At the end of last year, the world’s leading 40 mining companies had a combined revenue of approximately $925 billion, writes Wilhelm Greeff, Business Manager at Decision Inc. South Africa. In fact, the net profits of these organisations grew by 127% on the back of high commodity prices and prudent cost management. Closer to home, mining production shrank by almost 8% year-on-year in May. This is significant considering mining is the cornerstone of the country’s economy employing almost 500 000 people and contributing R481 billion to the country’s GDP.

Even though the PwC forecast sees mining revenue growth globally, rising costs are putting pressure on margins. This has contributed to the market for mining materials reconfiguring in fundamental ways. For instance, the energy transition and the race to reach net-zero emissions are creating a surge in demand for critical minerals.

Bridging the digital divide for mines

Within this context, global geopolitics continue to present a range of risks. Combined with rising expectations for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) compliance, mining companies both locally and internationally are continually challenged to innovate in environmentally friendly ways while still driving profit.

Simply put, mines must keep up with the pace of change required in today’s digital business landscape. Even though mines have been pushing transformation efforts, the Boston Consulting Digital Acceleration Index has found that they are still almost 40% less digitally mature than comparable industries such as automotive or chemicals.

That is a significant deficit, especially considering the enormous benefits digital technology can bring to the sector. By accelerating digital transformation, metals and mining players can boost throughput, simplify processes, lower costs, improve metal recovery and yield, and reduce supply chain complexity.

There are also additional benefits to be gained. We have already seen that when our mining clients have implemented user-friendly digital tools such as the hiDocs document management solution, this accelerates the compliance management of critical health and safety documents while removing the risks of non-compliance in the form of significant financial penalties and potential mine closures.

But it is not a case of blindly pursuing transformation efforts. Instead, a mine needs a digital roadmap to provide guidance on modernisation efforts. With this in place, it can identify where the gaps exist in terms of any compliance concerns the mine might have.

Transformation through automation

A key enabler in this regard is automation. Despite concerns that this technology will replace human operators, the opposite is true. The value of automation lies in how it augments people’s skills and leverages their experience to inject a new level of productivity into the workforce.

A practical example is how automated workflows, centralised databases, automated notifications, and alerts integrated with a user-friendly interface can streamline the creation, maintenance, and control of documents essential for compliance. This reduces time spent searching for documentation while ensuring that the different stakeholders are operating with the latest and up to standard compliance documentation.

Innovative solutions can facilitate the generation, review, and management of documentation that includes policies, procedures, agreements, and templates, and others relevant to the Mine Health & Safety Act.

Productivity drivers in mining

While machine learning and artificial intelligence are widely recognised as components of automation, there is more to the technology. For instance, augmented reality (AR) and edge machine learning (EML).

AR is being used to train people working in specific environments such as the military or workers in mines needing to fix equipment while underground. Mimicking those scenarios using AR has progressed significantly in recent years thanks to the pandemic forcing people to more things remotely.

For its part, EML has emerged from the need to solve the big data problem. Having Internet of Things (IoT) devices being able to process data at the edge and not have to send it to the cloud first can save time and resources as well as process information while offline. Other technologies to take note of include robotic process automation (RPA) and low code application development

The mining competitive advantage

The golden thread running through all these is that these technologies empower a mining company to be competitive in the digital world. Without these technologies in place, businesses will start losing relevance in rapidly evolving markets. As the technology matures and people become accustomed to it, so too will the use cases diversify. Invariably, this will result in more companies wanting to adopt these technologies.

However, mines must transform in ways relevant to them. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to implementing digital initiatives. By putting the basics in place and starting with a digital transformation plan, decision-makers will be able to guide strategy accordingly. The compliance journey is a key part of this with document management becoming a critical stepping-stone for digital success.

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