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Mining sector’s tech embrace

The mining sector isn’t traditionally seen as a hotbed for technology adoption with banks hogging most of the limelight. However, the industry is actually far more prescient with its approach to technology and deserves a lot more credit than it receives.

Scan the mainstream media and you get the impression mining isn’t very complicated. Big machines create big holes in the ground and ship mounds of dirt off to foreign countries. The reality, of course, is much more complex, and there’s real change in the air.

Remote sensors and real-time data processing is transforming mining into a customer-centric industry where stockpiles are a thing of the past and Rio Tinto’s deal with Alcatel-Lucent is another example of how serious miners are with regards to securing the future of their sector.

We’ve got to the point where it’s not just big machines driving our success, but a host of new technologies working in tandem to add a new dimension to the business.

The most obvious illustration of this is the use of remote-controlled, or fully automated, trucks which in some cases solve a basic human resources problem–it’s hard to find enough people willing to work at isolated, remote sites.

But these automated trucks, impressive as they are, represent just one part of a bigger picture. The future of mining is actually found under the bonnet of such machines, and right throughout entire supply chain.

Digging through a mountain of data

We’re witnessing the acceleration of a trend where millions of remote sensors and computer-controlled systems are scattered right across the industry. And they’re generating unprecedented volumes of data that’s being collected via mobile and fixed networks, all pumped back into huge data centres where it’s stored and processed.

From the truck’s point of view, this means it now has two primary jobs. First, gather raw materials from the earth, and second, generate mountains of data.

For the business, this scenario is already delivering the goods. Millions of dollars are being saved through better asset management and maintenance thanks to the sensors that closely monitor machine wear and fluid levels, for example.

Big Data focus

But it’s back in the data centre and head office where even bigger gains are being realised. The main game is better decision making, where business leaders use all this data – both historical and real-time feeds – to re-think some fundamental ideas about mining.

Think about any scenario where complex decision-making is required, from determining the viability of mining projects, to forecasting demand, or managing trading desks. Accurately interpreting a mining operation’s mounds of data is the key to making a difference.

Big Data, is changing the focus on from worrying about the physical layout of mines to what materials are mined, and when.

On the immediate horizon is a data-driven era where made-to-order mining operations will deliver exactly what customers demand. We will say goodbye to huge inefficient stockpiles as miners focus on delivering the materials that attract the highest revenues and generate the greatest long-term value.

The conversation we at SAP are having with customers right now is not just about how technology can tactically support their business, it goes a lot deeper. We’re talking with CEOs and COOs about core business strategies, and how technology can help.

That’s a different way of thinking and it’s only a matter of time before the media catches up to it and starts looking beneath the surface.

Peter Hodgins is mining & resources principal for SAP Australia & New ZealandSAP Innovation Podcast – Episode 2, Mining & Resources to hear more from Peter.

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