Mining industry on the cusp of digital transformation

13th September 2019 By: Tasneem Bulbulia - Creamer Media Reporter

Mining industry on the cusp of digital transformation

David Osborn

The mining industry in South Africa is on the cusp of the digital transformation journey, and is ideally positioned to undertake this necessary change, Dassault Systèmes South Africa MD David Osborn told Mining Weekly Online on the sidelines of company’s fifth Natural Resources Forum, held in Johannesburg, on Wednesday.

“The digital transformation journey in mining has started, and we as a company are willing to drive that with mining houses. We will embark on this journey with them, through identifying the appropriate technology from other industries that could be applicable to mining.”

Osborn explained that digitalisation in the mining industry was still in its infancy in South Africa and the rest of Africa.

He elaborated that digitalisation in mining in Africa seemed to follow the trend of the continent’s adaption to other technologies – lagging behind the rest of the world, then looking to see what technology is available in other industries, introduce that technology to the industry and make a giant transformational change.

“The mining industry is on the cusp of a digital transformational change, from digital platforms to digitalisation of workflow and processes.”

To ensure that this transformation journey is smooth, Osborn emphasized the need for stakeholder management. This entailed working with people in head offices and on the mines and at operations, with initiatives typically being driven from the top down, he said.

While considerable change management was required for mining projects to be successful, Osborn affirmed that the uptake of new technology and understanding was notably fast.

Digitalisation engenders improvements in operational efficiency and safety, he emphasized.

“The country’s mining industry, as it stands, is ripe for change, because doing more of the same is not bringing the results we need. We need to take the leap and make the change, and put technology behind that, to ensure our mining industry does not become a sunset industry but is brought back into the limelight, as it is an important employer in the country, and brings in significant revenue and builds skill bases.” 

For its part, the company is collaborating with mining companies to identify and create a digital mining strategy.

“We take time with mining companies to see what initiatives they could adopt to bring about real change and improvements,” said Osborn.

He indicated that it was usually difficult to effect a wholesale digital initiative for a mining company; rather, this had to happen in stages to demonstrate the change and how it engendered real returns.

The company has been active for about two years in Southern Africa in collaborating with mining companies on their digital transformation journeys.

A particular highlight is diamond miner Debswana, which Osborn noted had a “true drive” for digital transformation.

“They have achieved real success particularly with collaboration, working with people across silos in the mining department and being able to share that information between each other using technology,” enthused Osborn.

Other companies, including De Beers and Exxaro, are also pursuing this.

“Other mining companies are working with us in pursuing technologies they can apply to their mine planning process, geological modelling processes, and scheduling and optimisation.”

A challenge in effecting digital transformation is the mindset change of doing things differently and realising that these can bring about benefits, with mining companies characteristically set in their ways, indicated Osborn.

The success the company has enjoyed with Debswana serves as a valuable reference point to present to other mining companies in South Africa and Africa.

Osborn also assuaged concerns that digital transformation would lead to job losses. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution brings new jobs; the workforce of the future will lead to new jobs that are very different from today.”

One such example is the need for drone pilots, with the mining industry having a deficiency here, presenting as a real opportunity given the high-quality data and safety it can provide.