I look forward to the Mine report from PwC every year. This year, more than ever, the health and wellbeing of our industry are front of mind as we address the many challenges presented by COVID-19. I’m encouraged by the findings which point to a resilient and resourceful industry.
Mine 2020 marks PwC’s 17th annual report on the performance of the world’s 40 largest miners. What did I find were some of the more interesting takeaways from the PwC report?
Calling COVID-19 a storm might be the understatement of the year. Still, PwC says miners have come through the coronavirus pandemic relatively unscathed so far. This is good news for our industry as the global economy is expected to contract this year, something that’s only ever happened twice before – once in 1944 near the end of World War II and once in 2009 at the beginning of the global financial crisis.
The report also shows miners turned in solid financial performances in 2019 and have strong balance sheets and flexibility to respond to a crisis. Mines are mostly still operational but with an increased focus on the health and wellbeing of employees. Safety has been a priority over many years in the mining industry, arguably putting mining on good footing to make the necessary changes required to keep employees safe. Governments around the world are looking towards the mining sector to sustain them through the current health crisis. In some instances, there is even the expectation the mining industry will lead economic recovery plans for their nation.
acQuire is also in a strong place to withstand the challenges presented by COVID-19. We have always operated on a sustainable business philosophy which puts long-term resilience at the core of our operational model. It’s not something people expect from technology companies but with nearly 25 years of business under our belt, we’re old hands at weathering storms, too.
PwC outlined concerns about the industry based on how the largest miners are travelling. And travel, specifically our inability to travel, is a critical part of the COVID-19 crisis. With travel restrictions in most countries, and even regional border closures to contend with, miners have had to rely on working remotely, increased automation and mining technology to maintain some semblance of business as usual.
This is where technology is playing a big role. For miners with remote operations, technology is helping to manage impacts and risk of COVID-19. COVID-19 has forced them to adapt and evolve, spending more time on remote workforce planning and optimisation of workflows which is seeing a greater use of automation. There’s every chance these changes will become permanent once the crisis has passed.
Rio Tinto, a pioneer of autonomous haulage, realised unexpected efficiency gains by using alternative workforce delivery models. This includes both remote working and roster changes. With the use of mine technology, operations are still be monitored without staff being onsite. Rio Tinto learned they can significantly reduce travel time – and the accompanying expense – while keeping up production. It’s a win for everyone.
Miners experiencing the fewest disruptions are those who have organised their data and systems around remote access. They have a high degree of confidence in the data coming into their data management systems and in their ability to have a single source of truth everyone can access. In a situation where staff work remotely, it’s essential that geoscience data is stored in a central location, is easily accessible and is secure from both unintentional and intentional corruption.
In our own offices, acQuire’s robust infrastructure made it an easy decision to have all staff work remotely. I was impressed by how easily our global offices moved from in-house teams and adapted to collaborating online. We conducted all our customer meetings, and provided service delivery, online. Our Learning courses were already being developed for a virtual classroom, but COVID-19 gave us an opportunity to review our schedules and bring some of those plans forward.
The PwC report shows that while balance sheets are in good shape, miners are facing volatility in commodity prices and uncertainty about production. The focus in 2020 is likely to be on optimising operational outcomes and remaining financially fit. This means companies will be looking at how they can maintain or increase production from existing mines.
More than ever, it makes sense to invest in mine assets, including geoscientific information which is, quite possibly, one of the most valuable assets a miner has. Being able to make smarter decisions based on geological data, including historical and current data, puts miners in a position of strength in a time of volatility.
To do this efficiently, data management technology like GIM Suite is needed to give a streamlined view of all your data. acQuire is an expert in geoscientific information management, with more than two decades experience in developing fit-for-purpose data management technology and solutions. This ensures companies work with data they can trust and rely on, plus get the most out of their data to inform their decisions across the mining value chain.
While I wished the circumstances had been different, COVID-19 has given us an ideal proof of concept opportunity for the digital mine of the future. We’ve discovered we can work remotely and we can rely on automation and technology in a crisis. I’m encouraged by the successes the mining industry has experienced and look forward to seeing the lasting, positive contributions mine technology will continue to make in fostering resilience and improving our efforts towards resourcefulness.
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