Squeezing More Value Out of Your General Mine Planning Software

Written by Bill Wilkinson, P.E., Principal Consultant Sales Engineer, Datamine

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Squeezing More Value Out of Your General Mine Planning Software

Introduction

In my 26 years in the mining software industry, I have learned that most mine geology and mine planning departments are using about 10% of their general mine planning (GMP) software functionality.  Conversely, most mine geology and mine planning departments are not using 90% of the functionality they are paying maintenance for each year. This essentially makes mining software solutions very expensive in terms of value realized for money paid, and it’s highly likely that companies would have difficulty justifying their solution purchase given the price they paid for actual value received.  

There are several reasons I’ve seen why companies may not be leveraging the full functional richness of their mining software solution.

Unnecessary Functionality

Functionally rich software solutions may include specific functionality you may not need; drill & blast design software as an example. This specific functionality isn’t used at a mine where there is no drilling and blasting required. Mine planning software vendors build solutions for their customers and the mining market in general, which will include functionality not required at every operation. This is important because not all mining operations are equal, and each have their own issues they are trying to manage effectively. While it’s likely you currently don’t have a need for specific functionality available in your mine planning solution, the amount of unnecessary functionality should be low. If not, you might be using the wrong software. 

Hidden Functionality

Users are unaware that functionality exists in the software. This can be a result of not having the time to explore software functionality and/or lack of engagement with the vendor. Most likely, it’s due to lack of software training.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard users, after showing a software feature exclaim, “I wish I knew about that feature when I was working on my last project.  It would have saved me a lot of time and pain!” 

Software Version Freeze

Software version is never updated, and any new features are not available.  The common reasons for software version freeze are:

  • The new version contains only defect fixes,
  • I fear new defects may have been introduced that I don’t know about,
  • My daily business process may change, and I don’t have time to figure out how to get my work done with the updated software, or
  • I’m getting my work done with the software version I’m currently using.  If it “ain’t” broke, don’t fix it.

While it’s true that updated versions contain defect fixes, it’s also true that software vendors add functionality with subsequent releases. Companies who do not migrate to new versions miss out on improved user experience, new features and new capabilities previously unavailable. Customers who freeze their software versions are doing themselves a disservice by not taking full advantage of the full benefits afforded to them through maintenance paid or renewed subscriptions.

How to Get More Value From Your Software

Invest in Resources

User training and mentoring are crucial to the success of new users of any software solution.  In my experience, companies that do not invest in training and mentoring end up failing to get the value promised out of the software. Conversely, companies that invest in training and mentoring are thriving and getting tremendous value. All users of any software need a solid foundation of the basic software principles upon which to build additional knowledge.   

Continuous Improvement

Continuously improving knowledge of software tools will pay huge dividends in streamlining tasks and getting results quickly and more accurately. This cannot be achieved overnight and it’s an activity that’s best performed in small increments over time. The best resource for your software is the vendor, who employ software developers, geologists and mining engineers to build and support the product. There are low cost or free opportunities for learning that software vendors provide their customers with and it’s something that companies should take advantage of. Periodically taking 5 minutes to review short training videos can increase knowledge of available features that can pay dividends in getting more value out of software. Examples of software training opportunities are as follows.

The New Version

Vendors that are actively investing in their software solution, will release one or more software versions each year. A new version release is the perfect opportunity to get free demonstrations and training in the new features. Most generally, they don’t take up a lot of time out of your day.  When the new version becomes available, the vendors execute a go-to market plan which may consist of the following elements:

  • Announcements via email, social media or on the software start page.
  • Webinars that demonstrate and highlight new features.
  • Short video clips that focus on a specific feature.
  • Short 4-6-hour events that promote the new features and benefits of the new version. 
  • Release notes, which users generally don’t take the time to read, contain information on defect fixes and new features.  

User Conferences

Software vendors love feedback from their customers, which provide a source of ideas for new features that the market desires and confirmation that new features being worked on will be accepted. User conferences provide a customer feedback forum and an opportunity for users to gain more value through the following elements of a user conference:

  • Unique opportunity to get together with vendor solution experts and other users to exchange ideas.
  • Short training sessions that will focus on specific features.
  • Hear about upcoming new features and versions.
  • Have a say in what is planned for development.
  • Develop relationships with the solution experts who oftentimes give free advice.

Social Media

Social media feeds including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are additional sources of knowledge.  Follow your vendor on LinkedIn and Facebook to learn about any upcoming events, free symposiums, and discussions that can add value. This is an area where users can share their experiences and learn from others.

Maintenance Renewal

It might seem strange I include software maintenance renewal, but if your vendor includes consulting days as part of your maintenance, take full advantage of this and don’t let it lapse. Use consulting days provided through maintenance to get ideas on improving business processes or get training or mentoring in an identified area you want to improve. Generally, you have freedom in how you use it.

Conclusion

Can you squeeze more value out of your general mine planning software solution?  Yes, but you need to be proactive.  First, understand the current state of your processes by listing the steps to complete a geologic model or mine design and quantify the effort required to complete each step. Then, partner with your software vendor to explore ways to improve your processes starting with the most labor-intense steps. The solution may be one or a combination of uncovering hidden functionality, upgrading the software version to gain additional features, additional software training and solution mentoring.  In some cases, the development of a new feature or modification of an existing feature may be helpful and getting this information back to the vendor gives you a say in the development of new features that will become useful in your business process. You are your best advocate; therefore, communicate your concerns and ask questions to help improve your processes.

In conclusion, getting more value out of your mine planning software, and therefore protecting your software investment can be achieved by simply partnering and communicating with your software vendor and other users. Leverage the industry experiences and in-depth software knowledge of your vendor to get full value out of your software solution.

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