Understanding Digital Maturity: Q&A with Alex Fenn, GMG Johannesburg forum speaker

Alex Fenn, Unit Manager, Safe Technology and Innovation at Sibanye-Stillwater will speak at the GMG Johannesburg Forum on April 2-3. He will present a case study on realizing short-term value by understanding digital maturity that had some interesting findings. We asked him to explain a bit more about it and why it is important.

Presentation Abstract:  Realizing Short-Term Value by Understanding Digital Maturity

Despite a general misperception that conventional mining operations are not data-rich environments, Sibanye-Stillwater hypothesized that its operations are in fact data rich and that we could embark on explorative data and analytical initiatives without requiring additional infrastructure. In order to test the hypothesis, a comprehensive assessment was done on several thematic elements of the mining value chain. It determined the digital maturity of those elements and where opportunity exists to leverage current data from an analytical perspective.

The assessment found that processing facilities showed significant potential. The discovery was somewhat counterintuitive, as the facility in question was built in 1972 with limited upgrades and rudimentary instrumentation and control systems. A pilot project was run in which disparate sets of data were integrated into a data lake and deep learning algorithms were applied to understand the plant in extreme detail from an advanced analytical perspective. While the outcome was to be expected in an empirical sense, a number of opportunities were identified that would yield significant value in the form of process improvements from efficiency, cost and recovery standpoints, resulting in significant monetary improvements.

What were some of the interesting findings of this study?

Two particular revelations were both interesting and extremely valuable for us. First, we were not surprised by the findings of the digital maturity assessment. However, when we applied a more granular and descriptive approach to the exercise, the amount of attainable value that was demonstrated without the need for large technological investment was exciting. This finding has greatly augmented our group digital strategy and is returning considerable value.

Second, during the processing facility pilot, from a statistical perspective, despite having a surprisingly large dataset, our findings in terms of data relevance were interesting because a very small number of data points were required to yield significant value. This finding has also augmented our approach to concepts like instrumentation and automation.

Why do you think it is important to share case studies like this one in a collaborative environment?

Anyone who may have been charged with the responsibility of digitalization or digital transformation will know that understanding the vastness of the concept is extremely difficult, purely as a result of the ubiquity of technologies and the rate of change in that respect. It is possible to spend a significant amount of time on developing a strategy, only to find that it is ineffectual or possibly irrelevant in the long term. This issue can be costly to an organization from both an economic, and cultural, perspective. Being able to return value in the short term, as well as, better understand the digital maturity of the organization will greatly assist in mitigating that outcome.

To learn more about and register for the GMG Johannesburg Forum, click here.