The Silver Mining For this Evolving Industry
The Australian Mining Industry at an Inflection Point
The Australian mining industry represents 10% of Australia’s GDP, surpassing half a trillion in market size in 2022, and all signs point to continued growth. As the world’s largest lithium producer, the industry stands to gain tremendously from increased reliance on batteries in cars, devices, and so much more. And as a top-five producer in key commodities like gold, lead, iron ore, nickel, and zinc, Australia’s mines will remain open and active far into the foreseeable future.
Optimistic as the outlook may be, however, the mining industry must also contend with large-scale and unpredictable changes on the horizon. Already, the effects of climate change are making mining operations less stable. For example, Rio Tinto saw iron ore shipments from Western Australia decline by 12% in 2021 due to unusually high rainfall. A coal mine in NSW suspended production due to continuing droughts and wildfires. Mines already operate under extreme conditions. Worsening weather and climate conditions (combined with stricter emissions regulations) will put new strains on production and profitability.
Consolidation will also challenge expectations throughout the Australian mining industry. Companies inked 92 merger and acquisition deals totaling over $15 billion from 2021 to mid-2022 as larger concerns swallowed up smaller mine operators. At the same time, mining technology startups are rewriting how mines operate and giving early adopters significant competitive advantages. With the industry undergoing consolidation and tech-driven disruption, everyone in the mining economy must reconsider how to remain relevant and viable.
It’s an inflection point for the entire industry. And while mine operators face one set of circumstances, the challenges and opportunities are different for the many companies that service the mining industry: maintaining industrial equipment and heavy machinery, designing and engineering mine sites, operating cranes and specialized equipment, or providing expertise in rigging and hydraulics, among others. These field service providers are subject to all the dynamics affecting the mining industry while being closely tied to the fortunes of the operators and sites they serve. As a result, they must adapt to forces beyond their control, resulting in forecasting inefficiencies.
How can these mining service providers get the agility and insight they need to innovate, elevate, and extend their services? Technology is the only option. But with transformative forces already taking shape, service providers are under pressure to act fast and choose wisely, committing to the right technology ASAP. Let’s explore what that means.
Key Pain Points in Mining Services
With short windows and limited budgets to make the most significant impact with technology, mining service providers need to focus on solutions that solve their key pain points:
- Inventory Control – Australia has 350+ active mine sites spread across the country. And since most providers do not serve just one site, they have inventory (parts, equipment, trucks, techs) spread to far-flung locations. Consequently, many techs take surplus inventory to mine sites to prepare for contingencies. Inventory control is a challenge – and a frequent source of problems – because providers lack visibility into what they have and where compared to what they need and when. And when they don’t have the proper stock, getting it can be time-consuming, resulting in angry clients and broken profit margins.
- Operational Visibility – Precise timing and consistent service delivery are essential in mining services where clients run massive, complex operations and have little margin or tolerance for error. Providers need a clear view of all their resources (people, equipment, etc.) at any given time, along with all the active and future jobs. Essentially, they need a top-down view into all their operations to align the constituent parts with client requirements – but that requires a grueling effort to collect, integrate, and update data from multiple sources simultaneously. Many providers don’t have the time or tools to keep up, resulting in blind spots about tech locations, job scheduling, stock levels, and so much more.
- Asset Management – For many mining services providers, two things significantly impact the bottom line. First, selling maintenance contracts based on providing services on a recurring schedule. Second (and related), developing trusted relationships with mine operators and becoming the preferred provider across one or more sites. One obstacle to selling maintenance contracts is closely managing multiple client assets like equipment or machinery. The service record and asset history are often incomplete because collecting and keeping that data over time isn’t a small or easy undertaking. And customer relationships suffer as a result, whether because necessary equipment breaks down or service delivery is not as seamless and consistent as expected.
- Change Management – In an interdependent industry like mining, circumstances constantly change, affecting everyone involved. Things a service provider never anticipated can change when, where, why, and how service gets delivered, and they must be able to adapt without issue. Making that much more difficult is that most service providers are set up to monitor specific metrics and don’t have the means to change what numbers they collect, track, and analyze. This makes it harder to foresee change and adapt before it becomes critical. It also means that any effort to change course, even minorly, has lower odds of succeeding because good data does not drive it.
