The face of digitalization

Digitalization is revolutionizing the way industry functions right in front of our eyes. And while its full potential has yet to be reached, questions abound about the importance of people management during this transformation.

The focus of most discussions about the digitalization of industry is often on technology and equipment. Be it automated trucks, intelligent drill rigs or the potential for reading biometric data, the conversation is largely about how technology allows us to do things that have previously seemed impossible.  Still, the benefits of digitalization run much deeper. While a variety of tasks can be improved with a digital solution, the importance of people to the digital transformation process should not be overlooked. Decision-makers from as far afield as Australia and China came to Tampere, Finland, for the Sandvik Global Mining Summit. Digitalization was top of the agenda, both in terms of what’s working now and what needs to happen in the future. Three Sandvik customers spoke about their approach to digitalization, and a fascinating trend emerged. Their focus wasn’t so much on the systems and technology, but on how digital solutions can improve everyday activities, and the importance of people management to success. One of the most noticeable changes in the digital revolution is a more open approach to communication. In barely a decade we have become accustomed to using digital tools to share thoughts and ideas from all aspects of our lives.

The trend is slowly making its way into the workplace, too. Employees now expect open and honest communication from their employers. Nowhere is this more important than in a workplace undergoing the sweeping changes associated with digitalization.

Operators are still necessary, but the definition of what they do will change

Including employees in the digital conversation is a key building block for success, especially when many people view digital tools not so much as a benefit, but rather a threat to their job security. “I don’t think we’ll see a huge reduction in jobs, at least not in the short to medium term,” says Neil Moloney, digital transformation manager at Goldcorp. He does, however, believe that job roles will change. “We are already seeing the job of mine general managers change, as automated reporting solutions allow them to focus on other things,” he says. “Operators are still necessary, but the definition of what they do will change. Some of our miners don’t even own a mobile phone, so suddenly filling their cab with automated tools is a scary proposition for them. Change management is absolutely critical for this to work.”

Sandvik’s digital offering

Sandvik’s three-pronged approach offers customers flexibility and choice when building their own digital strategies.

Automation: AutoMine is a modular IT system that manages elements of your operations, from scheduling and location tracking to a 3D mine visualizer.

Fleet management: The My Sandvik web portal gives customers online access to data and information about their fleet. You can improve transparency, order parts and understand the status of your fleet.

Analytics: OptiMine software offers customers predictive insight and real-time analytics based on collected data to improve operator and asset performance.

A clear strategy needs to be put in place to manage the people aspect of digital transformation. Those driving the changes need to have a service mentality, both for the users of the technology and for their end customers. All technology needs to be rolled out with a full support system in place, and having engaged the people who will be impacted most. This starts with an analysis of what is truly needed in your business. There is a great risk of succumbing to “shiny object syndrome” when it comes to technology, so it’s crucial to consider both the everyday users and the company’s long-term strategy when considering change. One option is to take lessons from the start-up world, where employees are empowered to make decisions using digital tools, and temporary business models allow new ways of working to be tested without fear of failure. Whatever you decide, it’s important to involve your people in the process through research. What technology will make their day-to-day working lives easier?  

Researchers at Scandinavian institute SINTEF have been working on a two-year strategic research project on decision-making. The overall goal of the project is to improve performance within time-critical complex domains, such as emergency management, air traffic management, maritime and train dispatching, by developing a new-generation decision support tool. This support tool enables better human/automation collaboration during decision-making, says Amela Karahasanovic, senior scientist on the project. “The tool lets the operator in a train-dispatching centre tell the system in which sequence he plans to dispatch the trains by tactile interaction and/or augmented reality techniques,” she says. “The tool would then, only if needed, propose a better but understandable sequence by using 3D animation and present how this would affect punctuality.” Karahasanovic says that in the long run, this will improve human operators’ trust in the decision support tool, increase their competence and improve the quality of decisions they make with and without support. Fuelled by the rise of the Internet of Things, Big Data is, according to the consulting firm McKinsey, “the next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity.” The amount of data generated from a mining operation continues to increase, yet this data is worthless without the skills and abilities required to analyze it. Alex Holder, the group technical services manager for South African company Petra Diamonds, is excited about the potential value hidden in the data the company has been collecting for the past five years.

“Our spatial database gives us the ability to map correlations such as grades against locations, helping us to increase the likelihood of finding the high-value diamonds,” Holder says. But McKinsey says there will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of such opportunities. By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of up to 190,000 people with the necessary deep analytical skills, as well as more than a million managers and analysts with the know-how to make effective decisions based on such analysis. The need to retrain existing staff and recruit a different kind of talent into industry will not be news to anyone, but how many have considered how automation can help a company retain the skills, knowledge and experience of an ageing workforce?

Europe’s new privacy regulations

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the most important change in data privacy regulation in 20 years. From 25 May 2018, all companies processing the personal data of subjects residing in Europe need to abide by the GDPR, regardless of the company’s physical location. 

Companies should hold and process only the data absolutely necessary for the completion of their duties, and limit access to personal data only to those needing to process it. There are also rules on the right of subjects to access data that relates to them. Strict fines are in place for breaches of the regulations. More at

Coupled with the potential health and safety improvements, automation could significantly improve working conditions, and help people stay working for longer. John Welborn, managing director and CEO at Australia’s Resolute Mining, says that the safety of the workforce is paramount, and that automation creates opportunities to improve safety and security beyond the obvious hazards within the mines themselves. “We operate gold mines in remote parts of Africa, and historically we’ve operated in places with safety and security concerns,” he says. “Automation creates an opportunity whereby the people operating the machinery don’t actually have to be physically in the mine zone or even in the same country as the mine.” But while there is broad agreement that safety will be improved by technology, some are urging caution. The effects of digitalization on health and safety are, in many cases, yet to be felt. That’s according to findings from CEEMET, the European employers’ organization representing 200,000 companies in the metal, engineering and technology-based industries. The report says we do not yet know the  potential problems that may be encountered by workers who must use these new technologies, such as head-mounted displays, as part of their daily routine. The question is further complicated by the increasing overlap between what people do in their private lives and at work. When does health and safety stop becoming the employer’s responsibility? In the case of someone working remotely from a home office, where is the line drawn? While there is much excitement about the potential benefits of tracking and biometric technologies, such data collection gives companies a whole new headache beyond operations. As legislators rush to catch up with the immense amount of personal data kept by the likes of Facebook and Google, the mining industry should be paying close attention, advises Manny Maloney, Sandvik general counsel. He says all mining companies must have a policy to ensure they are in compliance with the EU General Data Protection Regulation that comes into force this year. This is especially important if the tracking of people within the mine forms part of your digitalization plans. While there are no doubts about the impact on safety, some labour unions have expressed concerns about the constant monitoring of employees. While the answers will be different for every company, the question remains: How can you put people at the heart of your digital transformation?