It’s not about the Tech: What Matters is Business Intelligence

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It’s not about the drone or the software platform, what really matters is business intelligence.

-Lauren Elmore, President of Firmatek

As drone and related software technology have continued to advance over the last several years, the focus has largely been on those tools. And that’s what they are: tools. There are a wider range of drones that can collect good quality data. Some of them are extremely complex and expensive, and they have a variety of sensors from Lidar to cameras to thermal. Others are fairly inexpensive, and with the right procedures, they get the job done as well. The same is true on the software sides. Some software and software platforms are expensive and include lots of bells and whistles, while others just give basic information.

With so many options, and more every year being developed, how do you choose? Do you choose to buy access to a platform? Do you choose to buy your own drone? Do you outsource it all? Do you internalize it all? Do you do some combination of all these things? What is the best technology to implement? How will you keep up with it?

These are all good questions. But they are missing a key point. Why do you actually want a drone or a software platform? So often we start with the “what” when we really need to start with the “why.” Hopefully, your answer to that involves getting insights and improving your business intelligence. We believe that your ever-changing environments have dramatic impacts on the success of your operation and your ability to make decisions. You need more than just data to improve your operation and make more informed decisions. Having really cool, fancy tools doesn’t actually give you more than data. They are just tools. But something needs to happen after you get information in order for it to actually make a positive impact on your operation and organization.

At Firmatek, we talk a lot about providing insights to our clients. We want to give you more than just another data point. We work with clients to help them understand the data and the insights that they receive from us. Collecting and processing data is getting easier and easier as technology advances, but something still has to be done with that data. We need to take it and turn it into something that you can use. That’s why we do more than give you a volume number. We help you see changes over time, know what you have left in your reserves, and how much inventory you have on the ground.

However, the next step is up to you. You have to take the insights and use them in your business. We have seen clients with the insights to transform their business at their fingertips, yet not use them. One client recently changed behavior from just receiving the insights to putting them to work. He drastically improved his operation by choosing to take the insights we were providing him and use them to improve his level of understanding of the operations and update his decision-making.

This particular client had been writing off around $3 million a year in inventory across his area. While he had been doing some measurement of the inventory – once or twice a year – he had not been doing much management of the inventory. Measurement is just data. Management occurs when you take the data, analyze it, get insights from it, and then apply those insights.

The client started doing more frequent measurements, but more importantly, he started using the insights to increase his business intelligence. Then, he started changing the way he was operating.

He ended up writing off less than $175,000 this year, making the area profitable for the first time in over 10 years.

There’s a difference between measurement and management. Frequent measurements help improve your inventory management, but it is important to apply the insights and make changes to your operation in order to improve profitability. When you do that, you can see impressive improvements in operational efficiencies and profitability.

All these tools that we have today make it much easier to get the insights you need to improve your operational efficiencies and make your operation more profitable. But the tool itself will not solve your problems. You need to get more than data from your tools. You need to use the insights that you receive.

It’s about your business intelligence. It’s about using that business intelligence in your operation. That is what is going to make the difference for you.

A New Year’s Reflection: What We Learned in 2018

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Wheel & Tape to Drone Solutions: A Recap of Technology Used for Inventory Measurement

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Data Security in Mining and Aggregates: Keep Cybercriminals Locked Out


Think of any major company, and it has probably been a victim of a data breach. David McCandless provides an insightful and interactive map detailing global breaches, hacks and other data disasters spanning the past 13 years across multiple industries. It’s a scary sight to behold.

The mining and aggregates industries haven’t escaped the threat, and it’s easy to see why. Important data concerning politically sensitive agreements, environmental records and studies, and projects in the developmental pipeline are like gold to hackers and the commissioners of their services.

Here’s what site managers should know so they can put together a smarter data security plan.


The Scope

The data experts at Kroll Ontrack define a data breach as having sensitive, proprietary or confidential information “viewed, stolen or used by unauthorized third parties,” resulting in damage to property.

This is precisely what happened to Goldcorp Inc., one of Canada’s biggest mining companies, in April 2016. In the attack, the company had close to 15 GB of data compromised. Payroll information, budget documents, bank account details, employee passport scans and other important data were accessed.

Despite the amount of data compromised, Goldcorp CEO David Garofalo says the extent of the breach was “not of significant concern.” His team was lucky, but others haven’t been quite as fortunate.

One German steel mill was the victim of a cyber attack in December 2014 in which criminals seized control of operational procedures at the mill, thwarting processes and causing “massive damage,” according to a report from the German Federal Office for Information Security.

