As commodity prices are under pressure, mining companies globally are looking for ways to save and reduce operating costs wherever they can. Parallel, productivity improvement is on top of the list of many mining companies wanting to make sure they continue to maintain or increase shareholder’s value. As such, enterprise mobility has become one of the key focus areas in the mining industry given that the lines between consumer and enterprise technologies are continuing to blur. Here are some of the advantages of mobility for the mining industry:
1) Business process and workflow optimization by upgrading the IT architecture from legacy apps to mobile apps which enables end-to-end process view by providing:
a. Data collection on-site and immediate uploading of the data to the repository at central server eliminating the need for manual upload to desktop and as such the risk of human error
b. Asset Tracking & Management, Inventory Management
c. Maintenance Management such as the innovative Asset Maintenance Optimisation system – offered by Western Australian technology vendor “Simbiotic” – that enables various departments to manage all aspects of their maintenance schedules within the yards and workshops in real time via a multi-tiered client/server technology solution via a unique visualisation solution
d. Remote monitoring (of f.e water quality)
e. Data collected from processes such as real-time workforce tracking and incident reporting can be viewed on an analytics dashboard, eliminating paperwork
2) Personal safety and security improvements through real-time tracking of the remote labour force, medical emergencies, incident reporting, weather alerts, and access to (Google) maps
3) Lifestyle flexibility and emotional and mental well-being of personnel by offering FIFO employees around the clock options for their banking, social media platforms, conduct gaming, watch Netflix, check travel itineraries, and video call accessibility to stay in touch with family and friends.
4) Streamlining audio/video communications and collaboration between field teams and other teams located at other remote sites or at HQ to prevent production impacts, stop production failures, mitigate late arrival of the crew and the convenience to expedite updated regulatory requirements to field teams.
However, there are some restrictions which need to be addressed. Mobile connectivity is not always a given and workers can sometimes go for days on end without having access to workable internet connection due to the remote nature of some regions or lack of bandwidth. Sometimes, an expensive communication method such as the satellite phone is the only way to get in touch with the outside world but only usually in the case of emergency. Also, the Mining work environment, with harsh conditions such as dirt, dust, and heat, is not conducive to mobiles and makes it challenging for the workforce to handle the device due partly to compulsory wearing of safety gloves, also limiting the ability to use earphones or voice technology (Siri). Then there is also the issue of OH & S with mining companies such as Rio Tinto and Roy Hill pushing back on mobility stating that more accidents occur when staff are allowed to use mobile devices in the field while conducting work operations than the traditional methods.
Recommendation 1: The Mining industry should look at increasing technology investment in Enterprise Mobile Applications and infrastructure with the aim to increase productivity and to further improve the mental and physical wellbeing of their staff by increasing satisfaction rates and improving retention.
Recommendation 2: Mobility offers a platform that not only can address the areas as described above but also offers the potential, with innovative solutions like integrating with latest AI technologies, to be a major differentiator in the years to come and as such to offer a major competitive advantage. Improved ruggedness of the device (including advanced re-charging/battery options) and using voice technologies should be further explored.