The Ultimate Guide to Drilling Software for Exploration Teams

What is drilling software?

Drilling software” is an umbrella term used to categorise a variety of different software solutions that relate to all aspects of drilling such as planning, operations and/or data management, data analytics and more.

Drilling software can be used to improve efficiency, reduce costs, digitise data and make better-informed decisions across the drilling lifecycle, whether it be for oil and gas, mineral exploration, well drilling or other industries that utilise drilling services.

Drilling software can be either on-premises or cloud-based. Some also offer integrations with other types of drilling software to gain a better understanding of the entire end-to-end drilling process.

In this article, we are going to focus specifically on drilling software for exploration and near-mine exploration teams

Note: drilling contractors, please refer to our drilling software guide for drilling contractors.

Let’s begin by looking at the types of drilling software these teams are using today and why they are popular.

Types of exploration drilling software used by Australian exploration teams

Drilling planning software

Software used by geology professionals to design a drilling strategy and generate drill target trajectories for subsurface exploration.  

Drilling management software

A purpose-built software package for exploration teams to manage their drilling data during the drilling phase of a drill program. This includes capture and management of drilling, cost and time activity data, plus drilling performance analysis and reporting functionalities.

Plod management software 

A software package that standardises plod data between contractors before it is entered into a database. Often it will include basic summary reporting data like total metres drilled and shift costs.

Drilling validation software

Software built for exploration teams to validate field data from the drill rig before entering it into the database. This could include QC statistical tools to ensure that results fall within statistical control.

Exploration data management platform

The more common term used to describe an exploration data management platform is a database. It’s where all of the data related to the exploration project is stored. 

A database is often ‘owned’ by a database coordinator or manager, whose job it is to control the flow of data in or out of the system. 

Drill scheduling software

Software specific to the planning, scheduling and utilisation of drilling rigs on one or multiple drill programs. This software could also be used by drilling contractors to manage their fleets.

Drill program management software

Think project management software - but for running drill programs.

This includes a range of functionalities to assist with tenement management, managing drill contractors and daily drilling data, reporting and analytics, field activity management, sample tracking, drilling invoice reconciliation and more.

Which type of software is best for exploration teams?

These types of drilling software all exist to serve very different purposes. There is no single product that can do every single one of the diverse tasks an exploration team needs to do each day, so teams must rely on a combination of products to get the job done.

So the question is not so much “which is better”, but rather, “what is the optimal combination of products to get the job done”.

The answer to this question will depend on a range of different factors. Whilst we don’t know the specifics of your business, we can give you some general advice and share with you what Australian exploration teams like Chalice Mining, Dreadnought Resources, Viking Mines, BHP and Northern Star Resources are doing.

A combination of exploration tools to get the job done

A software stack is a combination of digital tools used to run a complete workflow like an exploration drilling campaign.

For example, that might include drill program design and 3D modelling software packages, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Project, geologging software, an accounting package and an exploration data management platform (or database), to name a few.

Every exploration company will use slightly different tools to achieve the same end goal of running a drill program on time and on budget. But some combinations of software can achieve this goal faster and with a lot less hassle than others.

What does a “good” software stack look like?

As a general rule, your software should work for your team, your team shouldn’t be working for your software. It should help your team work smarter, not harder, with minimal time spent on low-level admin tasks that aren’t geology.

The problem is that up until now, this hasn’t really been an option.

There’s a lot of fantastic software for the beginning and end of this process, like visualisation tools and databases - but not a lot for the things that happen in between, like the running of the drill program itself. 

As a result, most exploration teams are still using tools like spreadsheets or Microsoft Teams to execute their drill programs in the field. Tools that can get the job done, but not without a fair bit of hassle in between. From version control issues to macro problems, extensive time spent on manual data entry or even mistakes in the data slipping by unnoticed.

The missing piece in the exploration software puzzle

Running an exploration drill program is a complex process with many moving parts. The traditional way of working involves lots of data silos and complex communication lines between fieldies, drillers, managers and office teams working on the same projects together. 

