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Wednesday, 19 June 2019

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IMARC 2017: Jacques Wannenburg, Vice President Technology Enterprise Systems, BHP
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IMARC 2017: Jacques Wannenburg, Vice President Technology Enterprise Systems, BHP

On day two of the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC), delegates were treated to an insightful and thought – provoking presentation from Jacques Wannenburg, Vice President Technology Enterprise Systems at BHP. He discussed the pathway ahead for the major miner in the automation space through presenting a case study on “Software Robotics in Process Automation – Challenges and Opportunities.”

Jacques discussed the need for BHP to embrace the changing technological landscape of the mining sector, and industry more broadly, through looking to find the next wave of productivity improvements via advanced innovations. This will allow BHP to enhance performance and integrate their operations throughout the supply chain, from pit to port.

Jacques currently leads a team exploring software robotics, seeking to replicate actions of human beings and reduce the need for employees to undertake mundane tasks, allowing for greater time to focus on strategic initiatives. The overarching aim of BHP’s robotics team is to have the organisation’s systems fully integrated by 2025, with their model moving from a decentralised structure to a centralised, globally focused model.

BHP believes software bots are the future of the business, due to their ability to perform manual tasks through analysing and deciding actions, whilst the capability for them to interact with other machines and people continues to grow.

The first phase of this initiative involves utilising software bots to complete process orientated back office tasks. This includes functions currently covered by staff in administration, human resource and marketing processes, such as data collection and collation. The intention of this is to reduce errors that humans can make in these processes, whilst completing tasks quicker and allowing greater time for staff to undertake more complex initiatives.

Thus far on their automation journey, BHP have taken away a number of key lessons to improve the integration of software bots into the business. These include:

  • Targeting the right processes to automate is critical – it must be refined, standardised and digitised before they can be automated.
  • Choosing processes that require further standardisation or rely on human interaction don’t create value – the software bots have not performed well in these circumstances
  • Choosing the right software is important – the functionality, usability and security of the system are key priority areas
  • BHP must prioritise the creation of interfaces – using software robotics where gaps between applications exist and a more powerful and cost-effective option is available
  • There must be a focus on people – helping them learn to work with and manage a digital workforce. Miners need to collaborate with the workforce and those that would be most affected by bots to boost their skills and help them develop into new roles.

The Robotics Operations Centre (ROC) will provide BHP with the in-house capability to create a future roadmap for robotics and automation technologies, allowing them to achieve their goal of adapting with agility. The aims of the ROC are to ensure that BHP use the software robotics where needed, build software bots to a standard and help them to identify new platforms for the business, making sure the right processes are chosen. 

BHP’s evolution process is already underway, with the focus being on laying the foundations for simpler and faster operations by 2019, creating a more context aware user experience and intelligent automation process by 2021, and fully driving the business with smart machines and the speed of digital processes by 2024.  

Jacques finished his presentation by acknowledging that the future is rapidly approaching, creating an urgency for BHP to adapt and align their business with the changing technological landscape. Through this process, they will seek to generate efficiencies, improve safety and create a more stimulated workforce where mundane tasks are reduced and people are in positions they can create the most value. 

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