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6 signs your exploration team is ready to go digital

April 26, 2023

6 signs your exploration team is ready to go digital

Digital Transformation
For Exploration Managers
Written by
Sachee Perera

Thinking about making the switch to digital drill programs? You might be wondering if now is the right time or if it’s worth waiting until next year, your next drill program, after striking mineralisation…


Having worked with hundreds of mining professionals to digitise their operations using drill program intelligence software, we’ve picked up on many signs indicating whether or not it was the right time for an exploration company to complete a digital transformation of their operations… or not. 

Let’s explore six common tipping points we’ve seen over the years that might indicate that you’re ready to go digital.

When you need to optimise drilling performance

Drilling is usually the biggest expense in an exploration budget. If you’re going to spend all this time and money planning, prepping and mobilising to the field, you want to make sure that you’re extracting as much value as you can from that drill contractor - and getting charged at the correct rate for the job done.

If you’re tracking the drilling data using paper or spreadsheets, it can be really complicated to match it against your drill plan and cost contract - and easy to gloss over mistakes hidden in one of the hundreds of excel data cells. And that’s just for one drill contractor!

What would happen if your holes were accidentally driller in the wrong order? What if a hole was ended way too early? What if a hole was missed entirely?

How long might it take to figure it out - and how much cash could you have burned through in the meantime?

Modern software can make it so much easier and faster to see exactly what's happening on the rig. It does this by displaying your drilling data in visual reports that reveal insights previously hidden deep within your excel data.

For example:

  • Rig time activity breakdowns: see exactly how much time the bit is spending on the bottom and what's standing in the way of progress.
  • Progress mapping: see which holes are being drilled, waiting to be drilled, finished drilling or delayed on a map.
  • Consumable and cost charts: see where costs are spiking and dive deeper into the reasoning behind spikes or troughs.

Visualisation makes it easy to pinpoint errors and opportunities to improve performance objectively.

If getting bang for your drilling buck is important for your team, you’re ready to go digital.


When you need to know how much the drilling is costing you in real-time

Ever received an invoice from a drilling contractor and received the shock of a lifetime?

Maybe your cost per metre wasn’t even close to what you’d budgeted for, or the standby time was way higher than what was scheduled. What the h*ck is going on - and how do you stem the bleeding?

Modern software has inbuilt automation that matches drill plod data to your cost contract at the end of every shift, giving you immediate visibility into your drill production and costs for that day, across the drill program to date - and even across your entire business. 

This allows you to plug budget leakage and follow up with your drillers as soon as the very next shift - not days or weeks later once everyone has forgotten what happened on the rig that day. This process will also save you valuable time at the end of the month. Win!

If you need to make sure your budget is going toward what you planned in real-time, you’re ready to go digital.


When you’re spending more than 30 minutes a day manually processing data

Two words that strike fear into any Exploration Manager or Managing Director's heart?

Invoice reconciliation.

But, if you think that’s bad, spare a moment to think of your poor geos. Remember what it was like having to review the data after every. single. shift - maybe even after a 12-hour day in 40+ degree heat? 

Seriously though, dreading the end of the month and the paperwork nightmare it brings along with it is no way to work in 2023. 

Not only is this manual paperwork a chore, but it’s also a hidden cost of running a drill program, as it’s valuable geo time diverted from discovery.

As a guide, exploration teams that spend more than 30 minutes on paperwork per employee per day are perfectly placed to start using automation to regain that valuable time.

In a previous blog post, we presented a hypothetical cost outlay vs cost-saving scenario to demonstrate how you may be able to recoup the costs (and then some!) of switching to digital drill programs fairly quickly by replacing manual paperwork with automation found in modern software.

Whilst it might not seem like ‘that much’ time per day, when you map it out across the whole team and then a whole week, a whole month and a whole year, it’s enough to make you think twice about sticking with that spreadsheet workflow!


When you need to start drilling ASAP

If you were to find something promising in your assay data, you’d probably be anxious to go back to the field and start drilling to get to the bottom of that hunch.

But, when you’re in a rush to get drilling, it’s easy to miss the details - especially if they’re spread across multiple data storage locations with unclear communication lines. What could be worse than getting the rig to the drill site only to find that the site prep is only half done and you’re already paying for the rig?

Modern software can help by bringing your entire team together in one collaborative digital workspace that works as the single source of truth for all of your holes.

Rather than working off multiple spreadsheets, databases and paper-based tools, your geos can import the drill plan and delegate pre-drilling and earthworks activities for your field team to action and mark as complete, all from one place. This way, the whole team is aware of when the hole is ready for drilling - or what's blocking progress. 

You're ready to go digital when you need a better way for your whole team to collaborate, so there’s no delay in getting that bit into the ground.


You’re outgrowing your workflow

If you’ve ever found yourself just a matter of weeks into the drill program and already starting to feel like you’re drowning under a mountain of paperwork, you have no idea what your drill contractors are up to, and you’re just praying your fieldies didn’t forget to go back and prep that hole they missed before the rig arrives…. 

Or, maybe you found something in the ground and need to start scaling your operations. You go from one rig to multiple rigs and contractors in a matter of weeks. All of a sudden, that workflow built on paper and spreadsheets starts lagging behind, taking your team’s productivity with it.

These are pretty obvious signs that you’re quickly outgrowing your pen-and-paper workflow.

Have you noticed that:

  • The amount of time you and your team spend processing data is growing?
  • You’re experiencing spreadsheet version control issues?
  • It’s taking way too long to compile standard reports?
  • It’s a herculean task just to find out exactly where a specific hole is at?

Then you might have wondered if there was a better way. Why should running a drill program be this damn hard?

If the amount of time you’re spending processing data is detracting from more valuable tasks, then you’re ready to go digital - and give your team the tools they need to do what they do best.


When you need to get your samples to the lab, stat

Once you’ve got those samples out of the ground, how fast can you get them to the lab to find out if you’re onto something? 

If your team are having to spend ages generating sample paperwork and dispatching them to the lab, that’s time taken away from analysis and real geology work. 

Sure, perhaps you could hire more people to get the job done. But that isn’t scalable if you need to ramp up the drill program.

Modern software is a far more affordable and scalable solution to help process data quickly. Rather than using spreadsheets and paper to prepare samples for dispatch, your geos can enter this data directly into drill program software and automatically generate the necessary paperwork - and alert the lab that it’s on the way. 

This means that your samples can leave the site sooner, but it also makes it easy to track the status of every sample on its journey to analysis, when the lab can mark it as received. You’ll never have to wonder if that sample is lost on the back of a truck somewhere again!

So, if you need to get those samples to the lab stat, you’re ready to go digital.


What next

Mineral exploration is a complex business, but modern software tools can help take some of the pain out of the mountains of manual paperwork that come with running an exploration drilling program.

If you can’t afford to be making mistakes in your drill program, you’re working with a tight budget and need to make sure you’re getting bang for your buck, your geos are spending ages on sampling paperwork, or you think you might be beginning to outgrow your workflow - this is your sign to go digital.

Ready to find out more? Drill program intelligence software, a cloud-based SaaS tool built to help exploration teams run better drill programs, may be a fit for you. Discover the capabilities of modern software and read more about digital drill programs on our Exploration Blog.

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