There’s never really been one place for everyone on the exploration to consult when it comes to executing a drill program in the field.

Geos have to run back and forth between emails and spreadsheets, plod management tools, their database and validation software just to complete simple tasks like approving daily drilling reports (DDRs/plods) from drilling contractors. Tools that work well in isolation, but don’t do a great job at talking to one another.

Meanwhile, nobody really knows exactly what’s happening across all field operations at any given time, because:

  • pre and post-drilling activity data is tucked away in the database
  • drill plods aren’t coming in on time and the costs don’t match the rate schedule
  • there’s no place to go to find the complete history of a hole
  • sampling and reporting is being run on multiple spreadsheets, and 
  • everyone is waiting for confirmation on what to do next instead of just getting on with it.

Not to mention, it’s becoming more expensive to drill and explorers are having to run deeper, more complex drill programs than ever before. And often with less budget.

No wonder a new wave of exploration teams have asked if there’s a better way. 

Exploration drill program management software: mining’s (trending) missing link

Future-focused exploration teams like Chalice Mining, BHP, Dreadnought Resources, FMG and Northern Star Resources have recognised the need to bring together all aspects of the drill program into one space where everyone can collaborate together in real-time and get more out of their drilling budget.

And so they’ve made the switch to drill program management software.

It’s a convenient digital workspace that helps exploration teams to create efficient workflows, reduce overheads and pivot the drill program based on what’s happening beneath the surface in real time. Rather than having to consult multiple tools and spreadsheets as they have in the past, they only need to consult one tool to run all of their drill programs.

For managers, it functions as a central hub where all operational data and processes can be standardised across projects for more effective, comparable drill programs. It also creates a clear chain of custody for drill program data by bringing together a complete history of every hole and its associated activities in to one place.

Whilst features like drilling planning, drilling cost tracking, drilling performance analysis, drilling reporting and plod tracking and management can be found in other products, drill program management software is growing in popularity because it offers an integrated, cost-effective solution. 

How drill program management software can help you reach your exploration goals

As a Managing Director or Exploration Manager, you want to be sure that you’ve given your team the best possible chance to make a hit - and that the money you’re spending is moving the needle in the right direction.

There are multiple ways that the software can help you on your journey toward this goal. Here are four of them:

Accurate and timely data

Accurate data is key to making informed decisions. There are several ways that the software makes it easier to capture accurate data in the first instance so your team aren’t having to run around circles fixing it up after the fact.

  • Built-in governance controls to enforce data and standards and requirements looks like automatic warnings when input data doesn’t add up or fields are missing. There are also compulsory checks and balances in the workflow, for example, pre-drilling activities cannot be commenced until authorisation has been granted.
  • A time-stamped digital paper trail details who modified the data if follow-up or auditing is required down the track.
  • Simplified and intuitive processes at the point of data entry enable the team to quickly and accurately enter the data as they go, or save a draft and come back and finish it later - even when offline. This reduces the chance of valuable information being lost, forgotten or misremembered by being entered well after it’s happened.
  • Instantaneous and automated real-time cost calculation based on each drillers’ cost contract (including conditional clauses like minimum shift and slow pen rates) for laser-accurate cost tracking and reporting.

Not only does the data need to be accurate, but it also needs to get to you quickly so that you can make decisions as the need arises. 

An amazing dataset that details a declining penetration rate with pin-point accuracy won’t be much use if it arrives three weeks late!

Automation built into drill program management software can help speed up data processing so that associating drilling data to holes, managing plods/DDRs and building reports only take a few moments. This means that insights can be obtained faster than ever and that you can respond to what’s happening on the ground as soon as it’s time to start the next shift.

Contextual insights

As a manager, you want to deeply understand drilling performance to make sure you’re getting bang for your buck. Drill program management software can help you to gain deep insights into what’s happening on the ground, enabling you to optimise your operations and get the most out of your resources.

Because it brings together everything that happens in the lead-up to the drilling, during and then after the drilling, you can better understand how your entire operations drive - or block - results on the ground.