Pamela Cobb, writing about the incident for Security Intelligence, referred to “sophisticated social engineering and spear-phishing tactics” used to gain access to the mill’s office network. Cobb says the hacking fears portrayed in Hollywood blockbusters are materializing into reality.

And in June 2017, Maersk Group was attacked by cybercriminals, shutting down multiple business units and ships.


Bleak Figures

Looking at the numbers, it’s even worse than the case studies suggest. A PwC report from 2015 showed the rise in global cyberattacks from 3.4 million to 42.8 million between 2009 and 2014. The statistics reveal that more than a third of mining companies are at risk of being attacked.

Of the 35 mining companies surveyed in the report, only three attested to having advanced cybersecurity systems in place. The bulk cited having moderate systems in operation, which are two levels below advanced in terms of robustness. As many as 97 percent of the companies have been affected by malware.

The team at Crowell & Moring cite a report from Ernst & Young around the same time that suggested more than 40 percent of metals and mining companies surveyed had seen a rise in threats. While a 2016/17 report places cybersecurity at nine out of the top ten major risks facing the mining industry. Australian company Telstra’s Cyber Security 2016 issued a report that revealed business-interrupting security breaches were recorded twice as frequently as in 2014.

Part of the problem is the connectivity of new business. With the IoT (Internet of Things), remote access, multiple employee devices and centralized operational networks, the amount of critical data online is massive and growing.

At Computer Weekly, Bob Tarzey writes about four concerns facing IoT devices:

  • protection issues with devices transmitting sensitive data,
  • devices becoming entry points into IT infrastructure,
  • botnets using devices for denial of service (DoS) attacks,
  • and poorly defended IoT deployments.

The logic is simple: The more devices, the easier to get in.

Kevin Hua of AtlasTrend writes at Which-50 about how the IoT “effectively increases the ‘surface area’ available for breaches as more things are connected with each node becoming an entry point for attack.”

Mining and aggregates companies are under threat from a range of prospective cyberattackers, including foreign nation-states, service providers, and even environmental and political activists.

Another worrying source of attack, writes Richard Levick at Fast Company, is the “insider threat.”

Using the Bank of America’s $10 million loss in 2011 as an example, Levick laments how entire organizations can be held to account for one internal malefactor’s criminal acts.

Looming threats and the expansion of the IoT are serious causes for concern. So, what can be done to curb these crimes, and how ready are companies in the mining and aggregates industries to launch a defensive?


Battle Ready

A 2017 report from PwC states that of the 10,000 respondents surveyed from across multiple industries, more than half said “they actively monitor and analyze threat intelligence to help detect risks and incidents.” If mining and aggregates companies are sitting at similar figures, this leaves a big percentage sitting idly, waiting to become targets.

Even for those that are prepared for a cyber onslaught, it is a battle to keep pace with the fast-evolving methods of attack. Slashed IT budgets and inadequate training mean expertise to fight the scourge is limited.

Telstra’s report said 62 percent of organizations cited a lack of experts to implement security strategies. Speaking with Mining Journal, Alan Hindes at Telstra says, “Security budgets were a big issue 18 months ago, but now the challenge is finding talent with the necessary security skills.”

Skills aside, another problem is the delegation of responsibility and decision-making. As migration to the cloud continues with pace, further risks arise. Telstra’s Director of Security, Neil Campbell, dubs this the “shadow IT” problem. Defenses weaken as other branches of an organization incorporate and manage services in the cloud without the necessary security protocols insisted on by IT.

The Telstra report recorded only 22 percent of companies across industries are equipped to deal with the risks involved in cloud-based service adoption. Hindes and Campbell suggest the BYOD (bring your own device) culture as a reason for every organization to treat cybersecurity as if it were a major bank protecting clients’ personal and businesses’ financial information.


A Question of Law

UK solicitor Jowanna Conboye writes how businesses only picked up digital communications in the 90s, and the laws have been even slower keeping pace. The EU’s Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC was passed in 1995 and applied in the UK as the Data Protection Act in 1998.

Change is coming, however. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation 2016 (or GDPR) was passed in 2016 and takes effect in 2018.

The US, the Crowell team writes, has also been proactive. In 2015, President Barack Obama issued an executive order titled ‘Blocking the Property of Certain Persons Engaging in Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities’ after calling cyberthreats a “national emergency.”

This allowed the U.S. Department of the Treasury to freeze assets and bar transactions of entities engaged in cyberattacks.

