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As Industry 4.0 becomes a global reality, mining processes are set to be digitised and automated and efficiencies will come from integrating processes, improving productivity and delivering operations that can allocate resources effectively, predictably and efficiently. As a mineral rich country, South Africa faces its own set of challenges as the sector gears up for digital transformation and the only way to overcome these challenges is to get smart and adapt.

Digital has long been a mainstream priority for mining companies globally, with key priorities mainly focused on investments in technology, building data and intelligence capabilities, focus on innovation and integration between IT and operational teams. The sector is no stranger to harnessing digital innovation with tools such as fingerprint identification and digital breathalysers having been in play for years.

“In many ways, this makes the case for digital transformation harder to push forward,” says Nkosi Kumalo, executive manager for mining at BCX. “While some leaders acknowledge it as a fundamental system overhaul, many are hamstrung by the realities of things such as labour constraints and outdated infrastructure,” he says.

Nkosi Kumalo is the executive manager for mining at BCX.
Credit: BCX
Approximately 70% of mining companies globally are still in the very early stages, in South Africa the last two years have seen some of the larger players launching major digital transformation projects, leaving a gap between the leaders and the rest of the industry. What this also means is that there is a massive opportunity for transformation in the mid-tier market to harness digital innovation.

“We believe the real benefits of transformation will come off the back of clever adjustments with regards to harnessing data driven insights to radically optimise productivity,” says Kumalo

The industry is by nature forward thinking and most mid-level companies already have a digital infrastructure in place and are looking to deploy Internet of Things (IoT) platforms off the back of a cloud first strategy. Leaders now need to look beyond infrastructure to embrace digital transformation and unlock innovation and disruption rather than simply enhance existing models. 

There is an ever-increasing opportunity for companies to use data and analytics to deliver productivity, efficiency and insights that can improve business performance. Artificial Intelligence presents new potential in identifying such areas for performance improvement and should be something companies are looking to implement down the line.

IDC research highlights that mining companies are not investing ahead of the curve when it comes to data analytics and that there is a need for greater focus on the data foundations in terms of collecting the data, understanding the data and building the right capabilities to use this information effectively.

For many South African mining companies, cloud-based systems for operational data management may not be as high on the agenda as they are for global companies. As global challenges impact the need for greater efficiencies, the need for an agile IT infrastructure will only grow in importance for companies who wish to innovate as we move into an Industry 4.0 world.

“For companies to thrive, we will need strong leaders who enforce good governance and push for innovation-led organisational culture if they are to deliver agile mining operations for the future,” says Kumalo.

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