HomeBase MetalsEffective risk management: make the information work for you

Effective risk management: make the information work for you

Our previous article began to explore the links between information and data for effective decision making. It did this in the context of a sound risk-based approach to mining operations with regards to their outputs and consequences.

The main thrust of the argument was that data is but a small part of the information necessary to enable sound judgement and decision-making.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 1, 2021
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Data, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and robotics have become the new ‘must have’ for many businesses and consultancies, all enabled by the new phenomenon of the Internet of Things (IOT).

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Mining companies are being targeted by consultancies offering smart mines, digital mines, AI enabled mines and so on, all operating at or on ‘The Edge’.

What is missing from so much of this is that the decision support tools have often become the end in itself, and do not actually enable people to make the right decision within a safe timeframe.

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A look at recent tailings and pit collapses, as well as Anglo American’s self-inflicted hit in Australia, will tell the same tale – all the data and information in the world is of little use if it is not part of effective risk mitigation, and integrated into an effective management decision system.

In the previous article we covered the business of the collection of information. How the critical first step is to define what you need to know in order to enable the achievements that you desire.

That first step is important in that it demands some clarity of purpose and thought before an effective list of critical information requirements can be determined.

Throughout, the overall goal must be kept firmly in mind in order to avoid those tangential distractions which can be a real danger, especially when the collection process may involve many attractive pieces of hardware and software.

The risk-based approach to this, whether following the standard of ISO 9001 or the guidance of ISO 31000, leads you to a simple process that should be based upon the organisation’s risk register.

This is a very effective tool that can sometimes be hijacked or curated by people who see it as a silo type industry, or as an end in itself. This is to miss the point totally; it must be a dynamic and live document that drives a dynamic process and mindset.

The identification and analysis of risks will enable the mitigation measures to be determined, and from that process the critical information requirements can be identified. Managing risks through actionable insights will protect the environment, lives and property.

Now you have the question, the next big question is how to find the answer.

This requires the question to be broken down into parts, each of which provide indicators that can be registered sometimes by a sensor, but also by a human: the “What?”.

What indicates that a dam or a slope may become unstable? How is that monitored and measured? What is the effect that I am trying to achieve? Do I just want to know when it is going to ‘go’? – or do I want warning so that I can do something about it? This process of itself drives a more disciplined approach to risk.

The next stage after determining the “What?” is the “How?” as in how do I get this information in an accurate and timely fashion? The sources are often a combination of technical, sound professional knowledge and good old-fashioned judgement, with the courage to make a decision.

Sensors are important, but often only judgement can place data into the proper context to be of real use in reaching the right decision point.

The array of sources can be mind boggling at times with all the technology now available. There is always a danger of being seduced by the technology and so missing the key element, which is identifying the sensor to answer the question that you have asked.

Drones are a great example of this. The peddlers of the drones tout them as ‘the answer’ when really they are only a platform. The drone is only as good as the reliability and effectiveness of the sensor that it carries.

For some, the weight of that sensor has a real effect on the performance of the drone, sometimes to the extent that it may not be able to carry what is needed for the time and distance required.

Again, the key question remains “what do I want to know?” and “what can tell me that?”. However, in some cases the drone may be a much more effective, and cost effective, observation platform than a satellite. It is easier to adapt the optics on a drone than those on a satellite.

Connecting the dots

Multiple sources bring a plethora of information from a variety of directions and in a variety of forms. The next stage is the fusion of all this information, discarding the chaff to enable a clear picture to emerge. This becomes an issue of judgement and management.

It is not something that has yet been effectively automated. The ability to make a contextually-based judgement from more than a sufficiency of information is a key skill, and one that can only be made effective by training and experience.

Uppermost in the mind must always be “what do they want to know and why?”. The latter enables an informed decision in the case of the situation changing either on the ground or in terms of policy or governance.

Much has been said about context, but it is critically important. Only context can determine which data is currently important and so should be acted upon.

As context changes the data’s place in it will change also. This enables an up-to-date iterative process that should then maintain relevance throughout the management of operations and their associated risk, through constant review.

Context is something that has to be learned by experience. This means that merely expecting a third party, or an algorithm, to develop interpreted data into a decision supporting piece of information is itself going to be a risky business.

The bottom line is that the overused word ‘context’ is key. The context of the requirements for information and the context within which it is placed. Then the crunch comes when with all the information available someone has to make the right call and in the right timeframe.

This also needs to be supported by sound procedures that actually enable the effect to be achieved, which in the risk business usually involves saving lives, money and/or reputation. The bottom line is much more than data!

So, by all means make that investment the CTO is pressing for, but do not ignore the requirement to ensure that you can make the right decision in the right place and at the right time. That too is most worthy of investment.

Simon Barry, lead consultant: risk and standards, The Advisory Group
Hedley Tomlyn, director of programmes at Minerva Advisory Group