Drill program intelligence software: what Exploration Managers need to know
Browsing for digital solutions that can help your exploration team run their drill programs more efficiently? Drill program intelligence software can help!
If you’re an Exploration Manager that wants to:
- learn what drill program intelligence software is
- understand what it does and doesn’t do
- discover the top 3 pros and cons to consider before deciding to look into it further
then this article is for you.
After reading, you should have the high-level information you need to decide if drill program intelligence software is worth exploring for your team (don't forget - you can always message us using the chat bubble if you have any unanswered questions!).
What is drill program intelligence software?
‘Drill program intelligence software’ is built to help geology teams streamline the execution of their drill programs.
Some Exploration Managers may not have had experience working with this kind of software. It was previously only available to large companies with the budgets to build their own with the help of a custom software developer.
But, thanks to recent technological advances, it’s undergone a modern transformation and is now available to buy off-the-shelf for an affordable monthly subscription price.
And, as more and more Exploration Managers and their teams look to increase the efficiency of their operations amidst volatile market conditions, the popularity of this type of software has quickly begun to take off.
What can it do?
Drill program intelligence software replaces traditional paper and spreadsheet-based processes and clunky old-school application-based software with one collaborative digital workspace built for running drill programs.
Forget opening multiple files or applications and manually importing/exporting data between them. Drill program intelligence software lives on the web, so fire up any web browser, from anywhere in the world, log in and away you go.
There are a few different products available on the market today. Most include some or all of the following capabilities:
- tracking pre-drilling field activities/earthworks
- managing drill contractors and contracts
- capturing and analysing daily drilling data (DDRs/plods)
- analysing and reporting on drill production
- reconciling invoices
- dispatching and tracking samples
- executing post-drilling activities/rehabilitation
By centralising all of this critical drill program-related data, the entire team can see what’s happening on the ground in one place.
And, it’s all packaged up in a user-friendly interface that’s more representative of how people expect to work today.
What can’t it do?
The best way to think about drill program intelligence software is like project management software - but for running a drill program.
Like most project management software (think Asana, Monday.com or even Microsoft Project), this new software doesn’t:
- capture or store geoscience data
- build geological models, or
- store sample analysis results from the lab.
We know what you might be thinking at this point - if it doesn’t incorporate the geology, why would exploration teams like BHP, AngloGold Ashanti, Sandfire and Chalice spend time and money training their geologists to use it?
Well, it’s because it brings together all of the information about the drill program into one place and removes excessive manual tasks from geologists’ work day. It makes automation accessible to exploration teams so they can affordably streamline repetitive administrative tasks like consolidating spreadsheets and reconciling invoices.
The result? More time spent on geology.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the pros and cons now.
The 3 biggest benefits of drill program intelligence software
1. Centralised and standardised data
A big problem faced by many Exploration Managers is dealing with plod data from their drill contractors, often sent on paper or spreadsheets.
Geologists then have to reformat that data into a new spreadsheet manually. If you’re only running one or two rigs, this might not be a problem, but it gets more complicated with several rigs and/or multiple drill contractors. Particularly if your contractors send data in different file types, leaving your geos scrambling to combine all of the data into a usable format.
Not only is this process time-consuming, but it’s also expensive: both in terms of the actual cost per hour of your geologists’ time and the opportunity cost when their attention is distracted from discovery.
Plus, the more times staff have to wrangle the data, the greater the chance of accidental human error, resulting in increased time and costs down the line to resolve mistakes.
Drill program intelligence software can help streamline this process, reduce errors and make it easy to view, compare and analyse your data between all your rigs, contractors and even your projects.
How? By leveraging automation and enforcing a standard handling process for your plod data.
After defining the drilling data parameters you’re working with, simply import the plod as a .csv file. It will be automatically matched to your conditions using a data matching process. If the data arrives on paper or other manual formats, it can be transcribed directly into a digital form – pre-populated with your parameters – in a matter of minutes.
Ever found errors or missing data weeks after the fact? The software can help bring mistakes like missing data to your attention so you can resolve them on the spot. If errors slip through the cracks, they can be picked up in seconds as visual reporting makes anomalies easier to spot. Then, it’s just a matter of overwriting the erroneous data at any time with just a few clicks.
Forget spreadsheet version control - a modification log records who did what and when, so it’s easy to consult with the relevant person down the track.
Another huge drain on a geologist’s time can be reporting. Rather than spending time building reports in Power BI or Sequel, plod data instantly populates reports on submission for quick review.
Having all your data from every rig and contractor in one place and format makes it much easier to visualise the project's overall progress and performance.
2. Remove silos between teams by having everything you need to run a drill program, in one place
Exploration Managers consult many physical and digital resources to run a drill program.
For example, you might use paper maps in the office to track your field activities, rehab and earthworks programs, a OneDrive folder with hundreds of spreadsheets of plod data, a carbon copy form book to record your sample dispatch information, and a separate database to store your costs.
The problem with this is that it keeps the data in silos, with no way to easily access all of the information you need relating to a particular hole, contractor or project. It also makes it harder for your team to work effectively together. Complex processes and systems for storing and locating data increase the chance of missing key details. Communication lines are fractured by pushing apart teams that need to work together on the same project.
