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Big data holes cut corporate memory
September 2, 2016 News

Slipping record-keeping standards and investment are producing corporate memory loss that is contributing to buried safety warnings, and clues to valuable efficiency gains – even discovery keys

Peter McCarthy, chairman (and co-founder) of leading international mining consulting firm, AMC Consultants, says some managers in the industry “see little value in past learnings, preferring to create their own crises and then be seen to manage them”.

“Until the digital era, mining companies operated internal libraries which stored and indexed technical reports and memos so that they were accessible to all technical staff,” he said.

“This system began to break down in Australia during the austerity era of the early 1980s, when a new generation of managers saw the records and library system as an unnecessary cost.

“Computers were the new knowledge centre.”

But vast non-digital data resources were lost, forgotten or transferred out of reach.

“Coincidentally, Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union experienced a similar loss of knowledge with the breakdown of the Soviet systems in the 1980s,” McCarthy said.

“Formerly excellent systems of record keeping were discontinued, although the data was not destroyed but was stored in archives on mine sites, in local libraries or government departments and the connection with potential users was lost.

“A mining industry with a long and distinguished history now struggles to plan the future without key geology and logging information. The old paper records are often available, but because they are not in a format to be easily digitised, or the logs in a form to be used in a formal logging system, they are not used.

“Of course I would rather research a subject today, using the internet, than using the old paper indexes. But we have lost much of the corporate memory at each operation.

“What work has been done on this subject before? Why did that stope fail? How did we manage the inundation in 1995? In the past, long-standing employees could provide some continuity and corporate memory. Today, with luck, such questions can usually be answered by an on-site staff member for the previous three years or so, before which there is usually no-one remaining to tell the story.

“And if that staff member is out on break at a fly-in, fly-out operation, the knowledge is not available. If there ever was a paper report, it has been taken by a departing staff member or put in an archive box. If the report is electronic its location has been lost, or it has been transferred to an archive file, or it has been accidentally deleted.”

McCarthy said consultancies such as AMC that had to keep track of information to remain in business had vast stores of data that could plug some of the knowledge gaps. But it was far from a complete solution to the problem.

He said large mining houses generally managed information well.

“But many mines and projects are not owned by major mining houses, and their technical records remain vulnerable.

“Accounting systems are audited regularly, for good reason. There is a need for similar audits of technical record keeping to ensure that such records are coded, accessible and identifiable, and that operations are conducted in accordance with previously agreed procedures.

“Too often, incident investigations reveal failures of compliance due to ignorance rather than ill intent.”

McCarthy said a better focus on storage wasn’t the answer: “Like manual back-ups, it won’t get done”.

“If the focus is on dynamic management which focuses on enhancing daily production activities, thus providing an incentive for the user at the same time as intrinsically promoting good storage, then it will get done,” he said.

This article was originally published on www.mining-journal.comcan be viewed in full