Technology and the Mining Industry: Trends and Risks

31 October 2017

According to a survey by Accenture, mining companies across Canada are increasingly investing in a more digital approach to manage operations, control costs and remain sustainable. 25 per cent of the survey respondents stated that their digital investment has increased by 50 per cent or more in the last three years.

Various types of technology can be employed to help manage some of the industry’s most serious challenges, such as working in geographically remote areas, training employees to work safely in dangerous environments and keeping up with the global demand for resources. Many survey respondents identified that data analytics, cloud computing and mobility as areas of technology with the greatest potential for return on investment in their organizations.

The Risks

During the next few years, over 95 per cent of mining executives plan to implement more technology within their organizations. However, the benefit of incorporating technology into the workplace does come with some risks. Here are six of the most important risks to be aware of:

  1. Hardware and software failure: Employee error, natural disasters and technology failure can cause lost access to data or data corruption. It is important for mining companies to have a business continuity plan in place for when technology goes down—without prior planning, the company can be open to a financial crisis, especially if it is forced to close operations for a period of time. Having a business continuity plan helps to prepare for anything that disrupts business operations and helps to provide a backup option when feasible. It is also important to plan how to recover from any business disruptions and the steps to re-open business as soon as possible.

  2. Loss of digital information: The intangible property a mining company owns, including websites, data and networks, has the potential to be damaged, lost or stolen. It’s important to have this information backed up on the cloud and also at an off-site location. Additionally, the company should have policies in place that outline procedures to follow to keep such information safe.

  3. Malware, viruses, spam, scams and phishing: Any of these computer intrusions could cripple an organization, costing it thousands or millions of dollars in damages and/or lost sales. It is important to be vigilant and cautious about the content that employees open while using the Internet. Risky employee Internet use can have serious consequences for an organization.  Company policies and employee training regarding computer use, are effective ways to reduce the impact that malware can have on the system.

  4. Learning curve: It might be necessary to hire employees who are familiar with the new software and programs the company is using and provide hands-on training for existing employees. It is also suggested to set benchmarks to measure where the company wants employees to be with the new technology and by when. Setting goals will help employees stay on track that are struggling with or resisting the transition.

  5. Reorganizing business operations: Day-to-day activities, workflow and processes may have to be reorganized to incorporate the use of new technology. Employees will need time and training to adapt. Customers or third-party vendors may also be impacted. Everyone will need to be responsible for thinking through new processes step by step and planning for changes that will need to be made. For changes that will impact third-party vendors, it is suggested to communicate with them in a timely manner.

  6. Human error: Storing information electronically opens a company up to the risks of employee error. For example, an employee could accidentally delete company data or publish it publicly. Though this does not happen often, there are steps you can take to ensure safe employee technology use, including the following:

    • Establishing a company policy regarding computer use

    • Limiting employee access to important data

    • Leaving only one or two people in charge of publicly publishing information

    • Making sure all information is backed up on the cloud or at an off-site location

The Future

Industry experts predict that technology will continue to transform the mining industry as we know it. Exciting projects are already taking place across the globe, such as using drones for environmental scanning and mapping, employing driverless vehicles in unsafe terrain and building robot miners controlled by remote operators. Projects like this will continue to capture the attention of the public and encourage further innovation. Have you considered the impact that increasing technology use will have on your business?

For more information, please contact Martin Delaney, SVP and Leader, Cyber and Risk Management Services at ClientFirst@jltcanada.com.