Digital transformation could unlock US$190 billion in value across the mining industry over the next 10 years.

That’s according to an analysis by the World Economic Forum with Accenture Strategy, titled Mining and Metals Digital Transformation and the industry’s ‘new normal.’

And according to further research from Accenture Consulting, 82 per cent of mining and metals executives said they expect to increase investments in digital technology over the next three years, and 28 per cent expect those increases to be significant.

The figures are contained in a new report titled Digital Technology in Mining and are based on a survey of approximately 200 mining and metals executives and functional leaders worldwide.

Most of the investments in mining operations target robotics and automation, named by 54 per cent as a top spending area, along with remote operating centers, drones and wearable technologies, each at 41 per cent.

Digital Technology in Mining: Accenture

Overall, almost all executives (97 per cent) said they were satisfied with their digital investments over the past 12 months, with almost two-thirds (64 per cent) ‘relatively satisfied’ and one-third (33 per cent) ‘extremely satisfied.’

“As miners continue to face weak global demand, excess capacity and increasingly limited access to resources, the desire to innovate through digital technologies emerged as a key finding of our research,” said Rachael Bartels, global managing director for Accenture’s Chemicals and Natural Resources practice.

“Cost reduction is still on the agenda for miners, but the focus is squarely on better performing operations. Digital technologies enable operations to adjust to changing geology and market conditions, while still delivering returns.”

Organisation-wide, the most often cited benefit from current digital technology investments was improved workforce productivity, driven most by mobile/tablet devices (32 per cent), automation of mobile and/or fixed assets (30 per cent) and simulating physical environments (30 per cent). Cost savings across the organisation ranked lower as a benefit than improved workforce productivity in general.

IT and OT alignment

According to the research, 56 per cent of mining and metals organisations are considering merging their IT and OT groups in the next 12 months.

Already 46 per cent of respondents say business data is managed by a combination of groups including IT and operations, and 33 per cent say operational data is managed in a similar fashion.

The report states, “The integration of these groups under a single governance umbrella is key to getting the most out of IT-OT convergence. For example, it opens the door to practices such as real-time monitoring of the full range of operations, and the cloud-based, as-a-service delivery of operational activities such as alarm management and production accounting. It also allows miners to bring together the combined, complementary strengths of both groups to focus on innovations that bring greater efficiency and effectiveness to operations.”

Mining and metals companies are also continuing to adopt cloud computing technologies broadly. Four in five respondents (81 per cent) said their companies have implemented some form of public, private or hybrid cloud, and another 17 per cent said their company is exploring the use of cloud technology.

Security

According to the survey, 37 per cent cited cybersecurity as the biggest barrier to gaining more business value from digital technology. That was followed by volatile commodity prices (29 per cent), internal data management capability (27 per cent) and lack of funding (27 per cent).

“As we see an increasing uptake of technologies like cloud computing, the Internet of Things and the convergence of IT/OT, the industry recognises its rising exposure to cyberattacks,” said Amy Callahan, a managing director in Accenture’s Mining practice.

“The data these technologies can provide will allow for more timely, informed and better decisions, but it’s crucial to ensure that the appropriate security is in place to manage cyber risk and protect critical assets across the value chain.”

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