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Five key ways technology can help mining companies survive and prosper

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With the mining industry facing more challenging conditions, companies are looking very closely at their operations and working out how they can improve them to boost productivity.

Whereas the early stages of the mining boom saw companies develop projects at almost any cost -- with spectacular growth in the businesses of Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) firms -- now companies are looking to reduce costs through longer-term supply arrangements, new commercial arrangements with increased transparency and use of more specialist contractors.

As a supplier of ERP software to the mining industry, IFS is constantly talking with both owner/operators and EPC firms about how technology can support better productivity by improving asset, workforce and/or capital utilisation and minimising business risks.

Learning from the mistakes that some companies have made in the recent past, IFS has identified five key ways in which technology can help companies survive and prosper:

1.      Support projects with the same Enterprise Resource Planning/Enterprise Asset Management system used to run the rest of the business to improve visibility of costs and potential project risks whilst at the same time improving efficiency.

Many project-oriented companies run multiple enterprise solutions in different parts of their business. There is often no one system that provides real-time visibility into the current state of projects and their relationship with the company as a whole. 

The simplest solution -- and one that is becoming increasingly popular with companies exposed to high levels of project risk -- is to run both the business and projects from a single integrated business solution.

A key advantage of this approach is the use of real-time data, not just historical reporting. In projects any delay or cost blow-out will almost always have knock-on effects. An integrated approach provides both early identification of problems and risks to the business and the ability to do something about emerging issues before it is too late.

2.      Extend ERP/EAM systems to clients and/or contractors to improve transparency, support new commercial arrangements and more efficiently coordinate operations.

If both the company and its contractors have visibility of planned maintenance, for example, they can be informed of the upcoming work, schedule their people and ensure that they have the right tools and materials available. This also reduces the amount of time necessary to manage contractors by phone and email.

Contractors reporting work activities directly into the same system as the company eliminates having to enter the data into their own system first which is later copied across to the company?s system. This not only gives the company real-time updates but repeated entry is wasteful and increases the likelihood of mistakes and information being lost. Real-time data also allows for tighter coordination between different contractors and internal staff for more efficient use of assets and the combined workforce.

3.      Connect employees? and/or contractors? mobile devices with the ERP/EAM system so they can access and update data such as asset information in real time and share information throughout the enterprise to better utilise both assets and workforces.

Mobile devices with inbuilt GPS can now run business apps for work orders, fault reports, confirmation of delivery routes, even work force scheduling and optimisation. Being able to capture data and access information wherever you are, including a remote mine site, is key to managing operations in real time.

Systems that can talk in real time to head office from any location improve decision making around when assets need to be repaired or replaced, for example, or whether there are too many people on site that could be redeployed elsewhere. Field workers can take photos and attach diagrams and upload them to someone in another location to make decisions on the spot, rather than lose days or even weeks in some cases before returning to head office.

4.      Ensure all documentation related to projects, assets and people is fully integrated within your ERP/EAM system and available in real time.

The fact that companies run multiple enterprise solutions also means that documentation related to projects, assets and people is often scattered across the organisation or worse, sitting on a contractor?s system.

Standardising on a single document management system fully integrated with your ERP/EAM creates a single repository that can be accessed across the company, shared with clients and/or contractors via an Internet portal, or connected with mobile devices.

In particular, the effective hand off of asset information between parties represents an opportunity to eliminate costly mistakes and non-value-added work to lower total asset cost, reduce downtime and maximise return.

5.      Utilise Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) functionality within your ERP/EAM system to ensure more efficient compliance, and reduce accidents and downtime.

It is far more efficient to work with a single integrated system which records and can report on health and safety information, insurance data, training programs and specific contractor and owner/client documents.

Mining companies also need clear insight into how contractors and/or subcontractors deal with OH&S policies, even though not all of them have the systems in place to efficiently capture and report on the necessary information. OH&S functionality integrated within an ERP/EAM system can be shared with these companies via an Internet portal, or connected with mobile devices.

The advantages of an effective OH&S Management system go beyond compliance. Improving processes and preventing accidents will also increase a company?s efficiency and improve profitability.

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