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A Wake-up Call - Priorities till Austmine 2019

This article is written by George McCullough, Director of Strategy, Interlate

Following on from my three key observations of Austmine 2017, I wonder if the METS sector is somewhat unprepared for the major challenges facing the mining industry over the next 10 years. The mineral industries are challenged by enormously diverse and complex trends, both globally and regionally, and feedback from the conference is that companies are becoming increasingly interested in importing technologies and business models from sectors outside of METS. This is a wake-up call for the METS community. This is not a negative; it’s an opportunity for us to deal openly with the challenges head-on. 

The imperative for the METS industries is simple – it’s to reclaim the mining innovation foreground. Globalisation coupled with the growth of primary economic sectors in developing nations; increasing regulation; recycling and environmental issues; and the scarcity of resources mean the mining industry is facing some serious structural challenges about how they are going to deliver for their shareholders, today and in the future. The continuing need to remain globally competitive while dealing with these challenges requires the METS community to show strong leadership and focused innovation, and to understand that innovation is not bound to physical intervention, gadgets, widgets and software, but also to business models. The sector need to understand the issues the mining companies face to remain relevant as the mining community becomes more discerning and selective about who they partner with. 

The technical DNA of the people that make up the METS sector can be both a blessing and a curse! Whether we are engineers, geologists or mathematicians, we all come from a technical background. Mining is like a playground for us, it is full of interesting problems, and because we love to design, engineer and build we can have more fun coming up with high-tech solutions than simply solving problems. Understandably this can cause tension because technology companies can become so consumed with their ingenuity that they miss the point of their purpose, which is to provide economic value for a mining company. Sometimes a mining company doesn’t need a very sophisticated solution – considerable value can be added by simply equipping them with some of the basics. Conversely, when we do develop smarter technology we don’t always test it with the customer before taking it to market. In doing this we may end up satisfying our own technical aspirations rather than meeting the customer’s needs.

The business aims for METS companies over the next 12-24 months should be to develop a laser-like focus on understanding the issues mining companies face and to concentrate on creating economic value for them. If everyone orientates towards this single objective, we will all win. The mining companies will win and the METS industry will win. I believe METS companies need to focus not only on how smart they are but also on continually testing their value proposition with the mining companies. Finally, one of the other challenges for the METS community is that it covers all of mining. Mining isn’t one industry; it is several and something the METS companies can do is pick one area and focus on it, rather than trying to cover everything.

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