Take, for example, your penetration rate starts to take a rapid dive. This doesn’t actually tell you much about the drill program’s performance if you don’t understand why. 

Could it be:

  • that you’re drilling through unexpectedly tough ground that the team keeps turning up late
  • there is some kind of equipment or scheduling issue
  • it’s not the right rig for the job and you should switch it out now to avoid overspending on the remaining metres?

There are so many possibilities - but without that contextual data, you’re flying blind.

When data is displayed in the right way, it becomes a lot easier to identify patterns in your daily operations and track changes over time. Colourful graphs and charts are a much easier way to communicate analyses and collaborate across teams in comparison to sharing spreadsheet data. You’re far more likely to spot discrepancies in a graph than scrolling through hundreds of data cells. 

But it’s not just about displaying the data in the right way - it’s also about making the context easily accessible so that you can take the right action and measure the impact of these actions.

When the analytics can connect you to the exact instances that need further investigation, for example at the day, shift, plod, crew and rig level, you aren’t taking a stab in the dark as to what’s driving performance. You can see exactly what’s happening and why.

And drill program management software can connect you to these insights with the click of a button.

Predictive analytics and drilling intelligence

Have you ever found yourself wishing you had a crystal ball to help you make informed decisions about your drill program?

Imagine having the ability to predict the outcome of your decisions before they take place based on your real data, without having to run complicated macros to find the answers you need.

That’s the power of predictive analytics found in drill program management software.

We like to call it drilling intelligence.

Using your real data, you can answer important questions and make decisions with greater confidence, minimise risk and understand the potential impacts on your bottom line.

Questions like:

  • How long will it take to complete the drill program?
  • On what date will the rig need to be moved to the next hole and will we be ready in time for this to happen?
  • How much will the remaining holes cost us?
  • Will we go over our drill program budget, and if so, by how much?
  • Have we chosen the right rig for the job?

Access to these kinds of insights can help you anticipate the performance of your drill program, coordinate and allocate resources more effectively and minimise downtime. By knowing ahead of time if you will stick to your budget, you can take action to reduce costs and maximise productivity with your remaining resources.

Faster sample turnaround

Assay data is the foundation of any drilling program and the key to making informed decisions about what to do next.

It goes without saying that the data needs to be accurate. However, you also don’t have time to wait for results to trickle in. You need to be able to move quickly to refine your drilling strategy and secure the next round of investment. 

In other words, those samples need to get out of the yard and off to the lab, ASAP.

Having a streamlined and efficient process for getting those samples to the lab is essential to prevent delays in getting those all-important results. Sample dispatch automation found in drill program management software can help. 

Sample dispatch automation found in drill program management software can help your team to instantly generate sampling order paperwork and consignment numbers and alert your lab that it’s incoming. So all that’s left for your geos to do is book a courier.

When it reaches the lab, you’ll get notified once the lab scans the QR code on the paperwork, so you’ll never be left wondering if your samples have fallen off the back of a truck - never to be seen again.

As a manager, you can quickly jump on and see exactly where your samples are at in their journey, along with all of the costs associated with the lab, tenement and individual sampling order. Plus, you can see where samples are falling behind and if your team or the lab need to pick up the slack and pre-empt potential blockers that could delay receipt of results.

It’s a neat and organised digital sampling workflow for complete visibility across the sampling lifecycle and faster turnaround so you can get that all-important assay data back sooner.

More time spent on geology

Exploration professionals often lament that they spend too much time in the office, on their emails, and not enough time in the field or interpreting what’s happening under the surface.

How much time do you think your geos are spending:

  • transferring data from paper plods or spreadsheets into other spreadsheets?
  • going back and forth with drillers to get to the bottom of a measurement, charge or missing data point?
  • stuck on their emails at the expense of real geology? 

What about your time as a manager, spent on invoice reconciliation at the end of the month?

Probably more than you’d like, right?

Plod automation, found exclusively in drill program management software, is here to get your team out of the office and back into the field where they’re happiest.