- Service Range – Mine sites are located where the minerals are, not where internet coverage is the strongest. The remote nature of these sites makes internet access spotty at best. And for the increasing number of providers who rely on technology to complete their work, that’s a huge problem. Tools and data that techs require become unavailable when those techs arrive on site and need it the most. This creates many challenges for delivering service as intended and keeping in touch with the home office. More broadly, it could limit the potential of service providers to implement and benefit from technology unless they choose solutions that work with or without internet access.
These are the pain points that technology should solve. Selecting a solution capable of turning these weaknesses into strengths not only ensures the highest possible ROI from the investment in new technology in the shortest amount of time. It also equips any mining service provider to hold and grow their market share by setting new standards for excellence.
One Upgrade Isn’t Enough
Like most other industries, field service (in all its forms) now runs on technology. Providers who are still running on clipboards, spreadsheets, and last-generation software are at a serious disadvantage and will need to upgrade in two specific ways:
- Service Delivery – Field service management (FSM) software provides a suite of tools for service delivery – scheduling and dispatch, inventory management, work order management, etc. – and integrates them onto a single platform that (ideally) techs can access from the field. By digitizing, integrating, and mobilizing field service tools, providers can meet higher standards for service while keeping costs in check. They can also scale, adapt, and innovate those services at whatever speed and in whatever direction the future of Australian mining requires.
- Business Management – Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, such as NetSuite, combines vital business tools and multiple data sources onto a single platform optimized for accessibility, automation, and insight. Providers will need to adopt more sophisticated business management systems like this to maximize profitability, manage costs, and plan for change. Refined business management will be vital as service delivery begins to evolve and, with it, revenue expectations and profit potential.
Implementing or upgrading these capabilities is critical for today’s mining service providers. Equally important but often overlooked is the need for these two systems, representing the front and back of the company, to work in perfect sync with each other. When FSM and ERP software are anything less than fully aligned with each other, the inability to share data instantly and automatically creates a stumbling block at the center of a company that undermines all that technology can do.
This suggests a formula for picking the right technology: it solves critical pain points, addresses the front and back ends of the company, and works entirely as one.
NextService – Doing More for Mining Services Providers
First designed by the team inside Headland Machinery, an Australian industrial equipment wholesaler serving numerous clients in the mining industry, the NextService FSM software understands this industry like a few others.
This becomes apparent when looking at the features and design of the software. The platform comes with robust and fully integrated tools to manage the complete cycle of service delivery. Inventory management tools track stock levels, show equipment locations, and predict inventory requirements before each job. Powerful dashboard tools offer real-time visibility into whatever decision-makers want to see and quick, easy customization options to change the view. The mobile app makes it intuitive for technicians to record data and update service histories to improve asset management. Plus, with the ability to work offline as required, techs have access no matter how deep into the field they travel. For all the pain points troubling Australian mining service providers, NextService has a solution.
And that’s just the beginning. NextService has a smart yet simple UX/UI where managers have complete visibility into everything on a single screen, including white space in a tech’s schedule that could be filled with another job. Techs in the field follow checklists dictating, among other things, what information, photos, or signatures they must collect, leading to superior compliance with safety regulations and client requirements. Even recurring service obligations are easier to accommodate (and capitalize on) since NextService automatically tracks the details and provisions the necessary resources.
What truly sets NextService apart is that it runs on-platform as NetSuite, one of the most popular ERPs on the market. Running on-platform means the two systems share the same databases instead of exchanging data through API integration. Having the FSM and ERP on the same platform creates a centralized store of data and a standard hub for all activities that allow providers to automate, analyze, improve, and innovate across the company. With NextService and NetSuite working in perfect parallel, digital transformation is complete, and providers have the digital tools and rich data they need to accomplish almost anything. These tools are essential for survival in a red-hot but highly competitive Australian mining market. Moreover, they are invaluable for scaling a company whenever or however the opportunity arises.
As Australian mining evolves, the winners and losers will too. NextService dramatically increases the odds of coming out on top by putting innovative, seamless technology at the center of mining services. Plan for your future—contact us.