Intelligent mining in a post-COVID world

Intelligent mining in a post-COVID world

Intelligent Mining is the term used by Deloitte to describe our aspiration for connected and integrated mining organisations and operations, that are highly automated and human-centred, see figure 1. It applies Industry 4.0 concepts and digital capabilities to the value chain to enable leading mining organisations to create value by optimising productivity and cost, improving safety and sustainability, enhancing the employee experience, and reducing risk.

Pre-COVID-19, mining and metals organisations had typically begun the journey towards Intelligent Mining vision with incremental steps and point solutions but overall progress has been relatively slow. In a 2018 Deloitte global survey, Energy & Resources companies self-rated their digital maturity on average well below their peers in other industries.

Impact of COVID-19 

The COVID-19 crisis has a range of impacts on mining and metals companies, varying by commodity and geography. Striving to recover from the initial shock, companies now face challenging environments alternating between restriction and relaxation. We are in uncharted waters, yet leaders must take decisive action to ensure their organisations are resilient. 

Deloitte has modelled a number of scenarios for how the future might impact the industry in the next 3-5 years, with four distinct possibilities depending on the ongoing severity of the pandemic and the level of collaboration globally.

Implications of COVID-19 for Intelligent Mining

Across all four scenarios, five key trends emerged as being top-of-mind for mining and metals leaders post COVID-19:

These trends have direct implications for the approach to Intelligent Mining and the opportunity it presents.

The pandemic has impacted on inbound and outbound supply chains, and leaders in the sector are examining how Intelligent Mining concepts can help modernise, streamline and reinforce their supply chains. E.ghaving an accurate and granular understanding of the organisation’s integrated supply chain from demand through to the production of individual component parts is enabling some companies to make proactive adjustments before supply issues occur, and to make choices which apply working capital where it will have the greatest impact.

The crisis has accelerated Future of Work trends. It has emphasised the importance of the workforce operating safely, while remaining engaged and connected. The enforced transition to remote working by most organisations should provide leaders with increased confidence to accelerate investment in digital capabilities and automation of operations and support processes.  To respond, miners should reconsider the work (what), the workforce (who), and the workplace (where), in the context of the potential future scenarios. This requires workforce and talent optimisation – new skills, new roles, changes to organisation structures and governance processes aligned to new ways of working.

In the more severe pandemic scenarios, mining companies are accelerating investment in automation and digital technologies to allow for remote operations, and people and equipment tracking. Individuals will become more open to new technologies from wearables to AI, so long as they provide benefits to personal security and health. Consistent with Deloitte’s Intelligent Miningvision, this accelerated technology investment will be in three domains:

  • Intelligent Operations – automation and digitisation at specific points in the value chain, to optimise operational processes
  • Nerve Centre – where data comes together from across the value chain, to enable integrated data-driven decision making and insights 
  • Intelligent Enterprise – automation and digitisation across the enterprise, to optimise specific support processes

One thing that remains critical to the post-COVID response, is getting the Digital Core Technology right, in particular:

  • The investment required to organise, clean and govern data, to enable Intelligent Mining solutions
  • The importance of establishing the core platforms, including the necessary communications infrastructure. In particular, the high bandwidth and low latency of 5G has the potential to enable increased connectivity and integration

Delivering Intelligent Mining requires an ecosystem of participants fromacross the business and partner organisations. Orchestrating this complexity has had some mining companies hesitate to invest themselves in the journey. In a post-COVID world, the enforced adoption of new ways of working has broken through some of those barriers, and the appetite of employees and across the industry for change is greater than ever.

Critical to executing these changes is a human-centred approach which involves finding a balance between longer-term transformational thinking and shorter-term returns:

  • “Think Big” – Establish a clear vision and strategy, driven by desired business outcomes, and an understanding of where to focus investment for the greatest value; Communicate the vision and potential value, but also have realistic expectations on what is possible with the available time and resources
  • “Start Small” – Design and deliver in rapid agile sprints, and quickly get to the point where an initial version of a technology solution can prove value; experiment, be willing to fail fast and learn early
  • “Scale Fast” – Rapidly scale up successful projects that have demonstrated value, and focus on embedding the change operationally for sustainable value – put operational leaders in the driving seat

Figure 1 – Deloitte Intelligent Mining Vision