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5 trends shaping the future of every Exploration Manager

April 26, 2023

5 trends shaping the future of every Exploration Manager

For Exploration Managers
Written by
Megan Gammie

If you’re an Exploration Manager (or eyeing a promotion to become one), you’re an ambitious professional with your eyes on a discovery prize that takes your exploration team to the next level.

As a top performer, you’re constantly looking out for ways to improve your personal and team performance. You’re also looking ahead and preparing for any challenges that might hinder your goals.

In this blog, we’ll explore five key trends that are likely to shape the roles and futures of Exploration Managers in the coming five years, based on hundreds of hours of conversation with Exploration Managers like you.

We’ll also suggest some out-of-the-box ways you could use tech to future-proof your exploration company against these challenges and stay on top of your game.

1. The rising demand for future metals, but with an ESG focus

We’re experiencing a massive spike in demand for metals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel, which are critical to the transition to a low-carbon economy. However, we’re also seeing an increased interest in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues from investors and the general public.

When people outside the industry think of mining, they think of holes in the ground[1], not batteries for solar farms, electric vehicles or reduced reliance on coal. Mining leaders of today and tomorrow have an important role to play in upholding community expectations of what responsible mining should look like.

Community trust in resource companies and the social license to operate that comes along with it can be easily lost or damaged (taking brand-savvy venture capitalist funding along with it). We can expect to see an increasing number of critical eyes on Exploration Managers as they go about searching for new reserves of future metals now and into the future.

However, there is no use in setting ESG targets without processes and systems in place to reach them.

Of course, drilling itself isn’t going anywhere - but where we do need to drill, we will need to drill smarter.

Emerging technologies can help exploration teams to execute their ESG plans and demonstrate compliance using data across the value chain.

For example, we’re seeing the first non-invasive early-stage exploration technologies, such as Fleet Space’s Exosphere, enter the market. The Exosphere uses ambient noise tomography to record seismic waves that can infer subsurface mineralisation without drilling a single metre. In the future, technologies like this could be used to create more targeted drill programs that limit the impact on the environment and maximise the potential of drilled holes.

Of course, drilling itself isn’t going anywhere - but where we do need to drill, we need to drill smarter. Modern software can help exploration teams and their drill contractors work more efficiently and sustainably. By collecting data on the consumption of resources like fuel, water, muds and rig hours, reference points can be established to target waste reduction and offsetting of emissions.

By bringing the entire operations team together in collaborative digital spaces, there’s greater cross-team visibility into activities like environmental rehab and landowner engagement. By centralising notes, actions, photography, maps and documentation into a single space, it’s easier for everyone to monitor the status of the project, be accountable to the team and take action at the right time.

Technology can also help us remove people from dangerous working environments or limit hazard exposure. For example, IBM has partnered with Garmin to create wearable sensors that can monitor worker biometric and environmental data and predict the chance of an incident. Managers can then be alerted to take action before a situation escalates.

Here’s a list of five future-focused tech startups in the mining industry worth keeping your eyes on.

2. Changing expectations of investors

Undoubtedly, exploration investment needs to increase to meet rising demand. Finding new deposits is getting harder, forcing explorers to look deeper into the ground and spend more money to get results. Meanwhile, there's rising pressure on the investment pool. Competition between explorers to win that investment will inevitably heat up.

How can you stand out?

Gut feel and experience will no longer be enough. Decisions will need supporting data and evidence, and being data-driven will be a necessity.

A combination of robust data and excellent communication and presentation skills will enable you to effectively share your story with investors and stakeholders and ultimately secure their trust.

Gut feel and experience will no longer be enough. Decisions will need supporting data and evidence, and being data-driven will be a necessity. Having accurate, timely data and the skills to be able to interpret it will become a key competitive advantage.

This is easier said than done, but it’s far more achievable if you have access to the right tools for the job.

Modern software can help you to slice and dice your data using visualisation. Visualisation can help remove the noise from traditional methods like excel spreadsheets by directing your focus onto the metrics that matter. It also makes communicating results easier, as graphs and charts are easier to digest than a table of numbers.

Tools with automated reporting can also save you a lot of time generating reports and graphs for your presentations, so you can focus more on delivering the right message to your audience.

Cloud-based AI communication tools can help you take complex geoscientific information and simplify it so that different audiences can understand it. Want to give it a try? Send us a message - we’d be happy to recommend one for the next time you present at a conference!

3. The rise of automation

When we think about automation in mining, most people think about smart machinery replacing the physical labour component of work, such as robots and autonomous trucks or drill rigs.

But there’s also a huge scope to apply automation to the intellectual or office-based facets of work in mining using smart data processing, data integration and interoperability between exploration software packages.

This doesn’t mean removing people from jobs, but rather, removing fiddly and time-consuming tasks like manual data transfers, manual cross-checking of data on spreadsheets and reporting from the workflow.

Why do this?

To free up time for value-driving tasks like strategy, mentoring, better targeting and sustainability initiatives that create better long-term outcomes for the team and the business as a whole.

This kind of automation already exists in modern software like drill program intelligence software and is experiencing rapid growth amongst future-focused early adopters.

