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User experience a priority

An enhanced user experience is the focus of the world’s largest supplier of specialised mining productivity software in the release of its updated products

Gemcom Surpac visualisation.

Gemcom Surpac visualisation.

Gemcom Software International, which was acquired in July 2008 by an investment consortium that includes The Carlyle Group, Pala Investments Holdings which focuses on mining and resource companies and JMI Equity, has some 35% to 40% share of the global mine planning software market. The company itself carried out of the successful merger with Surpac Minex Group in 2006, and while it remains a software producer and not a systems integrator Gemcom is part of the global trend in the mining industry where databases are being centralised to generate regular reports.

The latest versions of Gemcom software have focused on improved data management in integration, made use of the increased processing power available and increased support of CAD type functionality. In particular the company has focused on achieving what Gemcom director of product management, Marni Rabassó refers to as a better user experience. This comes down to features that enable users to become proficient with the software faster.

Rabassó also says that the company is a strong supporter of open as opposed to proprietary standards. “Inevitably not all the specialist software spread across a mining organisation will have been sourced from one company and we believe those companies that go the proprietary route and make integration difficult will not thrive in the long run.” Increasingly, the philosophy she expresses is the direction in which the mining software sector appears to be going.

At this year’s MINExpo show held in Las Vegas, Nevada, Gemcom released new versions of five products to drive mine productivity, among these Gemcom Surpac 6.1, Gemcom GEMS 6.2 and Gemcom Minex 5.3; and the theme they all have in common is a better user experience. “We want to make sure the packages are easy to use intuitively, particularly with the skills shortage. We don’t want to have the knowledge base for a software system depart when the resident expert leaves for another job. It should be easy to use for a new person undertaking the job.”

This philosophy is demonstrated in the company’s new and now available Surpac 6.1 software for orebody evaluation, open pit and underground mine design, mine planning and production. The new release features enhanced graphics and a more CAD-like drafting mode that provides users with greater design flexibility that enables them to complete their work faster. An updated geostatistics module delivers better visualisations and improved functionality and the package has improved its integration with other systems including Gemcom and third party products.

Gemcom MineSched

Gemcom MineSched short
term pit visualisation

Customers who have tried the GEMS 6.2 software, which will become generally available late in 2008, a version that includes a new geostatistics module and enhanced block modelling and comprehension capabilities say it has increased their ease of use. “The package has been designed with a view to the future, as illustrated by the block model data footprint reduced by 10 to a 100 times,” Rabassó says. This enables users to connect to their data and graphic visualisations rapidly, even in operations with very large amounts of data.

Gemcom also used MINExpo to release the latest version of its world famous Gemcom Whittle strategic mine planning software, Whittle 4.2, which is being shipped to clients late in 2008. The key feature is that it has expanded its functionality from 10 to 30 elements, enabling the user to do more complex modelling. It is also able to vary mill throughput by rock type and process, and improves the blending, stockpiling and multi-pit modelling stability and accuracy.

Minex 5.3, a system for coal and stratified deposits, which targets scheduling that enables mining at a given ore or overburden rate, also includes enhanced playback and export of schedule animations, and a new geostatistical module with enhanced usability.

However, arguably the most dramatic release by Gemcom at MINExpo was that of the new generation of mine scheduling software, Gemcom MineSched 6.0 which features a major revamp of the user experience, and in particular the user interface functionality. “It now features drag and drop functionality, interactive visual set up of schedules and 3D animations. It has evolved a long way from previous versions which used a spreadsheet format,” Rabassó says.

Gemcom, with major development offices in Vancouver, Perth, Brisbane, and Hyderabad, has spent over US$43 million in acquisition and development over the past two or so years. A third of its staff, 104 out of a total 315 people as of the close of its fiscal year ended 31st March 2008, is focused on the R&D of new products. Understanding how to best leverage process design plays a role in Gemcom’s approach. “Certain functionality works best when developed to call upon dual core processing power, others do not. The programming is done to benefit our users rather than for the sake of implementing a certain approach,” Rabassó says.

R&D by Gemcom has been focused on dealing with the industry’s key challenges, including the need to improve production reporting to better support decision-making and address regulatory requirements, and has designed its Gemcom InSite software to produce on-demand access to web-based reports created with auditable data. The skills shortage is dealt with by easy to use software that captures the best practices through automated repeatable workflows. It allows for data integration to create a centralised view of mine performance, and the database technology integrates mining data that streamlines workflows to enable effective data sharing. And it deals with cost control by helping clients to determine where, when and how to mine.

Gemcom GEMS reserve visualisation.

Gemcom GEMS reserve

To further the ease of use of its software, the company also holds numerous user conferences around the world, including one held in May 2008 in Johannesburg and another in April in Ghana. Overall the company earns significant income from software maintenance and support, with 30.4% of revenue coming from this stream of its business in its last fiscal year. The company has a global presence including offices in Accra and Johannesburg, and Africa forms a significant market for the company being the largest revenue generator after Australia and North America.

Gemcom’s product range can be divided into three broad categories; its mine planning software for which it is most well known, its scheduling and optimisation software which has seen major user functionality upgrades, and its production management software.