2019 could go down in history as the year mining companies stopped anchoring their strategic planning around producing the highest volumes of ore at the lowest possible cost, and understood that focusing on the composition of their portfolios to offer a unique investment opportunity was the key to success, a study published Tuesday shows.
Deloitte’s “Tracking the Trends” annual mining report, now in its 11th edition, outlines how the challenges and opportunities the industry faces and proposes way to adapt to fast changes.
Mining companies, it says, now need to determine how to operate in a market that is also characterized by rising stakeholder demands, a widening talent gap, dwindling access to key inputs such as energy and water, and a Chinese economy growing at under 7%, rather than 12%, just to mention some challenges.
“In today’s climate, miners must focus on differentiating their business models to generate long-term value, not only to attract investors, but also to remain successful in the communities in which they operate,” Deloitte’s Canada and Global Consulting Leader Mining & Metals, Andrew Swart, said.
“We believe there is a significant opportunity for mining companies to harness the power of data and analytics,” he told MINING.com. “As mining companies invest in technology, be it in the core operational or supporting processes, companies should be doing it with a view of how they will collect and utilize data going forward.”
Miners, he explained, need to ensure that they can gather data from pieces of equipment in real time or deploy sensors in key process areas, so that they can leverage the power of data to optimize those processes in real time.
The Fourth Revolution
The report notes how conversations around the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, revolve around the ways in which physical and digital technologies — such as analytics, AI, cognitive technologies, robotics, cloud computing, and the IoT— are combining to create digital enterprises that are both interconnected and capable of more informed decision- making.
For Glenn Ives, Americas Mining and Metals Leader at Deloitte Canada, it represents a new era of business that can only be harnessed by leaders who have “the courage of their conviction.”
Beyond rethinking their mining strategy, companies should pay attention to other top growing industry trends that would determine their success. According to Deloitte, they are:
The frontier of analytics and artificial intelligence (AI): Mining companies are investing in analytics and AI in a bid to leverage the data they generate to sharpen planning and decision-making across the mining value chain. This could improve safety, increase productivity, reduce costs, and enhance the employee experience. As they consider how to move up the analytics and AI maturity ladder, miners are learning from global trends in other industries, exploring new use cases, and determining where best to focus their investment.
Managing risk in the digital era: In today’s broadened risk landscape, traditional assurances around risk are no longer effective. Boards, investors, and communities expect mining companies to have a forward-looking view on risk, moving from risk assurance to the anticipation of emerging risks. This will be enabled by analytics and a range of AI and cognitive tools that are now available to mining companies.
Digitizing the supply chain: The mining sector is at the earliest stages of building a digital supply network (DSN). The organizations that determine how to interlink their supply chains, from pit-to-port, can do more than break down operational silos. They can also gain the end-to-end visibility needed to enhance their asset utilization, operational efficiency, and productivity—realizing hard dollar savings as a result.
Driving sustainable shared social outcomes: Organizations across industries are now being assessed on metrics far beyond financial performance. They are being judged based on their relationships with their workers, customers, communities, and regulators—as well as their impact on society at large. Miners are no exception. They must go beyond seeing corporate social responsibility as a cost of compliance and listen more closely to their constituents to determine what stakeholders truly want and shift their operational processes in response.
Exploring the water-energy nexus: Water is quickly rising to the top of mining companies’ agendas as one of the greatest constraints to supply. By approaching energy and water management in tandem, mining companies can make business choices that optimize the use of both. These changes are increasingly necessary if mining companies hope to maintain productivity, assuage community concerns, and manage their environmental risks in an energy- and water-constrained world.
Decoding capital projects: After the challenges faced during the last down cycle, there is a sense of optimism for mining companies as commodity demand picks up. Before launching into the next wave of investment, miners must learn from the mistakes of the past and rebuild trust with stakeholders. Organizations that focus now on putting the right capital project capabilities into place can strengthen their capacity to adjust supply in response to shifting demand patterns.
Reimagining work, workers, and the workplace: As digitization and automation alters the very nature of work, and the mining industry faces a massive generational shift with enrolment in mining-related disciplines down, miners will need to broaden their talent strategies. They must consider not only the shifting nature of work, but how to attract a new variety of workers and tailor their workplaces accordingly.
Operationalizing diversity and inclusion programs: To improve diversity and inclusion in the mining industry, and to attract new talent to help meet the industries’ digitization, automation, and innovation goals, mining organizations will need to shift historical perceptions about the industry. This will involve collaboration across organizations as they recruit from education institutions and other online platforms, a focus on exposing unconscious biases that influence hiring decisions and contribute to workplace inequality, and the implementation of more flexible workplace practices.
Demanding provenance: As customer demand for battery minerals rises, so too does the demand for transparent provenance. This is exposing miners to increased scrutiny as socially-conscious consumers question the origin of raw materials in products ranging from cell phones to electric vehicles. As a result, downstream customers—such as automotive manufacturers and tech giants—are demanding ethically-sourced minerals. This is driving the adoption of technologies such as blockchain to enhance the traceability of commodities.
The experts acknowledge that blockchain is mostly being used for supply chain transparency and highlight how very few companies, such as Goldcorp, are applying it in a different way. The Canadian gold miner has begun using blockchain to make direct sales to dealers and banks, Deloitte sees more broadly opportunities in commodities trading and the creation of smart contracts.
“One of the key value drivers for blockchain applications often comes down to the volume and frequency of transactions,” Swart says. “Many companies don’t necessarily have the scale/volume of transactions to make these applications viable so it will often depend on the individual dynamics of that company and commodity. There is, however, an opportunity for companies to collaborate in this area and share platforms.”
The study also suggests miners should move their Corporate Social Responsibility function among their top priorities.
As mining companies increasingly embrace technology and automation, it is likely that they end employing less people at the mine site, while making greater use of workers located remotely.
As a result, the social contract between mines and communities will shift, Swart predicts. “Historically it was based around jobs, but this will need to be rethought going forward. Companies will need to consider how they bring value to communities as a central issue in their corporate strategies,” he concludes.