Australia’s mining industry has long been considered a ground-breaking pioneer.
Mining organisations, and their METS service providers have been among the first to launch cutting-edge technologies such as automation and high precision GPS, and more recently IoT sensors and artificial intelligence (AI).
This has helped miners improve workforce safety and reach new levels of productivity and efficiency, most notably in iron ore.
The industry also understands its responsibility to continually innovate, not just in terms of productivity but also on safety, sustainability and cyber resilience. The ability to unlock the value of those ideas and innovations is now enabled by the next wave of digital technologies.
Most have already engaged and deployed mobility, analytics and cloud in some form. The next generation of post digital technologies provide a powerful combination of new capabilities in ‘DARQ’ (Distributed Ledger Technology, AI, Extended Reality and Quantum Computing).
These technologies when designed and deployed in concert with a specific purpose will accelerate the pace and scale of innovation. But innovation to just prove technology works is a waste of time and effort.
True innovation as a ‘why’ at its very core, a compelling purpose that generates an unstoppable momentum to achieving unprecedented improvements in safety, productivity and sustainability.
At Accenture, we call this ‘Triple Zero’. We see that the industry has many initiatives underway to drive change; our goal is to help the industry focus on its fundamental purpose and move rapidly and decisively towards achieving zero harm, zero loss and zero waste.
This has become a ‘battle cry’ that inspires a collective rather than individual effort. Accenture believes this will become a vital part of the resources landscape, underpinning the ability for organisations to remain competitive, but most importantly ensuring sustainable businesses and a licence to operate well into the future.
However, there is a risk of a significant stall in digital progress that could prove fateful. There is so much going on, but many fail to scale their digital initiatives to make an impact or realise the benefits as expected.
Some organisations seem to have lost sight of the ‘why’ behind digital transformation projects or have become lost in the endless possibilities of the technology advances now available. Or more commonly, digital enablement can remain trapped in silos or deployed in only specific areas of the value chain leaving substantial value on the table and resulting in fragmentation which does little to improve the most critically outdated areas of mining operations.
As companies become increasingly concerned with vulnerabilities such as resource scarcity, talent retention and stricter environmental regulation, it is time for a fundamental shift in mindsets. We need to redefine our approach to digital purpose and its scalability. Only by creating a clearly defined strategy of both purpose and scale can the resources sector truly realise the value of these next generation technologies.
Fail to scale
Innovation can easily be insular and digital advances do tend to be focused on a specific problem area rather than a considered end-to-end approach. Without consideration of broader applications, individual business units can bear the burden of experimentation. In lieu of proven results, many attempts fail altogether.
Digital technologies have brought new platforms such as social, cloud, mobile, analytics and extended reality. They have enabled the use of smart sensors, video analytics, fleet dispatch renewal and precise drone surveying on the mine, which provides a valuable business case for advanced digital implementation.
There is a proliferation of examples of the deployment of these technologies. Our Tech Vision 2019 research found that over 90% of mining executives have implemented or are in the process of implementing or experimenting with these technologies.1
Unfortunately, very few are considering these new technologies in concert with each other or indeed at a scale that can be deployed beyond a specific use case. So many organisations have moved to automation and remote operations, but few have been able to also automate the decision making or wrestle the big data available that would make the management of mines about their potential and not just the plan.
The difference between those that have advanced versus those that have simply automated past processes rather than optimising them is stark in their productivity and potential profitability.
Not seeing the potential end to end across the value chain leaves a great deal of value trapped, making it difficult to make effective business cases for widespread scale. Deploying a single digital technology, in a single business unit, to solve a single use case is missing the opportunity to really unlock benefits of scale.
Currently, 60 per cent of the world’s mining organisations are scaling digital technologies, however only one in ten programs have been successful in reaching full deployment. Those organisations are considered ‘digital champions’ in setting themselves ambitious goals. They are realising 31% return on their digital investments (RODI), well ahead of the cross-industry average of 25%.2
There are three clear strategies to ensure scale in any digital deployment:
- Find a vision and get everyone aligned to that vision. Ensure there are no unspoken misalignments and a very clear executive sponsorship that drives the change ‘top down’ and gives oxygen to the purpose of undertaking that change in the first place. This demands exceptional clarity and a relentless cadence in communication.
