Mobility could be game-changer for African miners

Africa currently has around 644 million mobile phone subscribers. For the vast majority of Africans, a mobile device will always be the primary way to access the Internet.

Already, 70% of Egyptians, 57% of South Africans, 55% of Ghanaians 54% of Kenyans and 50% of Nigerians only access the Net via mobile devices.

“Mobile communication plays a vital-and growing-role in African society and business. We’ve already seen some great mobile innovation aimed at individuals and small enterprises: the next wave will be when bigger businesses start to exploit the possibilities of mobile properly,” says Brendan Martin, CEO of Silverkeys Consulting, part of the Barnstone Group.

“Mining is one of Africa’s most important sectors, and a number of factors make mobility an attractive add-on for Africa’s mines.”

One of the key drivers of mobile’s growth in Africa has been the lack of infrastructure-many regions essentially leap-frogged copper altogether. That problem is particularly acute for mines which are typically located in remote areas. Mobile phones can provide a useful general communications channel for a mine, something that can be very useful in highly unionised environments. They can also assist maintenance crews to order or check spares and expedite processes from the “point of work.

The core mining processes can also benefit.

“One mine in Indonesia claims that a mobile app has saved them $10 million by promoting better drilling and blasting decisions,” says Martin.

There’s a health and safety dimension, too, Martin points out. An employee can now report health and safety issues immediately via a suitable app, without having to find a supervisor or a PC.

“Health and safety are huge issues for mines, and many risks are not reported because it’s too difficult to do so,” he adds.

But the real game-changer is the extension of the mine’s own enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems into the mobile channel. One important benefit is that managers who are out of the office for extended periods will no longer act as bottlenecks in ERP workflows. Leave applications and procurement workflows are just some of the functions that a mobile app can easily enable.

These types of mobile apps should be seen as entry-level and, in the case of SAP, can be downloaded from the SAP Store. Silverkeys is working on asset management and service management apps to complement the Barnstone Mining Solution, SAP’s All-in-One software preconfigured for a mid-cap mine.

“We are also developing business intelligence dashboards for executives’ mobile devices,” adds Martin. “In this way, somebody who might be travelling between shafts or even mines can be updated not only on metals prices but daily production targets as well.”

Another dimension is the extension of self-service options to employees on their phones, for such things as leave requests. Getting miners to PCs to perform these tasks is daunting, but everybody has a mobile phone.

“It’s a fact of human nature that performing tasks on the enterprise system can be seen as drudgery, whereas doing those same tasks via an app is cool,” Martin comments.

“Part of the reason is that the app is designed to be easy and fun to use, and people appreciate the freedom to work wherever they are-mining employees, in particular, can find it onerous to have to make a special trip to a workstation to perform some task. Making the system mobile adds a new dimension, and greatly enhances its effectiveness.”

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