It is expected that the services sector will continue to grow rapidly after Covid-19, as a result of the mining industry’s increased appetite for automation, digitisation and “all things Industry 4.0”, says University of Pretoria graduate school of technology management senior lecturer Dr Taryn Bond-Barnard.
This trend is evident in sectors such as manufacturing and mining, which have had to adjust rapidly to new ways of working because of Covid-19 without jeopardising production targets.
“An economy cannot function without services and as the economy develops, services become more important, as they assist in improving the country’s quality of life, education, healthcare and businesses.
“Further, in an industrialised economy, specialised firms or consultancies provide business services for mining firms at a cost- efficient rate, compared with the firms supplying the services in-house,” she says.
Bond-Barnard explains that the service industry is recession-resistant, in that, by its nature, a service cannot be inventoried, as is the case for products.
“During a recession, both consumers and businesses defer capital expenditure, and instead make do with existing supplies, equipment and/or infrastructure, which, in turn, creates service jobs in maintenance and repair.”
Moreover, as manufacturing and mining companies continuously need to implement measures to mitigate challenging times to ensure shareholder value, companies often look to specialist service firms to assist in optimising business operations using digitisation, automation and simulation.
“An excellent example of a successful service project that involved digitisation in the mining industry is that of a diamond mine in Botswana, which approached a South African technology firm to assist the mine with digital transformation.
“The mine requested that the technology firm assess the current status of digital transformation in the mining company, and compare and contrast this to other mining houses and other industries,” Bond-Barnard states.
Further, the digital assessment gap analysis was workshopped with the mine’s elected digital committee to ensure that everyone involved was aligned with the desire to pursue a digital transformation process.
The committee and the technology firm developed a framework and a change management process, which was used to drive sustainable digital initiatives.
This was achieved by identifying projects that had a good return on investment, thereby ensuring that the initial projects could fund future digitisation projects, Bond-Barnard notes.
“The digital committee has been tasked with establishing a road map for digital initiatives in the mine. These initiatives are ordered based on a weighting system that consider the initiative’s impact on the business, safety and digital advancement.”
In addition, from the outset, the technology firm was requested to transfer skills and knowledge to the mine’s digital committee so that the mine could take ownership of the projects and continue identifying and implementing initiatives to address the digital gap.
Technology Post Covid-19
With virtual meetings becoming a norm after Covid, it is important that specialist service providers and/or consulting firms are aware of the unique and potential challenging aspects of the business-to-business (B2B) service offering.
B2B services derive value from the co-production or collaborative nature of the relationship or consultancy engagement.
Bond-Barnard says such services comprise three dimensions, including the co-creation of value, as the customer is an input to the service process and a co-producer of the value derived from the relationship.
“If this aspect of the project is not carefully managed and expectations are not managed, then it has the potential to greatly compromise the value derived from the project,” she says.
The second dimension is the relationship with the customer, which is important because it is a source of innovation and differentiation.
A service firm’s ability to build a long-term relationship with the customer will assist the firm in tailoring its offering to the future requirements of the customers, Bond-Barnard states.
The third dimension entails the service firm’s meeting fluctuations in demand while retaining quality of service, which is measured primarily from the perspective of the customer.
The core B2B service experience should be one of creating, enabling, problem solving and innovatively using and enhancing information in the customer’s business, she concludes.