- Start with human + machine at the core of the design before any experimentation with technology. This period of ‘discovery’ can be crucial to ensuring a deeper understanding of how the technology will be used and adopted in scenarios of high or low automation.
- Amplify critical skills especially in automation, analytics, UX design, digital program management and digital systems engineering. Don’t assume this can all be found internally, or all IP can be retained. Become highly social in sharing and engaging in collaboration across the industry and beyond its boundaries into adjacent sectors to learn and leverage skills and experience.
Execution of these strategies takes a mindset shift and new behaviours. Mining organisations which are doing so are far more likely to succeed in realising the benefits of scale and the return on the investments they have made.
The next BIG frontier: DARQ
The next frontier of digital technologies is already here. DARQ technologies are those that will enable game-changing capabilities and digital intelligence or ‘DQ’ into operations.
The difference to what we have previously seen with digital technologies is the degree of intelligence that is enabled to make better decisions in real time. Gaining confidence in how to leverage a combination of these technologies together with the drive to scale will realise a step change in performance, productivity and profitability.
Many organisations are now making use of extended reality (virtual reality and augmented reality) to create entirely new ways of training, learning and remote support. Distributed Ledger Technology, also known as blockchain, is also gaining pace, creating new levels of security and trust, applicable from smart contracts between suppliers, to provenance of materials, to procurement of heavy machinery.
Quantum computing will enable businesses to utilise substantial data sets augmenting artificial intelligence and machine learning to efficiently optimise processes across the value chain, influencing strategic decision making across the organisation.
These digital technologies, although revolutionary, are not the journey’s end. The truly disruptive breakthrough will only occur once organisations apply these technologies in tandem (and at scale), enabling traceability across the network, minimising loss and safeguarding humans and machines.
DARQ promises to move the resources sector forward into a new digitally enabled domain. One where data is commonly shared, where real time decision making is a reality and where humans and machines seamlessly collaborate.
Breeding Pioneers, Explorers, Creators
Inevitably the way work is undertaken and the ways of working will fundamentally change. The digital mining organisation will be highly connected, highly social, have a greater willingness to experiment and explore the possibilities enabled by technology.
Roles will also change as the next generation seek fluidity between jobs and a desire for more creativity on projects. We believe siloed workforces will morph into multi-disciplinary task forces, with individuals working across the organisation on where their skills can best be utilised and where they are most needed.
Human-plus-machine collaboration, or “hu-machine” is destined to become the norm, meaning workers will not only require the obvious reskilling over the next five years, but also the culture change that will breed those that are willing and able to operate in this new world.
A digitally native culture is very different to what we see today and places this industry in competition for that talent with many others. Attracting, developing and retaining that talent will be largely driven by the purpose of the organisation they work for and their ability to do innovative work that makes an impact on the environment and society as a whole.
Looking to 2025
Now is the moment to plan for the future and start to execute at scale. Charting a course with a clear purpose and setting ambitious targets will help to overachieve the return on digital investments and inspire existing and potential employees.
Today’s most successful digitally enabled players are already growing at twice the rate of those failing to digitise. Within five years, the mining industry will be divided between those who realised the potential of digital technology at scale and those who became trapped in the past or stuck in debates on who should own intellectual property.
Organisations that innovate for innovation’s sake are destined to be left behind. Those that focus on realising the purpose of Triple Zero through the deployment of digital technologies at scale and at all parts of the value chain will realise not only the commercial benefits but also those that enhance their social license to operate well into the future. If Australia’s mining industry can drive to this agenda with determination it will see profound advances in performance, profitability and truly become world class digital pioneers.
Discover Accenture’s new Innovation Hub in Perth here: https://www.accenture.com/au-en/services/natural-resources/perth-innovation-hub