From the outside in, it’s easy to imagine mining as an industry anchored in the past. After all, it’s essentially about digging material out of the ground and getting it off to the customer at the lowest possible cost.
However, according to SAP Australia and New Zealand Executive Director, Stephen Moore, mining is at the cutting edge of technology — and Australian business should look to the sector as an industry that’s doing innovation right.
“Mining is a simple industry,” he said. “Everyone can conceptualise a mine. But mining is an industry that has been able to innovate using emerging technology to attain a competitive advantage.”
Miners have made use of everything from drones to survey land for future mines, through to autonomous vehicles, big data, machine learning and the Internet of Things to reduce production costs, increase efficiency and maximise profits. Autonomous trucks, for example, take ore from the mine head to the railway.
With machine learning and the Internet of Things, those trucks can provide their own service and maintenance schedules, and can be taken out of production with another vehicle substituted when it’s time for an overhaul. There’s no downtime, no drivers sitting idle, and production can continue without disruption.
Moore is well placed to provide insights on emerging technologies as Executive Director, Australia and New Zealand at SAP. He’s a 25-year industry veteran and has seen it all, having served with SAP since 2011, and also having held leadership positions at PeopleSoft, Infor and Unisys.
According to Moore, mining is an industry that thinks of emerging technologies holistically, rather than in isolation. However, he says, it’s also critical to think of technology as part of an overall business strategy, rather than an end in itself. “Mining is all about getting ore onto the boat cheaper than the spot price,” he said. “That’s a business strategy, but the miners are using emerging technologies, and mature technologies, to meet that business strategy.”
When it comes to emerging technologies such as those used by the miners, Moore said that innovation is more important than experimentation.
With experimentation, the results are thrown away, he said, but when it comes to innovation, there are real developments that are able to be incorporated into the business using an iterative strategy.
“Innovation is a matter of design thinking,” he said. “If you are standing still, you’re going to be left behind by your competitors, who will also be innovating.”
Brought to life
The end result is that experimentation for its own sake isn’t something businesses should do when it comes to emerging tech, he says. It’s more important to get those innovations out of the lab and into production, where they can have a positive impact on customer service, business process and the bottom line.
Emerging technology is also about today, rather than something for the future, he said. The lines between machine learning, big data and blockchain are blurring, and they operate together in a collaborative way. One of the key strategies organisations need to embrace, however, when it comes to these emerging technologies, is to prioritise analytics. “We have a phrase about AI, and we call it applied intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence,” he said. “For example, IoT is becoming less about things than about actual applications, and these applications and use cases are becoming purpose-specific.”
Exploiting new technologies also means using everything at the company’s disposal — including innovation labs, working with the start-up community, and providing internal funding for new developments. Moore again points to the mining industry, and observed that projects which were once internal, such as the development of autonomous vehicles, or the use of IoT to monitor those vehicles, are now mainstream production technologies.
“Every company starts out with a new technology with a degree of trepidation, but those technologies quickly become mainstream,” he said. “And those new technologies, and the innovations that go with them, are the key drivers of growth, through new products, lower costs and better customer service.”
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It’s also important for executives to get away from the thinking that new, innovative and emerging technologies are somewhere in the future, and not in the here and now, he said.
“The other misconceptions that exist are that innovative and new technologies are risky, and that they are expensive,” said Moore.
New technologies are only expensive if you fail to have a digital core that can support innovation. Moore said this digital core is essential to ensuring that innovation becomes central to business strategy, and he noted that if an organisation is not integrating its innovations with its digital core, then the expenses will outweigh the benefits.
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Moore argued that mining companies look to have a return on investment of around 12 months for new technologies. “Anything with an ROI beyond 12 months, when it comes to innovation, needs to be highly strategic to justify the cost of developing the new technologies,” he said.
About the Author
Joshua Gliddon is a writer for the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit of which SAP is a corporate member. Members provide their insight and expertise for the benefit of our readers. Membership fees apply.