Integration: the key to a digital mining future

Improving how technology solutions are integrated will be critical for mining to effectively transform into a digital industry, according to RPMGlobal chief executive officer Richard Mathews.

RPM has grown into a leading Australian developer of mining software despite the commodities downturn by continuing to drive investment towards the research and development (R&D) of new and integrated solutions.

While much of the industry focused on lowering operational costs, RPM increased its R&D investment to $13 million in the 2017 financial year. Since 2012, it has spent close to $67 million on product development and acquisitions.

This commitment has paid off, with RPM delivering three new software products – Open Cut Coal, Stratigraphic Metals and Operations Manager – during fiscal 2017.

RPM Global also launched its Underground Metals Solution (UGMS) product – a scheduling solution tailored for underground metals mines – in July.

The company’s growing product portfolio has helped it double sales of software licenses over the past year as market conditions have improved.

While RPM has been rewarded for its ambitious strategy, for Mathews the primary goal is to bring enterprise integration to the mining industry.

“For our customers, who are also using other vendors’ products, we want them to be able to integrate our software with those products as well to ensure that the information they use to make operational decisions is accurate and truly reflects what is happening on their operational sites,” Mathews, who will present on collaboration at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne next month, said.

“That’s why we have been working with industry partners, like BHP, Komatsu, Caterpillar and Schneider, to introduce standard messaging formats across the mining industry using the ISA-95 standard.

“Once all of the software vendors, including ourselves, use the same messaging formats then data will be able to flow through all of applications right across the mining value chain.”

Mathews, who joined RPM in 2012, considers collaboration to be crucial for the mining industry. He believes that successful integration of technological solutions will be the catalyst to collaboration and this will only occur if mining companies demand their suppliers use open information technology standards.

RPM’s Richard Mathews

“When you look at the industry five years ago – before we got involved – the software space was very fragmented, particularly in the operations space. All the solutions were desktop solutions that relied heavily on excel and manual data entry, data was certainly not shared across the mining value chain it was kept in silos,” Mathews said.

“Collaboration has to occur in this industry. If we look at manufacturing, their success and ability to deliver the operational excellence they have today is due to messaging standards, collaboration and an enterprise approach across the entire supply chain.

“Just as large ERP vendors, such as SAP, have standardised financials and HR across the corporate entities, RPMGlobal is working to deliver collaboration ‘below the line’ in the operational space. The only way for the miners to benefit from the digital landscape is to collaborate.”

The company’s approach to growing its business through heavy investment in software R&D investment has bucked the industry trend. Most suppliers to mining have instead focused on reducing costs.

Unlike most companies in the post-boom environment, RPM increased its investment to be ready for when a turnaround arrived.

With conditions improving since late 2016, RPM is now enjoying the benefits of its investment strategy, as its financial results have revealed.

“Our belief was that when the market came right miners wouldn’t want to keep doing what they were doing five years ago – they would want to have the technical capability right across the organisation,” Mathews said.

“We have also purchased two companies and acquired the rights to four software code bases over the last four years as well. We haven’t just increased our own investment but we have also grown inorganically through M&A.”

RPM’s R&D team has, therefore, expanded significantly too, growing from around 30 employees when Mathews started five years ago to more than 100 personnel (and counting) now.

Just don’t expect this growth to get in the way of RPM’s technological target for the mining industry – enterprise-wide integration.

“Everyone has their own definition of the digital mine and what the benefits are for their business. Whilst business outcomes may differ, critical to the digital mine will be integration and collaboration,” Mathews said.

“When we started out, we said the key thing is going to be having an integration platform for mining.

“It is not about having a relationship between just us, or having integration between us – it is about putting all the data on an integration framework for anyone to use, which we have successfully built with our Enterprise Integration Platform (EPF) that is deployed globally at a number of our key customers delivering them true operational excellence, shareholder value and above all, visibility and improved safety.”

Richard Mathews will present on collaborating to make productive use of mining big data and critical information for operational decision making at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne, which runs from October 30 to November 2.