While the change in laws is essential to deal with this growing threat, it does not mean the process will be easy for mining and aggregates companies. There will be plenty to do to become compliant, as well as there being greater urgency to report data breaches timeously.


How to Stay Safe?

It almost feels counterintuitive given the innate competitiveness in business, but the advice from the experts is to share. An important part of generating awareness of cyberthreats and the means to defend data against them requires sharing intelligence.

The 2017 PwC report notes how sharing data “can provide actionable intelligence that enables organizations to gain visibility into their most relevant risks and more quickly detect and respond to incidents.”

But these processes need to be agile and “ingest data, analyze activity, classify and validate threats, and push alerts — all in real time”.

It’s important to think of cybersecurity as a business risk and cost rather than specifically an IT consideration. It needs to take center stage in budgeting considerations and training programs. Creating awareness among all employees at every level is a fundamental component of basic safety. There also has to be accountability records built into the processes.

Tim Cannon suggests companies invest in education. Writing at Wired about healthcare in particular, thought the lessons apply to all industries, Cannon talks about a “disconnect” in how IT firms hire talent. This leads to employers picking experience over education, which is not a good long-term strategy.

Cannon suggests partnerships with colleges and universities to train the next generation of security experts. Additionally, increased training is essential for existing staff to help bolster defenses.


Response Plan

All organizations need to have a response plan laid out in advance. There is no time to develop a strategy retroactively. The plan needs to include methods for detecting clients and partners who have had data accessed, how much of it has been compromised and how sensitive that data is.

Additionally, the plan needs to lay out how to notify those affected, briefing the press and minimizing damage. Production cannot be halted in the wake of an attack, and user systems and key servers need to be restorable from backups.

Cobb referenced the IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Quarterly as a useful guide in the wake of the attack on the German steel mill. The report suggests organizations perform regular tests, implement secure design and development practices, and follow industry best practices for the IoT, as suggested by the Open Web Application Security Project.

As the IoT continues to integrate deeper into every aspect of modern life, we all become more connected. In many ways, this streamlines business processes and facilitates global cooperation. The downside is the remote reach of criminals lurking in cyber shadows ready to steal data, compromise security and disrupt operations.

Proper training of staff, good cyberhygiene and robust defense systems are essential to keep mining and aggregates companies safe. Should these defenses fail, they’ll need a fast-moving reaction plan to mitigate damage and keep up production.

Images by: Joshua Sortino, Koushik C, Markus Spiske

Women in Mining and Aggregates: 17 Leaders to Follow

It’s not a big secret that mining and aggregates tend to be male-dominated industries. Women are especially underrepresented in STEM fields.

And yet study after study after study has found a positive correlation between company performance and gender diversity, especially when women are fairly represented in positions of leadership.

So, we feel it’s necessary to take a moment to celebrate the women who are currently shaping the mining and aggregates industries with their knowledge, skills and hard work.

Their stories are especially important for any girls and young women reading right now. To those readers, know that there is a place for you in mining, in aggregates and in any industry where people show up to work with a hard hat.

Here are 17 women who have found success in such industries.


Dr. Kathy Altman, Roscoe Postle Associates

Kathy Altman, P.E., Ph.D., is RPA’s director of metallurgy and mineral processing as well as the company’s principal metallurgist, a role to which she brings more than 30 years of industry experience. That experience includes work as a consultant and in academia — Dr. Altman was an associate at the University of Nevada, Reno from 2005 to 2009.


Lynda Bloom, Analytical Solutions Ltd.

Lynda Bloom has been the president of consultancy Analytical Solutions Ltd. for more than 30 years, which makes her one of the foremost experts in Canada and around the world in mineral and geochemical exploration. She is one of the mining industry’s go-to people in Canada when a company needs guidance with the NI 43-101 standards of disclosure regulation compliance.


Laurie Brlas, Calpine Corporation

Laurie Brlas joined the board of directors at Calpine in August 2016, and she is a member of the corporation’s audit committee. Prior to that, she spent a decade and a half in executive-level roles at Newmont Mining Corporation, Cliffs Natural Resources and STERIS, the latter a healthcare products company.


Wanda Burget, Accord Resource Solutions

Wanda Burget is the owner and principal at Accord Resource Solutions, a consultancy that helps clients with a variety of challenges related to developing, conserving or using natural resources. Burget herself brings more than 35 years of experience with data management, mineral leasing at the federal level, compliance and policy, and sustainable development.


