South Africa’s mining sector is ready to profit from a virtual goldmine of data

The mining sector is sitting on a treasure trove. Not just minerals, but data, too. Although it has, over the past few decades, turned to new technologies like processing plant control systems, GPS, mobile broadband, and sensors, to help improve productivity and safety, a recent Ernst & Young (EY) report, The Digital Disconnect: Problem or Pathway, suggests many mining companies have yet to invest in big data. Indeed, EY’s survey found only 31 percent say digital transformation is high on their agenda.

According to Iain Thompson, EY’s BC Mining and Metals Advisory Services Leader, it’s essential that companies embrace digital innovations or risk missing major opportunities. “By identifying areas for improvement and where past successes have been won, mining operators can make the jump to digitization, increase productivity and decrease costs. The bottom line is the mining sector needs to embrace the digital opportunity or risk falling behind the productivity curve.”

Big data and machine learning offer huge opportunities for the mining sector which is sitting on a virtual goldmine of data. A recent scientific paper published in the American Mineralogist has shown how big data could help find new mineral deposits. The study suggests big data could be used to locate new deposits of known minerals, and even predict new minerals. “The quest for new mineral deposits is incessant, but until recently mineral discovery has been more a matter of luck than scientific prediction,” said co-author Dr Shaunna Morrison of the Deep Carbon Observatory and the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington.

Unfortunately, a lack of investment in analytical technology in many markets has prevented the sector from benefiting from the immense value offered by analytics, big data, IoT, and machine learning.

In South Africa, forward thinking Moyo Business Advisory, the Centurion-based business consultancy firm, has been playing a major role in introducing new technologies for the processing and analysis of big data in the region. “The amazing thing with big data is that you can accurately predict events that have not yet happened and devise plans on how to capitalise on those events,” says Dewald Lindeque, Business Development Director at Moyo Business Advisory “It can be applied to everything ranging from the discovery of new mineral resources to the streamlining of business processes in the corporate sector.”

Recognizing that big data and fast analytics represent a game changer for local data-rich industries, the company recently entered into a strategic partnership with New York-based SQream, the developer of an advanced SQL data warehouse powered by GPU accelerators. SQream DB is specifically designed for analyzing large data stores at lower costs than similar data warehouses, enabling near real-time exploration of data and extremely fast data ingest that simply isn’t possible with a traditional CPU-based data warehouse.

"Our partnership with SQream will have far-reaching consequences for both the scientific and business communities who rely on the rapid processing and analysis of very large datasets," said Lindeque.

The African mining sector definitely stands to benefit in myriad ways. Real-time analytics will enable new ways to improve productivity, optimize operations, and even anticipate maintenance schedules and asset needs, potentially saving companies millions in expenses. Big data may soon be utilized to both aid the discovery of new deposits as well as provide safer mining operations. By using real-time monitoring of the status of miners, their environment, and equipment, hyper-fast analytics may identify risks such as an impending tunnel collapse, or deteriorating conditions.

As mining operators struggle to find new ways to cut costs and maximize production, technology and innovation will continue to offer competitive advantages to companies that take the initiative. Big data and real-time data analytics are already changing other business sectors. Mining companies investing now will surely benefit the most in an inevitable digital world.