Mining software strategies for challenging times

The mining sector in 2015 can be defined by its lack of certainty. From the question of obtaining finance in a cautious global economy to geopolitical unrest, rising costs, declining revenues and market contraction, the sector is beset by unknowns. Despite this, mining and mining services organisations can still build competitiveness and increase profitability by maintaining tight management over the one thing they can control – their own business operations.

In the current environment sound business knowledge, high productivity, an eye for innovation and the flexibility to respond to market changes are prerequisites. To support and encourage every one of these traits, a good IT strategy and the right information systems are essential. Following are six suggestions for developing such an IT capability.

1. Go modular

These days, few if any companies have the luxury of spare resources waiting to work on getting a “big bang” software deployment right. Nor do they have the time to spare integrating, updating and maintaining multiple systems. By deploying modular solutions, mining companies can implement incremental change, introducing technologies and processes at a pace that doesn't overwhelm the business.

Typically, when introducing a new solution, organisations begin with the basics: tenement management and financial applications, followed by project and construction modules for managing mine and/or plant construction. Where mines are already operational, business needs will determine the roll-out order of follow-on modules such as mobile and fixed plant maintenance, stockpile/pit costing, supply chain management, human resources and payroll.

2. Keep it scalable

From exploration and feasibility studies to production and sales, it's impossible to be sure how big any operation will grow. Rather than face the disruption of upgrading to a larger system a few years down the track, look for solutions that can grow with your company, supporting additional users, increasing workloads and providing additional functionality as you move through the cycle of mining production.

3. Consider the cloud

The cloud offers many benefits to the mining sector including real time access to information from multiple sites, a single source of the truth, complete scalability and a reduction in IT costs. By making information more readily accessible, activities such as monthly reporting can be completed faster and more efficiently. Timely access to information also leads to faster decision making, something that is especially important when dealing with remote locations.

In September last year, industry analyst, Frost & Sullivan noted the potential of the cloud for the mining sector in its “State of Cloud Computing in Australia, 2014” report, stating “A reduction in the price for raw materials is seeing mining companies become more focused on cost reduction than growth. The adoption of cloud solutions is seen as a key way to achieve this. Also, cloud computing is driving innovation in areas such as training apps, solutions for a remote workforce and Internet of Things applications such as driverless trucks.

4. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

Mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones are excellent tools for providing connectivity to employees everywhere. Used in conjunction with mobile-accessible business applications, they have the potential to streamline processes, improve productivity and enhance communication in the workplace. A well-managed BYOD policy that includes due consideration for IT security can save an organisation money in hardware expenditure and helps to ensure employees are provided with an easy transition to a more mobile way of working.

5. Choose software that is designed for the industry

One-size-fits-all business applications can never capture the full complexity of a mining or mining services business. To support efficiency in every part of your organisation, look for a solution that understands mining's unique challenges and which has been developed with the sector's interests at its heart.

The best way to identify such software is to examine the range of functionality on offer. Does the system include tenement management to track transactional statistics such as metres drilled and assays processed? Can it provide standardised statutory reporting such as Form 5s and geospatial analytical reporting? Does it have the depth of functionality to handle construction, production reporting, large scale purchasing, asset management and plant maintenance? If you are in the mining services industry, will the system support equipment monitoring, maintenance and maximisation?

6. Get a good business engine

Never forget that underneath all the mining functionality, you still need a business engine, one that can handle the myriad financial and management needs of the organisation including inventory, purchase orders, payroll, human resources, occupational health and safety, job cost and financial management.

Above all, choose your vendor wisely. Always important, this is now essential as no one can afford to take risks with partners who may not deliver. Before any software purchase or change, check out your potential partner's reputation for support. Seek references and ask their mining industry users: Given your time over, would you still purchase from this vendor?

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