Achieving the benefits of information technology in surface and underground mining processes

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. 2, 2009

S. Dessureault, M.G. Lipsett, M. Scoble, Norman B. Keevil

In the last 20 years, information technology (IT) has been cited as an economic stimulus that can induce structural change in corporations, creating new businesses and providing competitive advantage to companies that successfully integrate IT. However, several empirical studies and considerable anecdotal evidence indicate that simply investing in IT does not necessarily result in clearly measurable benefits, such as increased productivity. This effect has been dubbed the “productivity paradox.” The difficulty in measuring the effect of IT and predicting its influence on productivity is due to its complex implementation. Experience and studies of other business sectors reveals that some consider the productivity paradox to be induced by implementation issues. The key to generating benefits from IT is not in how much is spent, but in how IT is used. Studies have shown that companies considered to be the “best users” of IT, based on peer-driven evaluation and other measures, were able to not only recuperate the capital spent on IT, but also profit from its application. The primary element that those companies had in common was the modification of their businesses processes to take advantage of the options that IT enables. Various business sectors have developed management tools to facilitate the re-engineering of business processes. These techniques were developed over the last two decades in a number of business sectors and focus on the work-level that is to be changed, which also depends on the technology that is to be implemented. This paper discusses various types of information technology options available to the mining industry. An analysis of the type of process change for each category of technology is also discussed, taking into account the experiences of other industries and the authors. The discussion of process changes required to benefit from technology and tools to facilitate change necessitates a framework. Hence, a hierarchy of work, technology and change management tools is suggested (see accompanying figure). This hierarchy takes into account the complexity of various levels of work. As the level of work and complexity increase, so does the complexity of the technology and process change required to benefit from the technology. IT solutions vary in scope and complexity, from simple word processing or visualization tools to company-wide Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. The degree of change that an investment in IT can impress is related to the levels of work it affects and the receptivity of the organization to the change. For example, the implementation of a corporate information system (IS) would be significantly different from the implementation of a global positioning system (GPS) tool for surveyors. The management tools that are best suited for particular levels of work can also be related to the level at which an IT investment is being made. These management tools can help in the implementation or, more importantly, the utilization of IT. This paper reviews examples of different IT solutions and their associated work-hierarchy and change management approaches, namely enterprise systems, real-time monitoring/operator assist and contemporary automation. The efficiency of most business processes has been substantially improved in virtually all industrial and service sectors. These improvements have been developed from the synergistic effect of management change and information technology. The flexibility of new managerial techniques has allowed other business sectors to weather strong competition and remain profitable. Most managers recognize the need to change management practices when undertaking business process improvement. Mines are particularly poised for substantial gains in flexibility and potential profit due to emerging information technology that is gaining acceptance. Understanding how and to what extent managerial change is required to take full advantage of these technologies will allow businesses to maintain the essential balance between economic and sustainable development.