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The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the siloed nature of mining companies and highlighted the need for integrated operations. This is likely to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies, artificial intelligence, and analytics in the mining industry. We examine what future mining jobs will be like in intelligent, integrated operations.
The evolution of technology, from advanced data analytics to artificial intelligence (AI), has always had the potential to transform the mining industry by realizing operational efficiency improvements, enhancing productivity, improving safety performance, empowering employees to do more meaningful work and allowing communities to be more prosperous. Has today’s crisis accelerated that trend?
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In recent years, many mining companies have begun their digital journeys towards intelligent operations. Deloitte’s Tracking the trends 2020 report explored the following action points for mining companies to optimize their digital journeys and unlock sustainable value:
The future of work in mining is not only about introducing new technologies but also about considering what role these technologies will play and what work will look like in a new Organisation that imbibes these new technologies. To help guide us in these uncharted territories, it is important to keep the end state in mind: “What outcomes drive value for the business?” These key business drivers can help tailor and redesign the Organisation to ensure that technology and Organisational change empower this future Organisation, rather than debilitate it.
To achieve the desired value-driving outcomes, it is imperative to look out several years and understand and design for how humans could interact with the technology and with each other. Companies that have had successful digital journeys so far have often placed significant emphasis on change management to shift people’s behavior and engage with their work in new ways. Mining companies looking to capitalize on these trends will need to consider the future of work as they move towards integrated operations centers (i.e., Nerve Centers) that help guide decision-making across the value chain and reduce siloed behaviors. They should consider what skills and roles are needed to support the Nerve Centers in achieving the desired business outcomes, and whether they will build these capabilities in-house or outsource it to external partners. These Organisations will need to consider the desired culture of the teams, defining what success looks like when the culture is in its desired state. The operations culture plan should be developed in line with the objectives that the Organisation is looking to achieve through its digital goals and vision.
To support the teams when using digital tools, it is important that principles for decision rights, escalation protocols, and role accountabilities are clearly identified. A transparent and clear understanding as to how each role contributes to the success of the Organisation provides the best opportunity for teams to tap into the many resources available and the collective situational awareness that this collaborative environment brings.
Recently, the global pandemic resulting from the novel COVID-19 virus has seen Organisations around the globe change how and where work gets done in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. Energy, resources, and industrial companies are among those facing the biggest constraints in offering flexible working and remote solutions. Some operations have, however, rapidly executed secondary control rooms, equipped with the relevant hardware and network capabilities to allow seamless handover between shifts in two separate locations. Some others have executed working-from-home capabilities by creating “dispatch packs” containing laptops and communication tools, enabling workers to operate and maintain control of on-site activities from the safety of their homes. For those performing essential services and therefore unable to work remotely, operations have focused on providing epidemic protection—ensuring sanitation, personal protective equipment, and safety of the workplace environment. Some others—for instance, those working on-site to support power utilities—have halved their operational efficiency to instill social distancing and other health-related measures. Meanwhile, those who have been unable to effectively mitigate the risk have had to shut down during this time.
Nobody knows exactly what the impact of these operational lockdowns will be on the industry, but many are realizing that there is a critical, accelerated need to fundamentally rethink how value is generated and redesign how work gets done. We are now seeing some clients actively revisit technologies such as tele-remote systems, autonomous vehicles, and automation of key areas of their operation. While many of these require significant capital investment at a time when commodity prices have been hit hard, they are weighing this up against the increased flexibility and performance improvement this offers in the midst of a crisis.
Now, more than ever before, an integrated operations center has become critical for any mining Organisation to provide an integrated single source of the truth built on real-time tracking of operational data across the value chain, enhance decision-making through advanced analytics, enable remote management of resources where feasible, and optimize workforce allocation and utilization, among others.
To help mining clients prepare for this new normal, we have developed personas for roles we deem important in unlocking the value of intelligent mining (figure 1), enabled through Nerve Centers:
To better understand the roles of the individuals who will be interacting with exponential technologies in an intelligent mine, we explore the following different facets of these personas’ profiles:
One of the hallmarks of these roles of the future is that they’ll likely draw on familiar components of work but put them together in new ways to create a job that’s never been done before. As mining companies continue to progress towards becoming truly intelligent mining Organisations, roles will continue to evolve. Understanding how work needs to change to quickly adapt to unforeseen circumstances and leverage technology to ensure more meaningful and safe work can help the industry transform and overcome disruption.