By Louise Steenekamp, Director of Energy & Natural Resources, South Africa, Wipro Limited
While Commodities markets slowly regain their lustre after a few very tough years, mining companies still face a number of persistent challenges. Analysts have long discussed the opportunities that new technologies can bring to Mining, numerous opportunities to increase efficiency. And many mining companies have made great strides in adopting new digital platforms, new Enterprise Resources Planning (ERP) development of Mining (and Manufacturing) Execution Systems (MES), better connectivity and mobility tools, and other operational technologies.
But, generally speaking, the biggest missed opportunity has been in not leveraging technology to supercharge a Mine’s human capital development programmes. In fact, there are a number of ways in which technology can enhance the Mine’s workforce:
Capturing organisational IP
As the current generation of mining bosses make way for the next generation, mines are battling the ‘brain drain’, where decades of industry experience are lost every time a senior resource retires. They need to adapt strategies to capture and systemise the knowledge to ensure that critical business processes are maintained.
Training technology can blueprint and capture their knowledge, so that the younger crop of engineers can learn from these ‘old hands’. Mentoring programmes can be scaled with digital tools to reach thousands.
Augmentation through robotics and AI
Whether it’s the coalface employee using physical robots for drilling and blasting, augmented reality simulations that help with exploration and mine design, or the head-office manager using data insights to allocate resources, various technologies have the power to augment human roles.
For instance, one local Mining organisation is absorbing different operational and market-related datasets, comparing these to the original mine plans, and automatically generating various scenarios to reflect the different resourcing decisions one could make. Almost every role and portfolio in Mining can be augmented by some form of robotics or artificial intelligence technology – and tomorrow’s market leaders will be those that effectively harness these tools.
Enhanced training and cross-skilling
As we embrace new age technologies, Mines need to boost their re-skilling and cross-skilling programmes to ensure their staff remain relevant (and that the mine stays profitable) in the modern mining era. In the past, staff had to be taken away from their jobs to complete training courses, but with digital and mobile tools, training can be conducted in new formats.
A steady flow of learning modules, virtual classes and online assessments can be continually updated by the HR team – as people choose to learn at their own pace and in their own way, accessing greater opportunities as they approach more advanced learning materials.
Clearer KPIs and performance management
One of the biggest human capital issues facing Mines is a lack of clarity for first-line managers, as they accommodate demands of various stakeholders.
By better using performance management software, leaders can map deliverables to bigger-picture strategies, and ensure that managers are crystal clear on their priorities and their KPIs are aligned to the business.
Integrating external human capital resources
Mining roles and functions will continue to evolve with the onset of new technologies; and industry leaders will be required to have more fluidity to integrate various resources from outside the organisation. It may make sense, for instance, to outsource geological and geotechnical analysis to teams of consultants or crowd sourced partners, or perhaps to collaborate with one’s peers in funding the development of new automation tools and mining equipment. Or, a mining major may look to set up accelerators and incubators to partner with innovating mining tech start-ups.
Whatever the requirements, the organisation’s borders must become more ‘porous’, as information streams into and out of the firm, in new open collaboration and open innovation models. New digital platforms, portals, extranets, virtual private networks (VPN), collaboration software and other tools have the potential to change the way mining companies engage with external partners, and add to its pool of intellectual capital.
By capturing the unrealised opportunities in each of these five areas, mining companies have the chance to build stronger, more agile workforces, which can shift roles as needed and adapt to changing business strategies. Tomorrow’s winning mining organisations will be those that can shapeshift and adjust to ever-changing market conditions and commodities prices – scaling up and down, re-shaping their operations, embracing new technology, and redeploying their people into new areas.