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The mine of the future will be digital

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The future of the mining industry in South Africa will be digital and information technologies will help the sector achieve its goals of better working conditions and improved mine economics.

Dr Bekir Genc of the School of Mining Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand, opened the Mining into the Future conference by emphasising that the future of the mining industry in South Africa will be digital.

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Dr Bekir Genc of the School of Mining Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand

The conference was a collaborative partnership between Caterpillar, Barloworld Equipment (as the Cat southern African dealer), the Wits School of Mining, and the Wits Centre for Mechanised Mining Systems (CMMS).

Genc says the digital revolution is happening everywhere, and that it is soon going to happen to the mining industry – “if not today, tomorrow”. In recognition of this, the Wits School of Mining Engineering established a Digital Mine project to support the existing strategy of the mining industry to continuously improve working conditions and mine economics.

“Digital technologies are fundamental for efficient and safe mining where all systems are optimised,” says Genc. “This requires clarity of multiple sources of underground data, communicated to a surface control room and back to the workplace in real time. This is not happening yet. It requires an enormous amount of work, but some parties have started trying to establish these systems.”

In the first phase of the project, the School built a mock-up of an underground tunnel. This allows Wits to simulate an underground mining environment that can be used for teaching, learning and research. The 70m tunnel cost around R15m, and features a stope, rescue bay and lamp room, built with sponsorship from Goldfields, New Concept Mining and Sibanye.

Research is being conducted into smart surveying and mapping (visualisation) systems; climate control systems and energy savings (particularly important in deeper-level mines); smart rock engineering systems, which can monitor rock mass movement and predict seismic events; and smart data processing, which can locate people and assets and monitor their performance, recognise actions and detect abnormalities – such as recognising that someone is ill. Smart mine design, mining planning and decision-making are also being studied.

The Digital Mine project involves four phases, Genc says. Phase One – the building of the mock-up mine for research, teaching and learning – is complete. Phase Two – the building of a laboratory hosting digital technologies inside the mine – is in the advanced planning stages. Phases Three and Four – monitoring an underground environment for optimised mine design and processes, and having a digital mine integrated with a digital city and communities – are mostly conceptual, he says, and will require further funding to develop.

Genc expects the Digital Mine project to benefit the mining sector through providing access to a safe, smart mine laboratory reaching into the surrounding community on a multi-sensor GIS platform (once the lab has been developed), and providing knowledge to industry so that it can collect appropriate and accurate information to optimise mine designs and processes. This will enable continuous and predictive operations, while having a positive impact on mine efficiency and security. The latter is of particular relevance to gold mines, which face dangers to both mine shafts and mine employees as a result of the activities of illegal miners.

With digitisation, notes Genc, the concept of a Mine-to-Order (or Demand Mining) becomes a real possibility, contributing to productivity, mine bottom-line and transforming the mining industry through information technology. Perhaps most importantly, a digital mine will accelerate the process of reaching the industry’s zero-harm goal.

A variety of technologies that are under development will help make the digital mine a reality. Underground communications systems will enable real-time intervention to manage all types of risk. Underground drones will be able to see, map and collect data, and communicate it, and can also be used to map abandoned mines that are too dangerous to send people into. Smart data processing and 3D modelling is planned in the future, and will require participation from various Schools across various Faculties at Wits.

The Mining into the Future Conference took place on 1 and 2 July at the Birchwood Conference Centre in Boksburg. The theme for this year’s conference is “Improving productivity in a time of low commodity prices”. The conference offers delegates key insights and solutions, with the focus on such topics as machine fleet selection for either underground or surface mining; the latest trends on telematics and automation; preventative maintenance interventions; budgeting and planning; and parts inventory management.

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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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