Digital plods, a digital operations platform or a custom solution. Which drilling software is best?
Digital plods, a digital operations platform or a custom solution. Which drilling software is best?
There's a lot to think about when choosing drilling software. If you're like the Drilling Managers or Managing Directors we talk to every day, finding the time to research software (on top of everything else you need to do) is a big ask.
But don't worry - we're here to help!
This article explores the different types of drilling software on the market (and provides examples of each) to help you choose the best type of drilling software for your business.
What types of software are drillers using right now?
From years of talking to all kinds of drilling professionals, we've identified three types of software drilling businesses are using right now:
- digital forms
- digital operations platforms
- 'do it yourself' multi-system combos.
Each type of software varies in cost, time commitment, complexity and feature availability. There are also further choices within each category type to choose from. Let's walk through all of these now.
Digital forms provide Drilling Managers with an easy way to digitise their daily drill reports (plods) or other data using an app and/or an online portal.
Users pay monthly or annual subscription fees to use the service. The price paid can depend on:
- the number of users
- the number of forms or plods submitted
- access to features (eg reporting)
- the level of customisation required
- the level of control you have over your data (eg ability to export it or utilise API integrations)
or a combination of these.
There are two main types of digital forms drillers are using: digital forms or digital plod forms.
What's the difference?
Digital plod forms are explicitly built for recording drilling data, whereas digital forms are a blank canvas that the user configures for their data collection requirements (which may include plods or a range of other processes).
Let's go ahead and look at each of these types of forms in more detail.
The 411 on digital forms
These systems aren't built specifically for drilling. Still, some Drilling Managers are developing their own forms with these tools to replicate the look and feel of a digital plod. This can be done by the driller or with help from the software provider.
Generally speaking, these types of software are easy to learn and use, offer a professional look and allow almost endless customisation by the user (although costs may apply).
When a form is submitted, the data is automatically entered into a summary dashboard on the web so you can see what's been completed. This is great for at-a-glance analytics, and you'll know whether or not your plods are coming in on time.
Remember that some double-handling will be required to complete an end-to-end workflow if you use digital forms. If you want drilling-specific reporting and analytics, you'll need to export your data into another system to configure it. Similarly, you'll need to download and prepare your data to build proformas and charge your clients.
Finally, if you have internal or client approval requirements, you'll need to establish an additional process to tick that box.
Digital plods/digital daily drill reports
Digital plods are similar to digital forms but with a drilling spin on the product. Examples of digital plod software providers include Imdex/Reflex Hub, Colleagues Matrixx and PeopleTray. These companies speak directly to a mining and drilling audience in their sales and marketing material, rather than trying to appeal to all industries as digital form providers do.
A key advantage of digital plods is that they are pre-configured for drilling businesses, so you can jump straight in. You'll also have access to dashboard views and basic reports that better fit drilling. Some digital plod providers also offer a range of add-ons to pad out other areas of your operations. For example, PeopleTray offers additional modules for staff management that are compatible with their plod data capture module.
Like with digital forms, you'll need to consider your approval and invoicing needs as this functionality typically isn't supported.
To summarise, by using a digital plod or form capture system, you'll get a digitised version of your daily drill reports (plods) and access to some basic reports.
If the only problem you need to solve is plod data collection, this type of software could be a great option.
Depending on the complexity of your drilling operations, you may need to purchase additional products to track your drill program progress, approve data and invoice clients. Choosing this style of offering is likely to be a less complex version of the multi-system combo we review in more detail further down the page.
Digital operations platforms
A digital operations platform helps Drilling Managers and their teams to run their entire operations from a single workspace.
This includes all of the functionality of digital form, plus additional features that pad out the workflow, such as invoicing, drilling-specific reporting and contract management tools.
There are two types of digital operations platforms on the market today: off-the-shelf or custom solutions. Let's take a look at each.
Off-the-shelf digital operations platforms
Off-the-shelf digital operations platforms are sold directly 'off-the-shelf', meaning that once a user buys the product, it is ready to use with minimal configuration. This means you can begin onboarding your team immediately, depending on the provider.
Not all drilling digital operations platforms are made equal, but most will include:
- digital plod submission
- contract management
- client invoicing
- digital forms
- document storage.
Providers offer different features, enhancements and add-ons to increase the platform's usefulness. These can range from staff and client management tools, equipment and personnel performance tracking, customised reporting options and more.
There are also substantial non-feature-related differences between providers in this category, like user-friendliness, product design and price. Check out our breakdown of all the best options on the market here!
