Opens AI mining center, working to digitally transform sector Metal Tech News – September 23, 2020
Microsoft believes technologies hold the key to a thriving global mining industry and is showcasing how its digital solutions can transform this crucial sector of the South Africa economy.
"Mining is a critical industry in South Africa, and has historically been a major contributor to the country's GDP (gross domestic product), tax revenue and employment – last year alone, the mining sector employed over 450,000 people, contributed 24.3 billion Rand (US$1.5 billion) in taxes and R360.9 billion (US$22.1 billion) to GDP," said Microsoft South Africa Enterprise Director Amr Kamel.
This vital sector of the South African economy, however, has been challenged with declining output, volatility of commodity prices, regulatory uncertainty, and unreliable energy supply, according to a report by the Minerals Council South Africa.
With these South Africa mining challenges having been exasperated by COVID-19, Microsoft says it is clear the sector needs solutions to regain its competitiveness and become a key contributor and driver of economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic.
The global tech giant said digital transformation, and the introduction of solutions through emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and data analytics have the power to help the industry adapt, reinvent, and transform in a sustainable and responsible way.
"Digital is the future of mining, and the question now is how quickly companies in the sector can transform to drive growth. This requires partnering with technology companies like Microsoft to reimagine solutions that address specific business challenges and improve operational performance and efficiencies," said Kamel.
Earlier this month, Microsoft launched Mining Core – AI Centre of Excellence for Mining, a Johannesburg facility that makes use of Microsoft's extensive partner ecosystem. A first of its kind in South Africa, Mining Core allows customers to immerse themselves in emerging technologies to build and create solutions that not only overcome specific mining challenges but also broadly enable the sector to grow and prosper.
Microsoft South Africa is working with its growing partner network to showcase the power of technology, particularly AI and cloud technologies, to accelerate a digital transformation of South Africa's mining sector.
"Together with our partner ecosystem, we are working to help our customers to navigate three phases – response, recovery, and reimagine – in order to maintain continuity, remain open, drive operational performance and create new business models even in the most difficult of circumstances," Kamel said.
Collaboratively conceptualized and built solutions are anchored in four main areas – community services and social impact, health and safety, environment, and responsible digital transformation.
Microsoft says mining companies can use technology to empower surrounding communities. This includes building critical digital literacy skills that will help the employability of community members, as well as introducing solutions in areas like healthcare, education, agriculture, and community support services.
Emerging technologies can also help with health and safety, which is always a priority for the mining industry and even more so in the face of a pandemic. Technological solutions such as autonomous drills, vehicles, and drones can take the human out of dangerous areas, and cognitive services and video analytics to monitor for safe working practices and conditions.
These kinds of technologies can also be used to support and manage COVID-19 protocols like social distancing and hygiene measures.
Mining companies are also increasingly using digital solutions to enable sustainable recovery and decrease their environmental footprint, using them to reduce water consumption, and work towards being carbon neutral or even carbon negative.
Above all, Microsoft says the introduction of digital solutions and AI into mining must be done responsibly.
"Responsible AI needs good guiding principles to ensure that systems are fair, reliable and safe, private and secure, inclusive, transparent and accountable, and we use our rich partner ecosystem to help with this," said the global tech company.