What’s new in mining technology?

A lot has changed in the industry since the beginning of 2020 and the movement isn’t about to stop. Redmap chief executive Ben Woolley weighs in on the sweeping changes that are set to arrive and evolve the sector.

New ways of working isn’t just a catch phrase that has emerged in 2020, according to Woolley, who’s been working with mining companies for over a decade.

It is a new mode of operating that the sector wouldn’t be immune to even after the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have passed.

In this article, Australian Mining speaks with Woolley about the direction that the mining sector is moving in as it pertains to back office technology.

He flags four movements that mining companies can expect to occur in the coming year: greater use of artificial intelligence (AI), remote working, the new Peppol e-invoicing standard and rising vehicles and assets optimisation.

Redmap is one of the forerunners when it comes to using AI to automate the extraction of valuable data from invoices. How do you think it will proliferate across aspects of a mining operation?

You’re right, the use of AI is not just limited in the finance space but all of the knowledge space. Look at all of the technology giants, they’re investing significant time and money to see what AI means for their customers. At the start of the millennium, people thought robots were going to replace humans. I don’t think that’s going to happen yet, maybe never.

What AI will help businesses with is the ability to make quick decisions; it informs and allows us to make better decisions because of its ability to interpret vast amounts of data. AI is also such a useful tool in performing mundane tasks. We’ll continue to see significant investment in its development – much of it will offer no value at all, but the portion that does will continue to remove or speed up tasks that humans either don’t want to or can’t do.

How will the use of AI change our traditional jobs?

We just completed an implementation with a customer in Griffith in central New South Wales. They invested in Redmap’s services because two of their accountants were ready to retire and their business was growing. Their goals are to automate the job that the two people were doing previously and get some visibility into their accounts.

What was interesting for them, however, is that the implementation turned the AP job into a far more analytical position rather than one where you’re manually keying and getting data into the computer without generating any value to the business.

The AP job now is providing much more value to the company. One such example is where they’re working with the procurement department to improve their purchasing processes and raise the quality of the orders in line with business expectations and achieve higher rates of invoice match. While this work does mean that the AP department has to touch invoices less, the real benefit is the increase in visibility of company commitments and cash flow forecasting.

What other new ways of working can you foresee?

I don’t think anyone who has an office job will ever go back to full-time work in the office. Businesses have continued to operate during this time without having people turn up to the workplace, and if managed effectively this can have tremendous upside for the business.

For me, I have been working from home since 2005. I was working in the United States, a place where you couldn’t possibly establish an office in every single market you wanted to serve. Because of this, lots of people were, and are, working from home.

It’s a whole new paradigm, and working hours change. I think in many ways the pandemic has forced businesses to accept the fact that the employees are at the doctors’ office in the middle of the day, or that children are yelling in the back of a Zoom meeting. But what can you do?

To that end, my observation is that our employees have responded in a very positive manner and that they have found times to get the work done outside the typical 9-5 hour slot.

We had been wanting to move to work from home for some time in our Philippines office but were concerned about infrastructure and a lack of work space in some of the staff dwellings. We were forced to do so in March and, while not without challenges, this has been a great success.

Some of those team members used to spend 4-5 hours a day commuting to the office – that’s 20 hours of their life wasted every week. And this is not something that is limited to the Philippines because I know people in Sydney that suffer the same.

Working from home means that those team members are not turning up to work tired or stressed, and that in turn improves the quality of the output. They are also saving loads of money.

To take advantage of this, however, businesses have to have a technology platform that allows working from anywhere. The need for thick clients or VPN software to connect that is all old technology and limiting the businesses ability to take advantage of this change.

Speaking of productivity, isn’t the government introducing a new e-invoicing standard called Peppol?

Yes, the Australian and New Zealand Governments are trying to shift away from sending paper invoices. There are so many different e-invoice protocols that have been created in the past and this has limited the adoption of the technology.

The Peppol protocol, on the other hand, is an initiative supported by the federal governments and to that end they have mandated that all of the local, state and federal departments adopt this by July 1 2022. They are also offering payment incentives for private organisations to deal with them via Peppol.

We expect that this initiative has a reasonable likelihood of success and that this will likely see private businesses invoicing each other this way too. Businesses need to be sure that their technology supports such a protocol.

Receiving the invoice is, however, only half of the process. Advanced systems like Redmap will be able to interpret that data and then determine, does it match the PO (purchase order)? Who do I need to send it to and can I post this invoice directly to the ERP (enterprise resource planning)?

How about in the field? What kind of efficiencies do you foresee in mining?

Mining companies make significant investments in assets and resources. It blows my mind how much they spend on property, plant and equipment. What I’ve been seeing over the last five years are investments in applications where operators can better track their company assets. And this provides several benefits, from knowing when to schedule the asset for maintenance via a predictive maintenance approach, to controlling your vehicles and resources better by being reactive to the various jobs.

The ability to track those assets gives operators the opportunity to optimise the use of their assets and this provides significant returns to the business.

This feature also appears in the December edition of Australian Mining.

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