Drill program intelligence software helps remove these silos by bringing all stages of the drilling workflow and the associated data into one place. Your team only has to consult one location to find all the information they might need about the drill program. It also promotes greater accountability among the team as it’s clearer who needs to do what and when.3. Oversight across your entire organisation
Ever run multiple drill programs and wondered how one project is performing compared to another or how much money you’re spending across all of your projects? Or, missed a crucial detail in a hole or an opportunity to pivot the drill program - only to realise after it was too late?
Imagine what you could achieve if you could view and compare progress, costs and all of the details related to every one of your drill programs in one place, right now…
Drill program intelligence software makes this a reality.
Because you’ve already:
- made it easy for your team to keep up with the speed of the rig
- standardised and centralised your data across all of your projects
- leveraged the power of automation to instantly populate reports and cost summaries
you’re now in the position to make critical decisions on the fly, not days or weeks after the fact.
And, because you’ve done this across all your projects, you can unlock a real-time view of your organisation’s collective operations.
Congratulations - you now have a single truth source for all your drilling data!
But, what if you’re a Junior explorer running a lean operation?
Well, it can help reduce administrative costs and the risk of making expensive mistakes, so you can ensure every dollar you put into that drill program goes toward getting results.
The 3 biggest cons of drill program intelligence software
Drill program intelligence software is great, but let's face it: no solution is perfect, or a great fit for every business. So, let’s explore some of the cons now.
1. The benefits are not widely understood (yet)
Drill program intelligence software has only emerged on the open market in the last few years. It was only possible to get similar capabilities by building your own from scratch with a private software developer. An eye-watering expense that, in most cases, resulted in a product that was painful to use by today’s standards.
So, it’s understandable that some companies may hesitate to take the plunge when the past has burned them. Plus, it can be tough to warm up employees to start all over again with new software when they’ve only ever had negative experiences to draw on.
The industry is only really just hearing about this new kind of software and what it can do. However, it is gaining fast momentum in the industry, with future-focused Junior, right through to Enterprise-level companies looking for ways to digitise and automate their exploration workflows. Watch this space!
2. It’s only helpful if it’s used correctly
Like most things in life, what you get out of drill program intelligence software depends on what you put in. So, if your team don’t put the effort in to use the system correctly (or use it at all), you won’t see the benefits. Your data problems could even get worse!
Before any digital transformation, the entire leadership team must be willing to invest the time and effort in driving home regular and correct use of the software. Committing to training and supporting staff through the change will be essential to success. In larger companies, it may be helpful to appoint a specialist Database Coordinator or Change Coordinator to drive the transition and own the implementation of the software from start to finish.
A consistent, positive attitude from management toward the change, along with keeping an open mind about giving employees the freedom to make mistakes as part of the process will be critical to achieving buy-in from the wider team.
Depending on the makeup of your team and where you’re at in your digital journey, it may be too soon to consider adopting drill program intelligence software. In the short term, it may be better to spend your effort warming up your team to embrace change in the future.
3. It requires a leap of faith
It can be hard to let go of existing software or processes, particularly when you’ve sunk countless hours and many thousands of dollars implementing them - even if the status quo isn’t working for you.
There are a few common traps we’ve seen Exploration Managers fall into, time and time again:
- The sunk cost fallacy: ‘but we’ve already paid for all of these other systems.”
The easiest of the lot to fall into. But how much of your staff’s time are you losing day after day working with inefficient systems? The dollar cost of mistakes in the drill program? The time not spent on discovery?
- Fear of retribution: “if the change fails, I’ll be held responsible.”
Sure, but could you not also be held responsible if your Managing Director were to find out how much field time your team are wasting or how you didn’t realise the drillers overcharged you?
- The diversion: “we can do this later when we have more time.”
‘Free time’ is one of those things that never really seems to roll around. We think our calendar looks free next week, but by next Wednesday, you’ve probably filled it. The truth is, without effort, you’re never going to get ‘more time.’ Time is going to pass anyway. So why not make the most of it?
Tl;dr: What does this mean for Exploration Managers?
To recap: drill program intelligence software helps geology teams streamline the execution of their drill programs by centralising and standardising their data into one place. It brings all aspects of the drill program together so everyone can see who needs to do what and when.
This type of software is new to the industry, but early adopters from exploration companies of all sizes and budgets are driving the change toward mining’s digital future.
The results these teams enjoy include:
- A greater proportion of geologists’ time spent on geology.
- Centralised and standardised data across all of their drill programs.
- Increased collaboration across the entire team, with everyone consulting a single source of truth for every aspect of the drill program.
- Being able to see every drill program in a global view, making it easy to compare results and identify areas for improvement.
But, these benefits need to be weighed up within the context of your unique team. To succeed with drill program intelligence software (or any kind of software generally), your entire team must be ready to embrace change and commit to following through on the implementation. Because even the best software product won’t benefit your team if they aren’t using it!
The good news? The prospect of digitising your drill program operations might seem daunting, but it’s easier and faster than you might think. If your exploration team is ready to take the plunge into a complete digital transformation of their drill program workflow, our team are here to answer your questions!
Want to learn more about drill program intelligence software first? Our exploration blog is here to help! Here are two articles I think you'll like: