Business intelligence and the digital explosion in mining

By Adrian McFadden |

Digital information, aka business intelligence, is what electricity was a hundred years ago—a major disruptor and quantum leap forward for the value chain. In mining, the need to digitize is pressing and incontrovertible. Finally, it looks like the sector is beginning to coil the spring.

Business intelligence. It's an umbrella term that refers to any and all of the software applications we use to arrange and analyze the raw data an organization produces. As a discipline, business intelligence spans elements like data mining, online analytical processing, querying, and reporting.

Digital information, aka business intelligence, provides data that’s more accurate and transparent than anything other methods can deliver. More than that, it enables reporting to happen with enough frequency to prompt nimble, timely decisions—something every organization needs and depends on today.

Driving innovation and management decisions with business intelligence and digital data is as valid in mining as it is in every other kind of business. Yet, despite the prevalence of iPads, smart phones, and information on the Cloud, digital tools are just beginning to make inroads in mining, the last holdout in a staggeringly digitized world.

Traditionally conservative, mining often repels innovation; it distinguishes itself by being “first to be second.” This is especially true in underground operations, where the processes are remarkably similar to what they were twenty—sometimes even forty—years ago. The information is still largely paper-based and people-dependent. Both factors extend the time needed to transmit data and validate it, slowing processes in a world that moves at lightning speed.

To add to the challenges of modernization, mining has been dealing with a well-documented decline in productivity over the last decade. Understandably, it’s difficult to justify digitizing operations when profits are dropping. It’s not a question of dwindling demand. The world continues to need what mines produce—base minerals that find their way into our homes, cars, food, and technology. In the larger context, the universal rise in the world’s standard of living will almost certainly drive an equal rise in the need for mining products.

Now is the time to play catch-up, to equip our mining businesses with new tools and techniques before the next resurgence in demand has us too busy to make changes in the way we manage the business.

We have been working with Vale, Glencore, BHP Billiton and the Canadian Mining Innovation Council to accelerate the digital transformation of underground mines. Our technology venture with Glencore’s Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations is a good example of how the mining ecosystem needs to evolve to stay relevant and thrive into the future.

As our work with these companies has confirmed, the kind of innovation that’s moving the world forward depends more and more on digital tools and business intelligence. Digital is now what electricity was a hundred years ago—a major disruptor to all aspects of the value chain. Today, mining is beginning to coil the spring. The need to digitize is pressing and incontrovertible.

Mining can’t continue to operate in ways that prevent it from interacting, interfacing, and competing with essentially every other industry, organization, and business on the planet. We’re at the brink of instituting massive change. Momentum is building. We’ll soon reach the tipping point, and the downhill slide will produce business intelligence that will revolutionize the industry forever.