Technology

Destination digital

Australian Mining sat down with Accenture to learn how companies can successfully navigate an evolving digital landscape.

Accenture is a global professional services company with expertise in a range of areas like consulting and technology. As the company’s global mining lead, Marco Ribas has seen how digitalisation can transform a resources operation.

But the area is broad, so knowing where to begin can be a challenge.

Leverage and save

In its 2023 forecast, global intelligence and data provider International Data Corporation predicted that by the end of 2024, 50 per cent of the world’s top mining companies will utilise cloud-based operational planning and simulation tools.

These kinds of enterprise resource planning (ERP) technologies help organisations manage their day-to-day in applications such as finance, procurement, and transactional human resources.

ERP systems also help strengthen a business through decision support, greater analytics and improved optimisation capabilities.

Ribas said these technologies are well-advanced, so rather than trying to build new systems, mining companies would benefit from leveraging existing products.

“There is a lot of maturity around business processes,” Ribas said. “If you look at procurement for example, the mining industry can benefit from a wealth of professionals on the service side who understand how to procure materials and platforms that are very advanced.

“Mining organisations should try to reap the benefits of the learnings of others in this area without trying to reinvent the wheel.”

Accenture global mining lead Marco Ribas.
Image: Accenture

Ribas said that while ERP technologies are generally not considered a key source of differentiation for mining companies, when implemented at scale they can result in a significant uplift in productivity across the entire business, which helps them maintain a competitive advantage.

“This is an area where we should move fast as an industry,” he said. “The resources industry has enough challenges attracting talent for their critical functions, so why compete on talent in an already established area?

“Leverage what you can and save your energy for areas really in need of focus in the coming years.”

Start small, think big

Mining companies operate globally. Rio Tinto and BHP are a prime example, but it is not uncommon to find junior explorers with projects across multiple jurisdictions like Australia, Canada, and South America.

While different mines require different approaches, Ribas said it is critical that operators start developing digital solutions with scalability in mind.

“We’re seeing operations where the level of digital adoption is very high, and others where the level of adoption is very low, all within in the same company,” he said.

This has resulted in a compartmentalised approach to digital technology. Solutions are engineered from the ground up for a site’s specific requirements, and often the architecture becomes so rigid that it cannot be applied at other sites or jurisdictions.

In some cases, other operations within the same company may not even be aware of the solution.

“If you look at the integration between mine, rail, and port, for example, that’s very sensible for Australia,” Ribas said. “The major mining companies now have the ability to remotely operate the supply chain.

“But if you look at the number of solutions that are there, and if you look at these companies’ own operations in different parts of the globe, you will find the technology is still very localised.

“Organisations should experiment with digital solutions locally but develop with scalability in mind.”

In many cases, digital solutions will be driven by individual site managers, which means that people at the executive level can’t always see the bigger picture. This is another roadblock to implementing scalable digital solutions, but Ribas said it can be overcome with the right approach.

“An internal governance structure will help mining organisations to integrate these systems across different operations,” he said.

“Most of the mining companies that we work with still have gaps in terms of asset management, availability of equipment, safety, and so on.

“Digital is an integral part of that because it connects all points and can be a source of competitive advantage. That’s why the level of digital literacy needs to be improved right across operations.”

Exploration

Ribas said the mining industry has underinvested in exploration in recent years, instead favouring mergers and acquisitions (M&A). But exploration, he said, can put a resources company leagues ahead of its competition.

“In terms of exploration, the mining industry is lagging behind other industries like oil and gas, where it should be a leader in the space,” he said.

“It’s our view that mining would benefit from a more structured and clear capital allocation for developing exploration technologies, rather than relying on M&A as a prime solution for growth.”

According to Ribas, partnering with universities and establishing centres for excellence – where innovative technologies can be developed and trialled – is the best way to go about this.

“BHP is an excellent example of this,” Ribas said. “It has established a venture initiative which invests in a number of exploration start-ups.”

Don’t go it alone

As one of the world’s premier mining jurisdictions, the level of digitalisation in the Australian mining industry is significant.

“Australia is quite advanced, and I think two factors have driven this: the availability of training and the shortage and cost of labour,” Ribas said.

“However, I think there is a number of areas – exploration is one of them – where companies would benefit from more cooperation.

“We are seeing this in other jurisdictions, where miners are collaboratively working on initiatives such as creating standards for exploration data.”

Accenture is a firm believer that the future of mining is digital.

And while the resources sector in Australia has made strides in implementing digital solutions such as automation and artificial intelligence into operations, there is still a way to go.

This feature appeared in the July 2024 issue of Australian Mining.

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