Ann Carpenter, Remote Energy Solutions

Ann Carpenter is the president and CEO at Remote Energy Solutions, a firm that helps its clients with questions related to energy supply, land use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the mining and extractive industries.

She is also founder, president, CEO and director at Osgood Mountains Gold, which explores and develops gold mining sites in Nevada.


Kristin Gaines, Millennium Bulk Terminals

Kristin Gaines joined Millennium Bulk Terminals in early 2011 and currently serves as the company’s vice president of environmental planning and services, which means she is the go-to person for compliance, permitting and remediation. She brings more than 25 years of experience to that role in remediation, environmental management and brownfield redevelopment, among others.


Dr. Diane Garrett, Oceana Gold

Diane R. Garrett, Ph.D., was appointed to Oceana Gold’s board in 2015 after more than 20 years in senior management and financial roles in the natural resources sector, including president and CEO of Romarco Minerals and vice president of corporate development at Dayton Mining Corporation.

Shortly after her appointment at Oceana Gold, she was also appointed president, CEO and director at Canadian mining company Wellgreen Platinum Ltd.


Dr. Sarah Gordon, Satarla

Sarah Gordon is the founder and CEO of risk management consultancy Satarla, which has offices in London and Johannesburg. Before founding her consultancy, Dr. Gordon — whose doctorate-level research explored the composition of primitive meteorites — worked with AngloAmerican at sites and offices in Europe, Africa and South America.


Katie Jeremiah, Aggregate Resource Industries Inc.

Katie Jeremiah is a co-owner and the vice president at Aggregate Resource Industries Inc., a family company in Springfield, Oregon. Her background is actually in construction law, but she recently joined the company her father founded alongside her brother, Kris. Katie is the company’s legal counsel, and she handles business operations plus regulatory compliance.


Veronica Nyhan Jones, International Finance Corporation

Veronica Nyhan Jones is the global head of International Finance Corporation’s sustainable business advisory, where her team focuses on infrastructure and natural resource development. Before taking on this role, Jones had worked for the World Bank, at the White House and in the U.S Dept. for Health and Human Services.


Zayaan Kahn, Rio Tinto

Zayaan Kahn heads up Rio Tinto Copper and Coal’s marketing intelligence team in Singapore, a role to which she brings more than a decade of experience in mining and public policy. Kahn is also the founder of WIMAR SG, Singapore’s chapter of the Women in Mining and Resources Network.


Debbie Laney, Nalco

Debbie Laney, P.E. is the R&D manager at Nalco’s Global Mining & Metals Research Group, where she and her team develop flotation chemicals for the mining industry. Laney brings to the team extensive experience as a chief metallurgist, superintendent and project manager in several different mining companies. She has also served as president of the Women’s Mining Coalition, where she now sits on the advisory board.


Dr. Angelique Lasseigne, Generation 2 Materials Technology

Dr. Angelique Lasseigne is the founder and CTO at Generation 2 Materials Technology, which is developing new sets of non-destructive evaluation tools for better understand the properties of materials used in industry. Dr. Lasseigne brings to the team a Ph.D. in metallurgical engineering, 80-plus publications, and a special expertise and understanding of how hydrogen interacts with metals.


Julie Lucas, Cliffs Natural Resources

Julie Lucas is the environmental manager at Hibbing Taconite, a company owned by Cliffs Natural Resources. For more than six years, she has overseen the waste management, wetland sustainability, and air and water quality compliance aspects — among others — of an environmental management system at an iron ore facility in Minnesota that employs more than 700 people.


Dr. Priscilla Nelson, Colorado School of Mines

Dr. Priscilla Nelson is the head of the Colorado School of Mines Department of Mining Engineering, a position she has held since 2014. She is also the creator of the site, which finds and curates collections of children’s books about engineering to make them easily accessible for K-4 students interested in engineering and STEM fields.


Shastri Ramnath, Orix Geoscience

Shastri Ramnath is the founder, president and principal geologist at Orix Geoscience, Inc. in Canada, a role to which she brings more than 15 years of experience in global exploration, resource estimation and modelling, and project evaluation. Ramnath founded Orix in 2012 to provide three-dimensional geological consulting services to exploration and mining companies.


Debra W. Struhsacker, Pershing Gold Corporation

Debra Struhsacker is a senior vice president at Pershing Gold Corporation, where she brings 30-plus years of experience in working with environmental and public land regulations. She is responsible for the company’s environmental permitting, regulatory and compliance issues, and government relations, and she brings extensive experience in working with policymakers in Washington on behalf of mineral exploration and mine development companies.