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Why Mine Digitization Fails (at Some Sites)

Over the past 11 years, we’ve been involved in digitization initiatives for many large mining companies all over the world. I’ll openly acknowledge that these Digitization initiatives fail at several sites. It has gotten to the point where I now have a sixth sense about it – to detect whether a digitization project will succeed or fail at a site. These experiences have also provided me and our company with a blueprint for helping a site make a successful transition to a digital mine — and in some instances, it requires substantial process adjustments and, more often than not, significant personnel changes.

Digitization promises increased efficiency, improved productivity, and enhanced customer experiences. However, all too often, mines – especially at Corporate – invest heavily in digital transformation initiatives, only to find that their efforts fall short, and in many instances significantly short, of expectations. The culprit? Sites not using what they bought and deployed as intended.

In this article, I’d like to share some of the reasons why digitization fails when the mines don’t embrace it as they should, and achieve the “holy grail.”

  1. Resistance to Change: The single biggest reason why Digitization initiatives fail at mine sites is because people tend to resist change, especially when it disrupts established routines. And if you know a miner, you’ll know they are a stubborn lot, and prefer doing things their way. Digitization often requires miners, supervisors, and even mine managers to adapt to new processes and technologies. Without proper change management strategies in place, such resistance has been a significant barrier to successful implementation.
  2. Inadequate Training and Support: Miners need comprehensive training and ongoing support to use digital solutions effectively. There is a reason why we do MSHA requires Annual Refresher Training for all miners. If sites fail to provide the necessary resources and guidance, miners typically revert to old, familiar methods or simply do not use the digital tools as intended. Our recommendation is to the initial training, then do a refresher training in 6 weeks, and then again in 6 months at a bare minimum.
  3. Complexity and Overcomplication: Overly complex systems overwhelm miners and supervisors and discourage their use. Simplicity and ease of use should be at the forefront of ANY digitization effort. When you let a newly assembled Digitization Team, typically a whole bunch of developers with no past experience with mining, they tend to add everything, and the kitchen sink into the requirements. They end up building something super complicated. Miners may opt for simpler alternatives – especially older processes based on paper and Excel – if the technology is too complicated.
  4. Lack of Communication and Engagement: Effective communication is crucial during digitization efforts. Sites need to understand why the changes are happening, how they will benefit, and how they can contribute to their success. Engaging everyone – from the General manager down to the Nipper – in the process and gathering their feedback fosters a sense of ownership and collaboration. We’ve seen this type of engagement helps Digitization initiatives succeed.
  5. Lack of User-Centric Design: One of the primary reasons for digitization failures is the absence of user-centric design. When digital tools and platforms are not tailored to meet the specific needs and preferences of miners (e.g., most miners have fat fingers), they are less likely to be embraced. It’s essential to involve end-users in the design process to ensure that the technology aligns with their requirements and workflows.
  6. Data Security Concerns: Mines – especially the IT team – may be hesitant to embrace digitization if they have concerns about their data security. Organizations need to invest in robust cybersecurity measures and communicate these efforts to build trust.
  7. Legacy Systems Integration: Transitioning from legacy systems to digital solutions can be challenging. Mines typically face difficulties when trying to integrate new technologies with existing tools – especially Geology Databases, and even ERP systems. A seamless transition strategy is vital to mitigate these issues.
  8. Failure to Demonstrate Value within the first 90 days: Mines are more likely to embrace digitization when they can see its tangible benefits – especially within the first 90 days. Vendors must make it a point to demonstrate the value of their solution by showcasing quantifiable improvements – especially to mine management.

    Doing Digital sure yields HUGE benefits – but it ought to be done right. And a lot depends on folks at the site using these Digital Tools as intended. You need a good Change Management Team / Continuous Improvement Expert with significant influence at the site to lead the effort.

    Only then can digitization truly deliver on its promises of efficiency, productivity, and improved customer experiences. Otherwise, it is bound to fail. I have scars to show for it — I can share examples…ping me 🙂
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