4. The pending skills shortage and the rise of the Innovation Lead

The fast-approaching skills shortage has been discussed for years by industry leaders, and yet mining is still struggling to attract young talent. Meanwhile, approximately one-third of Australian geoscience professionals are set to retire in the next 10 years.

Insufficient numbers of graduates are entering the workforce, so mining will be forced to adapt. Consulting giant Accenture’s modelling suggests that the industry will need to adopt ‘buy, build, borrow, bot and boomerang’ talent sourcing strategies to cope with the talent transition.

This involves sourcing talent from adjacent industries, investing in upskilling and reskilling existing staff, borrowing and sharing workers from industry talent pools to cope with fluctuating demand, and using automation to support a shrinking workforce.

Exploration Managers will need to be adaptable and open to working with people from other industries. Embracing new ideas may create opportunities to propel their teams forward in mining’s digital future.

We’re already seeing this begin to play out right now amongst future-focused leaders and early adopters of modern technologies.

One of the signs we’ve noticed is the rise of Innovation and Digital Leads to facilitate digital transformation future-preparedness programs in the industry. These professionals are not necessarily from within the mining industry, helping bring new ideas to the fore and move change along faster.

Exploration Managers will need to be adaptable and open to working with people from other industries. Embracing new ideas may create opportunities to propel their teams forward in mining’s digital future.

Digital roles are a more natural fit for larger businesses where much of the operation is already digitised. They’re ready to take the next steps by connecting each of their tech dots into one digital ecosystem that facilitates better collaboration and improved efficiencies.

But what about smaller companies that can’t take on extra hires?

Luckily, modern software reduces traditional barriers to entry and makes automation accessible to mining teams of all sizes. It’s actually cheaper than you might think (in fact, it almost always pays for itself in efficiency gains).

Because this kind of software is built in collaboration with the industry, including some of the top players, it's a unique opportunity for smaller companies to take advantage of best-practice workflows implemented by companies without the budget to hire Digital and Innovation Leads.

There’s also an additional bonus: automating paperwork can help free up time for mentoring and professional development to upskill yourself and your team so that you have more tools to meet these challenges in the future.

5. The necessity for a digital strategy

There’s a lot of game-changing tech entering mining.

However, many mining teams are unfortunately failing to realise the benefits because there's been too much focus on the individual technologies at the expense of how they will be used by the team or the impact on the broader organisational system. There’s no digital strategy driving these decisions.

Data is your only asset until you find a resource.

A big problem many exploration teams experience is having all of their data digitised, but it doesn’t play nicely with each of the systems they need to use to get the job done. This is a problem because data is your only asset until you find a resource.

Too often, managers are locked into using expensive legacy systems well beyond their use-by date because they have become so ultra-customised that it becomes impossible to disentangle the data from the system. This limits teams from trying new solutions and broadening their capabilities. Meanwhile, smaller companies are stuck on spreadsheets and paper because the cost of entry is too high.

The incoming generation of decision-makers can see that the status quo and the legacy systems embedded within it aren’t going to get them where they need to go.

Digitisation is no longer enough. Execution of a digital transformation as part of a greater digital strategy is the next step toward meeting the future challenges of the mining industry.

Future-focused Exploration Managers are putting together plans for a digital strategy now. They’re looking at new-to-market technologies that can digitise all aspects of their exploration projects and connect them up.

They’re choosing interoperable or open-platform software and hardware, striving toward an integrated solution that ‘just works’ for the people using it. They’re also moving past the sunk cost fallacy and ditching products that no longer serve a purpose in a modern tech stack.

There’s a shift away from the old way of thinking where custom is the only option and software is viewed as cost-centre. Today’s software is being viewed as a value driver that can help solve complex business problems. Rather than looking at a single solution, leaders are looking at multiple, specialised and integrated products.

So, don’t be surprised if we see a huge change in the types and brands of software exploration teams buy and use. In 5 years, the tech stack of your typical exploration team will probably look quite different to what it does now - hopefully with a lot less spreadsheets!

Do you have a digital strategy or roadmap yet? Our Ultimate Guide to Digital Transformation for Exploration Managers is a good place to start.

What next?

The role of the Exploration Manager is evolving.

There are growing expectations for the modern mining professional to be an outstanding communicator, to proactively maintain a social license to operate, to make data-driven decisions and prepare their organisations for a digital future. It’s also never been so important to stay up-to-date with emerging trends and technologies.

It’s a lot to consider amidst all of the other demands of the position, but it’s also an opportunity to differentiate yourself as a leader in the field. Investing in your team by developing a digital strategy that will give them the tools they need to succeed ahead of the inevitable wave of industry-wide digitalisation can position you as an industry leader.

It’s a once-in-a-career opportunity to get ahead of the pack, walk the talk with your investors about being future-focused, and catapult yourself into a future where digital is the new normal.

What do you think about the trends we discussed, and what do they mean for you? Did we miss anything worth talking about?

Continue the conversation on LinkedIn and let us know: what are the biggest challenges you face or expect to face as an Exploration Manager?

1. Ryan, R., & Fraser, B. (2010). Field Guide for Geoscientists and Technicians (3rd ed.). The Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

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