Microsoft South Africa says it is working with its partner ecosystem and customers to showcase the power of technology, particularly AI and cloud technologies, in helping the country’s mining industry accelerate digital transformation to “reimagine new and better ways of working, drive sustainable recovery, and transform mining communities”.
This follows the launch of Microsoft’s Mining Core – AI Centre of Excellence for Mining facility in Johannesburg earlier this month. The Mining Core, which is the first of its kind in South Africa, makes use of the company’s extensive partner ecosystem. “It allows customers to immerse themselves in emerging technologies to build and create solutions that not only overcome specific business challenges but also broadly enable the sector to grow and prosper,” Microsoft said.
Amr Kamel, Enterprise Director at Microsoft South Africa, explained the industry’s importance to South Africa: “Mining is a critical industry in South Africa, and has historically been a major contributor to the country’s GDP, tax revenue and employment: last year alone, the mining sector employed over 450 000 people, contributed ZAR24.3 billion ($1.5 billion) in taxes and ZAR360.9 billion to GDP.”
The sector has faced challenges in recent years. These include declining output, weakening global cost competitiveness based on the volatility of commodity prices, regulatory uncertainty and unreliable energy supply, according to a report by the country’s Minerals Council.
Combined with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear the sector needs solutions that help it regain its competitiveness and become a key contributor and driver of economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic.
Technology holds the key to achieving those goals, according to Microsoft.
“Accelerated digital transformation, and the introduction of solutions through emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and data analytics, have the power to help the industry adapt, reinvent and transform in a sustainable and responsible way,” it said.
Kamel added: “Together with our partner ecosystem, we are working to help our customers to navigate three phases – response, recovery, and reimagine – in order to maintain continuity, remain open, drive operational performance and create new business models even in the most difficult of circumstances.”
These solutions, which are conceptualised and built collaboratively, are anchored in four main areas: community services and social impact; health and safety; environment; and responsible digital transformation.
- Community involvement and engagement is vital for mining companies, and these organisations can use technology to play an important part in empowering surrounding communities, Microsoft says. This includes building critical digital literacy skills that will help the employability of community members, as well as introducing solutions in areas like healthcare, education, agriculture and community support services;
- Emerging technologies can also help with health and safety, which is always a priority but particularly so in the face of a pandemic. Introducing solutions using technologies like autonomous systems such as drones, drills and vehicles, cognitive services and video analytics for safety management, such as detecting if a worker is wearing a hardhat or protective clothing, can make an impact. These kinds of technologies can also be used to support and manage health and safety protocols related to the pandemic, including social distancing and hygiene measures, Microsoft says;
- Mining companies are also increasingly using digital solutions to enable sustainable recovery and decrease their environmental footprint, using them to reduce water consumption, waste and work towards being carbon neutral or even carbon negative. A growing trend is companies operating in coal, specifically, pivoting to renewables; and
- Above all, solutions that are introduced need to have responsible digital transformation and AI at their heart. “Responsible AI needs good guiding principles to ensure that systems are fair, reliable and safe, private and secure, inclusive, transparent and accountable, and we use our rich partner ecosystem to help with this,” Kamel said.
He concluded: “Digital is the future of mining, and the question now is how quickly companies in the sector can transform to drive growth. This requires partnering with technology companies like Microsoft to reimagine solutions that address specific business challenges and improve operational performance and efficiencies.”