Drilling and sampling are the most expensive part of an exploration program and the data collected from these activities are a crucial determinant of your project’s success. Managing all of this without the right system can quickly become complex, time consuming, error-prone, and will ultimately add a great deal of risk to your project.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a drill and sample data management solution that will ensure confidence in your results without depleting your IT budget or burdening your team with excess amounts of work.
Cost is always a factor, but with a system as important as this it shouldn’t be the only consideration and maybe not even be the most important. Opting for the cheapest option, or choosing the most expensive system based on the perception that it’s the best may not work out. It’s important to look for software that fits your business model while offering the features you need to get the job done.
The Exploration and Mining Industries tend to be very cyclic, so finding software that can be scaled up or down to meet your changing needs is beneficial. Also, given the risk of exploration, the last thing that you want to do is blow 6 figures on software and only end up drilling a hole or two. The Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model is particularly attractive because it offers this type of flexibility with a low cost of entry. It removes the upfront capital purchase of software, the need for server hardware and software, as well as IT staff to run the system.
Drilling and sampling are very expensive activities. Their sole purpose is data generation and multi-million dollar decisions are made from the data. It’s important to get it right, and be able to prove it was done right. The right system should offer a flexible interface that allows you to quickly and easily collect and validate all the data you generate right at the point of capture. Re-handling data not only takes more time, but it always results in costly mistakes no matter how careful you are. Dedicated logging apps can help make the job of collecting data in the field easier and help to ensure the data flows into the hands of the team much faster.
Interoperability is the name of the game so the system should seamlessly interface with other systems that produce and consume related data like downhole surveys, laboratories, field instruments, and 3D modeling packages. Look for something with a proper public facing API.
Dealing with data collection requirements at your various projects shouldn’t be a cringe worthy undertaking, nor should it cost all kinds of money. Your system shouldn’t be an impediment as you move from greenfields sample collection to exploration diamond drilling, and then to grade control drilling and sampling. Modern systems quickly adapt to your requirements without having to purchase extra software, modules, or involve expensive consultants. Look for a system that offers you a completely self-serve experience that fully meets the needs of your business.
When the drills are turning you need answers to your support questions right away. Support is no longer a passive activity where you send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and hope for the best. Email also shouldn’t be used as a system for reporting bugs. Modern software companies are providing solutions with fully integrated support platforms that include live chat, ticket submission and tracking, knowledge bases, video training libraries, SLA management and more. In fact, online software vendors can proactively provide support by tracking software usage which allows them to remove inefficiencies and barriers to productivity before customers even have to report them. Access to bug fixes and new features is also really important, and the SaaS model allows these to be delivered seamlessly, regularly, and rapidly. Make sure to ask how support is going to be handled when choosing a system.
Choosing software is one thing, but getting it to work for you is another. Traditionally, system implementation has been a very people intensive process involving staff and consultants with weeks to months of planning and setup. With modern approaches to software delivery, a huge focus is now put into the user experience and design with a focus on easing onboarding and making it mostly self-serve. Imagine having someone from Facebook fly to your house to help you create your online profile—sounds crazy right? Well, these days it shouldn’t be required for a drill and sample management system either. The SaaS model has made this possible. All you need is a user login to get started.
User interface and user experience design have become a science unto themselves with a focus on making the product so easy to use that little to no training is required. A good user interface should be clear, concise, familiar, responsive, consistent, attractive, efficient and forgiving. Beware of products that boast about all the classroom training they offer, this signals a lack of usability and a potential high degree of complication. You’ve already spent enough time and money to obtain a degree in Geology, you shouldn’t have to go through that again to configure and use a drill and sample management system.
The internet has given us the ability to connect and collaborate like never before. For better or worse social media has become commonplace. It links people together and provides real-time access to things like breaking news, weather alerts, and pictures of your best friends’ dinner. But in all seriousness, social feeds have found their way into modern software as a way to enhance the overall team experience. The ability to send direct messages to a team and obtain answers quickly results in better data collection and leverages the knowledge of the collective team. Visibility into the real-time collection of data with live dashboards and reports keeps everyone connected and helps teams achieve a higher level of productivity. Your drilling and sample management platform should offer these types of modern features so that all of that collective knowledge and discussion can live with the data where it belongs.
These days we are connected nearly everywhere we go. I heard a pretty funny comment on the radio the other day about how mobile devices have replaced newspapers in the bathroom. Modern software takes advantage of this connectedness and allows us to work from anywhere on pretty well any type of device. Hosted web applications really make this constant accessibility a reality with either an internet or mobile network connection. In the case of a drilling and sample management system, it is also important to be able to work when the lights are out so to speak. The reality is that we work in remote areas of the world where internet can be shoddy at best, and not every underground mine in the world is fully equipped with wireless internet.
Scalability isn’t always thought about up front, but could have a big impact on your project when you need to scale up or down quickly. Let’s take the optimists view here since I’ve already discussed sourcing software that allows you to shed costs in the event of a slowdown. Let’s say that you’ve hit some really nice intersections, the money is flowing in, and you decide to add more drills to the project. How are you going to deal with all of the extra data? You’re going to have to buy servers, licenses, upgrade your network capabilities, worry about backing everything up, or you can look for a system that handles all of this for you. SaaS products that are built to do just that. They harness the power of the cloud to auto-scale and meet the demands of the customer base by automatically spinning up or shutting down servers, memory, processors and databases at no extra cost to you. Going with SaaS means you’ll never have to think about any of this. If you do decide to go with a traditional on premise solution, make sure to have a plan in place and some time and money put aside for growth.
If you’re a publicly traded company, you already understand the sensitivity of new drilling results. It’s very important that you safeguard this information both internally and externally until it’s publicly released. A good system will allow you to fully control the access to information so that only those who should see and interact with certain data can do so, and those that can’t have no way of getting in. This could mean blocking certain people from a sensitive project, or only the assay results for new holes on a project. Externally, all threats should be minimized. If you are hosting your own on premise system, then this largely becomes the job of your IT team. For some mining companies this can be outsourced or as little as one person. If you go with a SaaS solution be sure to ask LOTS of questions. Not all SaaS products are created equal, and just saying that the system is hosted on Amazon or Azure does not guarantee security. If the provider doesn’t know what a pen test is, doesn’t use SSL for data transfer, hasn’t heard of SOC Level 2 or SSAE16, then you may want to move onto one that does.
As data requirements, for compliance and successful exploration, continue to grow it’s become essential to have some form of data management system in place for drilling and sample management. The good news is that technology has come a long way, and there are now options available that are both time and cost effective. These criteria are a guide to helping you find the solution that’s right for your budget and program requirements.
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