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Gabsten Technologies is an established data management consulting company, based in Johannesburg, South Africa

Centralised data management saves lives in the mining sector

Centralised data management saves lives in the mining sector
27 Nov 2023

The mining sector has not escaped the move toward digitalisation, but the nature of the industry means that it faces multiple challenges when it comes to managing, protecting and storing data. One of the central factors for these challenges is the decentralised nature of mining operations, as well as the tendency towards frequent mergers and acquisitions. A lack of consolidated data and centralised data management leaves data vulnerable.

Aside from causing mines to fall foul of the many regulations and compliance requirements, there is also the safety element. When systems that could potentially cost people their lives go down – whether this is from a ransomware attack or a simple failure – the consequences can be catastrophic. Mining organisations need to centralise their data and data management and adopt a holistic strategy as well as an appropriate data management solution to prevent unnecessary loss of life and unlock the power of their data for competitive advantage.

Digital needs data

Mining companies typically operate from a head office, often in another country, as well as at multiple mine sites which are generally in remote areas. This means that head office and the various mines frequently have disparate IT systems, distributed data storage and even completely different and potentially unmanaged solutions. For example, all of the equipment at mines, such as that which measures temperature or gas in the shafts, is operated and controlled by the mines, while back-office IT systems like payroll are managed by head office.

“Traditionally, these two environments do not talk to each other – and the systems between mines themselves do not either – creating a web of disconnected solutions and disparate data sources. This means there are no centralised policies or control, no consolidated data governance, no holistic IT management, and many loopholes and vulnerabilities that can be exploited by those with malicious intent. It also means that from a data analytics and business intelligence perspective, mining organisations are unable to effectively leverage the potential competitive advantage,” says Hemant Harie, Group Chief Technology Officer at Gabsten Technologies.

Consolidation is the key

“With multiple disparate data sources and massive data sprawl, it becomes a challenge to implement an effective and manageable cyber security framework. This is complicated by systems and solutions outside of the control of the head office, many of which do not interoperate. Often, head office will have regular data backups, but because the mines may have limited connectivity due to their location, they may only backup once a day, and backups may not all go to the same place,” adds Iniel Dreyer, Managing Director of Data Management Professionals South Africa.

In such a scenario, effective disaster recovery becomes impossible. In the event of ransomware or a cyberattack, data may be compromised, but more importantly, systems that are critical to safety may be taken offline, and this can affect human lives. Aside from this, mines also have the obligation to protect the large volumes of personal information they store. It is essential to have a single, consolidated data management solution as well as consistent policies and procedures across the organisation.

Understanding the data

Not all data is created equal and not all systems are mission critical, but without proper data management it is all but impossible to effectively prioritise and understand how to rebuild in the event of a disaster. The central management of IT assets, alongside data management and security, is crucial, and it needs to incorporate next-generation data protection solutions such as cyber deception, cyber resilience and artificial intelligence.

“Having an overarching IT, compliance, risk and data management framework that covers everything in the mine, from business to remote locations, operations and more is a significant challenge, but it is also vital, not only for cybersecurity but for the safety of employees. This becomes even more important in the event of an acquisition, when new systems and data need to be integrated, understood, and protected. Without it, the risk of continued data disparity and siloes grows and mines are left unable to leverage their data effectively for analytics and competitive advantage,” says Dreyer.

While IT is often the first place where costs are cut, data management and security frameworks are essential for increasing revenue, by enabling greater efficiency and better decision making, in turn driving improved profitability, and for creating a better, safer working environment.