Plod automation makes it possible to process any type of drill plod, from any contractor in any format, and reformat it to suit the needs of your project in just a few seconds.

By removing the need for the time-consuming process of manually reformatting and transferring data between systems, your geos' time is only spent reviewing the data - getting them back to the geology sooner.

Similarly, Exploration Managers can leverage automation to assist in reconciling invoices faster and more accurately. Because the data is quick and easy to process drill production, costs and overall progress can be monitored on a daily basis, giving you more decision-making power and oversight.

Finally, because everyone is able to stay on the same page by consulting one space for their questions about the drill program, there’s less back and forth within the team. You don’t need to email your Senior Geo to ask if those samples have been dispatched or not and wait until the next business day to receive a reply. You can log on and find the answer yourself in a matter of seconds so everyone can get on with their days.

Does drill program management software replace your exploration data management platform or database?

This question is asked a lot as many exploration teams use their database as their central repository for data captured in the field. So it makes sense at first to think of drill program management software as being similar to a database.

But the answer is a resounding NO.

Drill program management software is not designed to replace your exploration data management platform or database.

It doesn’t handle geological data, logging data or sampling data, but it CAN help strengthen the reliability and validity of your exploration mining database by implementing a chain of custody for field data.

In simple terms, this means that you can see who has handled the data and when, and what impact they had on that data. So rather than getting on the phone or sending an email to find out who did what on-site four weeks ago, you can see directly what happened and who to follow up with.

Why you shouldn’t run your drill programs from your database

Your database was not actually designed for, or intended to be used as, a substitute for the processes that are now covered in drill program management software.

However, that hasn’t stopped some geology teams from trying to use it in the same way!

The problem with working this way is that databases (plus spreadsheets) are not built for collaboration. It’s hard to see what’s happening on the rig or in the field when the data is filed away into silos. Not to mention the loading issues, version control issues and data standardisation issues between teams (your database admin is cringing right now).

It shouldn’t take you more than a few seconds to find the answers to questions like:

  • Which holes have been approved and are ready to drill?
  • When will the rig be available to drill the holes?
  • Have our holes been rehabbed yet? Are we certain that every hole has been finalised?
  • How much have we spent on drilling this month and how do our actual drilling costs compare to our forecasted cost per metre?

And if it does, you’re working in hard mode. This is why drill program management software exists - so you don’t have to keep working this way. Rather than scrolling through your database, spreadsheets and files, there’s only one place you need to go to find out everything you need to know about the drill program.

How does drill program management software fit in with your existing mineral exploration software?

Every exploration professional understands the importance of geological data in driving investment. However, the operational data you collect during your drill program can play a crucial role in the confidence of your geological results.

Operational data is a way to make sure that all of the processes that happened during the drilling campaign, including the capturing of subsurface information, have been executed correctly. When this is done at the hole level, as it is in drill program management software, you can have more certainty in the accuracy of your sampling data, plan better drill programs and optimise your spending so that you don’t burn through all your cash before you make that big hit.

In the past, it was common for exploration teams to undervalue operational data. This is unsurprising considering how difficult it was to collect and use this data to inform real-time insights. 

But today, by streamlining processes and ensuring that all data is collected correctly, and accessible to the team throughout the execution of the project using drill program management software, you can: 

  • spend more time in the field, interpreting the geology, building models and testing hypotheses
  • increase certainty in the accuracy and repeatability of your drill program data
  • plan more efficient and cost-effective drill programs in the future
  • improve the reliability of, and confidence in, your database.

The process begins once you’ve imported your drill program from your drilling planning software package, and ends once the data has been validated, approved and ready to be copied over to your database.

The case for interoperability in exploration mining software

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. A problem when data is your only asset until you find a resource.

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 (more on this in a second).

Future-focused Exploration Managers are thinking about this right now, not planning to think about it in a few years’ time. They’re looking at new-to-market, interoperable technologies like drill program management software that can digitise all aspects of their exploration projects and connect them up.

Here’s some best practice tips to help you join them on the journey to Mining 4.0.

