On November 24, Mining Review Africa and Nokia hosted a live panel session on how the African mining industry is dealing with the challenges and opportunities of digital transformation, and how to make Mining 4.0 a reality.
The virtual event delivered on its promises and though it’s impossible to summarize a one-hour discussion onto a single-page, below are some noteworthy quotes heard from the panellists.
But let’s start with the voice of the audience. When polled about their biggest challenge(s) for Mining 4.0 (multiple answers were possible), 56% of respondents replied:
“Understanding the available technologies and making future-safe choices”, 53% of them checkmarked “Aquiring the right expertise and experience”, 47% “Building the business case and defining the roadmap”, while 38% highlighted that they struggle with “Identifying and prioritizing use case(s) and assessing their benefits”.
“Technology is still a major challenge, and mining is actually far behind some other industries in advancing the use of technologies” admitted Trevor Naidoo, Mining Platform CFO at Murray & Roberts, “But all our customers are requiring us to advance the technology agenda.
“Our competitors are also aggresively following this route. And our employees and stakeholders want to work in companies who have a better handle on the technology aspects. So, if we don’t do anything, ultimately we will disappear as a business.”
Focusing on the specific conditions that characterize the African market, South African consultant Yogesh Ramjattan observed that the appetite for digitalization projects in Africa is as strong as in the rest of the world, “from boards all the way down to operational management.”
Transformation is a must; one of the better ways to improve your business.
“There is access to capital, but we need to build the proper business cases and use cases for justifying the investments,” Ramjattan added. Specific complexities for African countries that ‘need to be balanced’ include labour dispensation, slow rollout of connectivity, and power instability.
Asked about using new technologies, such as the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, and the role that networks and connectivity are playing for delivering digital applications, Anton Fester, Managing Director at Sedna – Nokia’s mining partner for the African market – noted that most mining customers prioritize reliability, low latency, and security above bandwidth.
“Connectivity really is the key to many projects,” Fester said.
“This is certainly why private LTE steps into specific use cases, as an option beyond what Wi-Fi can deliver. When you have a designated slice of spectrum, you can start creating the right environment for IoT and create a future safe environment for automation use cases.”
As such, operation teams are possibly the most effective injectors of technology: “Everything starts and ends with how a piece of technology lands in the business.”
Gary Conway, Nokia Head of MEA Energy Sales and moderator of the panel, added to this that “Whatever infrastructure choices you make, you a need multi-year roadmap to account for what you know today and what you don’t know tomorrow.”
A final question from the audience, “What’s a healthy number to include in a company’s budget for technology investment and how do you get the board member’s buy in to this?” really hit some of the panelists’ sweet spot.
“Of course, the number’s big,” answered Trevor Naidoo, “but as an accountant I think you need to make the business benefits tangible and assess the risk – and ask yourself ‘what will happen if you don’t do it?’”
If you’re interested in hearing more from these thought leaders, the webinar is still available for replay.