Drilling digital operations platforms are typically sold as a Software as a Service (SaaS) subscription pricing model. Users pay a monthly or annual subscription fee that includes access to the platform, maintenance, ongoing development and support. Relative to custom software, off-the-shelf SaaS is cheaper upfront and long-term. Plus, if it doesn't work out for your team, you'll have spent less overall.
Custom digital operations platforms
A custom digital operations platform is what its name suggests - completely custom.
The key benefit of a custom solution is that you're in control of all aspects of the product. Once the build is complete, you'll also own the product. This could be an excellent choice for your business if:
- you have a highly specialised workflow
- you have extensive and detailed reporting requirements
- you offer a significant amount of additional non-drilling services that must be managed from a single workspace.
You'll also have the option to add your own touches like your branding, colours, images or graphics.
The cost of custom solutions often deters drilling companies from choosing this option. Custom is different to off-the-shelf as you'll generally need to pay at least a portion of the cost upfront. The lifetime cost of custom solutions is far greater than an off-the-shelf product, so you'll need to budget accordingly for ongoing maintenance, security, training and other associated costs.
Not keeping up with regular maintenance can expose your business to risks such as hacking or bugs each time your operating system is updated. If you want to modify the capabilities of your product down the line, you'll also be on the hook for extra charges.
Finally, worst-case scenario, if the project is unsuccessful or becomes redundant, you likely be unable to recuperate the time and money already spent on its development.
We've covered the pros and cons of custom drilling software in more detail in a previous blog, but in summary: going custom could be right for you if money is no object and you can't find a solution on the market that fits most of your needs.
'Do it yourself' multi-system combos
An example of a DIY multi-system combo could include:
Your drillers fill out an Excel Spreadsheet in OneDrive or upload a scan of a paper plod to DropBox at the end of their shift or when they return to reception. An admin manually re-enters the data into a series of Excel or Google Sheets for reporting, invoicing and payroll. An additional copy is made and sent to the client for review. The reporting data is imported into Power BI and the invoicing and payroll data into Xero. Staff also use a Trello board to track data approvals and other deliverables.
One of the biggest pros of this method is that it can be relatively cheap to make, especially if you can get by using the free versions of these products.
But where you're saving money, you'll need to compromise on time spent building the workflow yourself. Using automation tools like Zapier can help with this, although you'll still need to pay for the service if you require more than five total automations ('Zaps') or you need complex Zaps that incorporate multiple steps.
Airtight record-keeping processes and procedures are a must to ensure that your clients and staff are working with the correct data. There are also important cyber security considerations to consider, such as password management protocols when working across multiple products - although, of course, this tip applies to everyone, not just to multi-system users!
If you're tight on budget but confident building and following processes, this could be worth considering. It's important to remember that your and your team's time (and frustration!) comes with a price.
Tl;dr: the best drilling software for you?
There's a lot to consider when choosing the best software solution for your drilling business. It ultimately comes down to the problems you are looking to solve. Do you need to capture data at scale? Speed up manual processes? Improve data integrity and version control? A combination of these, or something completely different?
Once you've determined the problems to be solved, you can narrow down your list of options by weighing up further factors such as:
- your budget
- the frequency and volume of drilling
- the amount of time your team has to complete manual tasks
- level of customisation required.
An off-the-shelf SaaS digital operations platform offers a complete solution for most drilling-focused businesses. You can get up and running faster and at a far lower cost than a custom product. You'll also benefit from ongoing product development and support.
But, do you offer more than drilling services and need to manage them from one platform, or have highly specialised requirements that aren't serviceable by a SaaS provider? In that case, you may want to consider a custom solution or look at other options outside the drilling software market.
If you're drilling intermittently, have basic reporting requirements and can compromise on plod to invoice automation, a digital form or plod solution could work for you.
Overall we would recommend passing on a DIY solution where possible. Relying on multiple tools and subscriptions adds unnecessary complexity, time and frustration to your workflow. This option should only be considered if you have ample time and an extremely tight budget.
More from our blog
CorePlan is a cloud based operations platform that help people in mining work better together.
Exploration teams at Mining Companies (and Exploration companies) use CorePlan's Exploration Hub to plan, run and manage their drill programs.
Drilling Contractors use CorePlan's Drilling Hub to capture data from the field, share the data with their clients (which happen to be exploration companies and mining companies) and then invoice them.
As a modern SaaS platform you are able to easily subscribe and get started in a matter of days.