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The South African mining industry faces stiff competition from emerging players in East and West Africa, but can remain at the head of the pack through integrated information systems


South African mining companies are under pressure to remain competitive in a shifting global market. Rising costs, strikes, and softer commodity prices are just some of the developments that have slowed our extraction industries. Meanwhile, mineral and natural gas discoveries and increased micro- and macro-economic stability have positioned other African nations such as Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, Mozambique and Kenya as attractive investment destinations for multinationals. Should South Africa not reassert its credentials as the premier mining sector in Africa, the economic consequences could be drastic.


This shift in momentum toward other emerging nations is worrisome but there a way for our mining sector to retain its competitive edge. While other pan-African mining nations have yet to wholeheartedly embrace the power of information systems, mobile and cloud computing is well on its way to coming of age in South Africa. The method in which mining bodies structure their systems could mean the difference between continued market leadership and rapid decline.


Many local mining and companies have not made the full transition from a more traditional work system to a wholly information-based infrastructure. This is a strategic mistake. The greater the integration between work processes, the higher the functionality of the overall organisation. Achieving a holistic organisation requires the abandonment of inefficient silos for an end-to-end data architecture. Companies that do so can expect to see a return on their initial investment weeks to months following integration.


A visible supply chain facilitates a more empowered workforce. Companies can enjoy not just greater communication between divisions but greater real-time control as well. Mobile computing allows for a remote workforce that can securely connect and do their jobs from any location. This enhances collaboration – a driving force of innovation – and the flexibility that comes as a result of greater visibility allows for a low-risk approach in adopting new ideas. Should implementation not go as smoothly as planned on bold new plans, management can respond quickly and assertively to course correct.


Asset and resource management is similarly streamlined thanks to automated processes that assist maintenance, repairs, sales, and transportation. Data and memory analytics allow organisations round-the-clock insight into the status of their assets, as well as the tools with which to identify and handle potential problems. This improves safety and compliance while reducing overheads and lost revenue. Mining companies can maximise their productivity while minimising their usage of limited natural resources.


Risk management is a particularly important factor to consider in today’s mining milieu, which has seen large-scale disruptions by labour disputes and industrial action, as well as increased regulation by government. Organisations that do not invest in digital risk management strategies could suffer from reduced productivity and increased overheads thanks to compliance problems and strikes. The right software allows companies to predict, monitor and address both these issues.


South Africa can remain at the forefront of mining in Africa. Through intelligent systems integration, mining companies can boost their production capacities even under the financial constraint brought upon by the global financial crisis and workforce interruptions. Integration is the foundation upon which the mining sector must build its future.