analyse this new gold. On top of this, they also need to build data security throughout their operations to protect this highly valuable asset.

Mining businesses need to start with improving data access and relevance. Experimentation and innovation can only ignite when the right people across organisations are able to see the data and apply it to their specific challenges, discovering new ways of working. Miners already produce large amounts of data from sensors embedded across operations – either directly such as through surveys, or indirectly as a by-product from their general operations such as in fleet management or secondary data produced from drilling and blast hole activity.

 

The growth in computational power means that there has been a step change in the analytics and intelligence to be gained from data in recent years. This is a key area in the innovation chain where mining needs to increase its focus. Machine learning and improved statistical techniques mean patterns and observations about data previously unseen are being made visible. Predictive maintenance patterns, geological modelling, and logistics chains can all be improved through better analysis.

An example of how the use of indirect data leads to greater efficiencies is through the examination of the flow of mined materials from initial extraction, processing and to final transportation. Unscheduled events like a mechanical breakdown, inefficient use of transportation vehicles, queuing times at dumping points and processing facilities all build up delays and costs. Data from the entire process journey can be collated and analysed for pinch-points, enabling the production of a highly specific plan for each mining operation to improve performance within a business.

Data and the infrastructure to support it are one thing, but if you don’t have the right people in place to use it effectively then little innovation will occur.

What additional specific skills do you think your organisation needs to deliver IoT? (%)

Security skills
Decision-making skills
Management skills
Technical support skills
Analytical/data science skills
Customer service skills
Planning skills
Database management skills

Like nearly every industry in every part of the world, there is a pressing skills shortage – many people just can’t learn fast enough to keep pace with the potential that new technology is bringing. However, mining faces some additional challenges. Its workforce is ageing. Older workers may be more experienced and have deep industry knowledge, but they are also less comfortable with digital tools and collaborative work. Globally, there is stronger competition for new talent. Millennials are shunning more mechanical-physical careers and traditional corporations and the most talented digital natives tend to not look at the mining industry favourably. These factors have played out in our research. Overwhelmingly, the mining industry has a skills shortage when it comes to developing and deploying the IoT successfully. Respondents to our research reported a shortage of skilled people at the strategic, management, and operations of IoT-solutions with many turning to outside partners to help fill the gap.

It is highly probable that this shortage is contributing to the delayed development of digital-first operations compared to other sectors.

There is a paradox here – as jobs become more advanced and need higher level skills, the work becomes more attractive for the most talented people. However, for organisations, without the most talented people, embracing new ways of thinking and the ability to jump on the opportunities that digital transformation presents, is much harder.

To what extent does your organisation have the skills to make the most from IoT at the following levels?

Strategy

Management

Delivery

We have all the skills we need
We would benefit from additional skills at this level to augment those we have
We are lacking the skills we need at this level

If data is the vast masses of undifferentiated material that is extracted from the ground, information is the valuable seams of ore hidden within those masses.

Despite this, the mining industry has not yet put in the place the secure and stable infrastructure or recruited the skills required to do this. Mining organisations might be in a perpetual race to exploit any promising new seams of physical material, yet their approach to this new gold of the digital economy, data, belies this reputation. Without the appropriate infrastructure and skills in place, the industry will continue to lag behind others who are exploiting data for productivity and profit.

 

 

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