Mining houses in Africa need to push the innovation envelope if they want to succeed in a sector characterised by plunging commodity prices, deeper and more dangerous mines, labour unrest and greater geological complexity.
This is according to an Africa Innovation in Mining study conducted by Monitor Deloitte and Mining Indaba, which is aimed at understanding how mining companies on the continent are innovating in order to strengthen and enhance their efforts. The Innovation State of Play: Africa report is the second of a three-part global series including Canada and Australia.
Andrew Lane, Africa Mining Leader at Deloitte, says the survey examines current perspectives on and realities of innovation through a series of executive interviews and using the Innovation Scorecard survey methodology developed by the Deloitte innovation unit, Doblin.
“We wanted to assess participants’ current innovation efforts and gain deeper insight into the key pain points and gaps in companies’ innovation capabilities as well as explore the broader issues the sector faces and hopes to resolve by becoming more effective at innovating.”
The findings in the survey underpin some key questions for the industry. Is mining as an industry future proofing its collective prospects through innovation? If not, how can this impact the success stakes for all operations? Are mining companies integrating their innovation strategies throughout their organisations? If they are failing to respond to the rapid pace of industry change, how quickly can they apply innovation effectively?
The report talks to three ‘ambition levels’, including Core innovations, which optimise existing products for existing customers; Adjacent or incremental innovations, which expand existing business into “new to the company” business and Transformational or new innovations, which are breakthroughs and inventions for markets that don’t yet exist.
Lane says the report shows that the African mining sector is midfield in terms of innovation focus and impact, and feature on the lower end of competent on the industry maturity scale (0.2 above the Canadian average). “This hints at an opportunity for the continent to push ahead and truly lead through innovation, particularly as the operational context lends itself to thinking and working differently to unlock efficiencies.”
There is significant attention being given to innovation by senior leadership in African mining entities and there are strategies in place, yet so far mining companies have been unable to jumpstart the process due to a lack of a systemic approach.
Based on the responses from study participants, the current breakdown in the region’s mining innovation was a relatively balanced 61% Core, 23% Adjacent and 16% Transformational. This innovation ambition matrix, which has a similar trend line to that of the Canadian market (68% Core, 19% Adjacent and 13% Transformational), is considered to be healthy. While both markets have a strong focus on Core products and markets, which include an emphasis on technological solutions to optimise old techniques as and when needed, there is significant scope to unlock higher levels of Adjacent and Transformational innovation.
Specific to the African context, it emerged that companies find it a challenge to spread risk and are less likely to adopt Adjacent and Transformational innovations in-house, but may be successful through an external ecosystem.
Lane says innovation needs to address the mine system holistically, incorporating it into the likes of social, labour and stakeholder spheres. “This is a view that is more inclined to be embedded in Africa’s mining players and one behind which there is a rallying call to capitalise on more.”
Lane says to unlock the potential of innovation and create a sustainable mining sector companies need be clear about what they are working on and how they envision their businesses of tomorrow. “Importantly, senior management needs to champion innovation and the appropriate governance structures need to be in place.”