Digitisation – revitalising mining operations

While the technology is available, South African mining organisations are largely not ready to embrace it.

The technologies to make mining great again already exist, but are mining firms ready to adopt them? By Louise Steenekamp, Director, Energy & Natural Resources – South Africa, Wipro Limited and Gavin Holme, Business Head – Africa, Wipro Limited

A raft of highly-matured existing technologies are now available to miners in their quest to transform their operations, enhance efficiency and productivity, improve safety levels and revitalise a struggling mining industry.

Much has been spoken and written about technology’s role in rescuing the mining industry, which continues to suffer volatile labour conditions and rising input costs, combined with soft commodity markets worldwide.

But, while the technology is available, South African mining organisations are largely not ready to embrace it. The time has come for bold, visionary leadership, for new organisational processes and new cultures that will enable new technology to flourish.

The bigger picture

It’s easy to get swept away by the new technology. From sensors and big data, to predictive maintenance, drones, wearables, robots, artificial intelligence systems, there is a vast trove of new tools and approaches.

But the bigger question is where all of this is leading us. The mining industry, for all its controversies, was traditionally the bedrock of South Africa’s economic development. Communities and even entire towns grew up, and drew life from the local mine operations.

For mining firms, their responsibility extends well beyond their own business – into local economic development programmes, skills development, sustainable farming initiatives, tourism ventures, and other community endeavours.

By passing on some of the technology-enabled efficiency gains into the communities that are affected by new styles of mining, the net effect will be a positive one. Towns will reduce their dependence on mining, as the nation’s economy at large modernises and diversifies.

Outcomes like this can become more than just an ideal. With the right incentives, and some visionary leadership, mining organisations can make the link the various elements of their digital journey in a way that all the role players can recognise and benefit from.

It will take the same visionary leadership to inspire workers and leaders on all levels to step up, keep themselves relevant and bring all of their essential knowledge and experience to the fore. This is the only way to ensure that this digital journey adds value to every stakeholder, and ultimately benefits the mine, and the mining industry in general.

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