Best practices for selecting drilling software for your exploration team

Migrating from a manual workflow (like pen and paper) or an old-school software package to a brand new software tool like drill program management software is an exciting investment in your exploration team’s productivity. 

Like any investment, it’s important to make an informed decision. But, it’s not easy to find the information you need to make the right decision upfront. For the most part, the only way to really understand what you might be getting is to sign up for a demo. This way you can see the software first-hand and ask questions to better understand how it might work for you.

Here are 3 easy steps to follow to get this right so that you can nail the meeting and get the most out of your time.

  1. Identify your pain points

If you’re reading this article, chances are, you’re facing some kind of business problem that you’re hoping drilling software can solve for you. 

Some common ones we hear include:

  • low confidence in field and cost data
  • siloed teams and ways of working
  • unable to process data at the speed of the rig
  • inconsistencies in drill program execution, data capture and analysis
  • lack of visibility across the entire operations
  • delayed reporting.

Do any of these resonate with your team?

By being clear on what problem(s) you need to solve, you’ll be better placed to move into the next step without being distracted by flashy features or tempting price points. 

It could be the best-looking or low-cost software package on the planet, but if it doesn’t solve the problems you need to solve, you’ll be back at step one again a few months - or years - down the track (minus any time and money spent trying to make it work!).   

  1. Consider how a new software fits into your digital strategy (and if you don’t have one, it’s time to get cracking)

A digital strategy is an effective way for Managing Directors and Exploration Managers to guide themselves through a complex software evaluation and selection process.

It’s your company’s roadmap for how you will use digital tools and technologies to create a competitive advantage and adapt to the changing demands of the industry by leveraging the power of new and developing technologies to streamline your operations, increase efficiency, reduce costs and make better use of data.

Without a strategy, you risk being stuck with a heap of expensive tools and digitised data with no way of bringing them together. Like many explorers, this might be an issue you’re experiencing right now. This is a big problem for exploration teams because data is your only asset until you find a resource.

Read more about crafting a digital strategy for your exploration team on our blog.

  1. Know the right questions to ask

30-60 minutes is not a lot of time to review a product that your team might use every day for the foreseeable future. So, it’s essential to go into the meeting with a clear plan to extract the critical information you’ll need to make your decision.

The questions you should ask will depend on the specifics of your business and what you’re looking for overall.

That’s why we’ve created a free downloadable guide listing the seven key questions you need to ask at a demo before signing on the dotted line, and how to personalise these questions to suit your business.

Download the free guide now (no email address or login required).

How a Junior exploration company went digital to manage their drill programs  - and how you can too

Drill program management software is configurable to meet the needs of any sized exploration team, including junior-sized companies. Viking Mines is one of them.

Managing Director and CEO, Julian Woodcock, wanted to take a geology-led approach to Viking’s drill programs, but his efforts were being hampered by a traditional workflow that wasn’t able to keep up with the speed of the rig. This made it difficult to make time-sensitive decisions that had the potential to save the company valuable time and money.

So Julian approached CorePlan to help digitise Viking’s spreadsheet and paper-based exploration workflow. 

“As soon as we started using CorePlan, we instantly gained a structured workflow that helped everyone stay on the same page. It is now much easier for the whole team to see what needs to happen and when. It also saved us a lot of time we would have had to spend developing a process ourselves.” - Julian

Using CorePlan’s drill program management software, he was able to bring together all aspects of the drill program into one tidy digital workspace in just a few hours. This gave him a new single source of truth and the oversight he needed to track performance and lead the team through the end-to-end drilling workflow.

Read the full case study here.

How to try drill program management software for yourself

Ready to take the first step towards revolutionising your exploration operations with drill program management software? Book a demo now to see for yourself how this powerful tool can help empower your team to pursue exploration success.

Discover CorePlan’s drill program management software, Exploration Hub. The workflow management tool used by future-focused exploration teams like Chalice Mining, Dreadnought Resources, BHP and AngloGold Ashanti. 

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The ultimate guide to drilling software for exploration teams
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