All jokes aside, now heading into the twilight years of my career I have the unique honour of being asked my opinion about various subjects in my area of experience and some may say expertise. For anyone that knows me, you will get that I am driven from a place of always trying to do what is right by my customer and this conversation is less about technology and more about process.
While some may see my blog title as sarcastic or tongue in cheek, my point is to create some thought about who do you work for? And, is what I am doing right now bringing value to the shareholders now or in the future? If I am working on the strategic aspects of the business cycle, am I acting in the smartest way possible?
The challenges and impact of a proof of concept on your operations
This brings me to the conversation about Proof of Concept (PoC) or Evaluation Trials of technology.
Here are a few points in bullet form:
• Almost any vendor can make a limited wireless pilot look extremely good if they have complete control over the operational scenario and the environment (one or two clients sending data does not rate as a true use case demonstration);
• Pilots rarely demonstrate a true operational use case and so run a very high risk of future failure if adopted on a larger scale;
• Customers almost always never gain complete organisational buy in to enable success which conversely almost guarantees a failure;
• Proof of concept projects are often poorly defined, scoped and budgeted for which then typically leads to a failed attempt;
• The operational impact of running a pilot on a production site should never be underestimated.
I could go on. There are lots of papers about how to succeed with technology and the common denominator for all impartial papers all start with a conversation about understanding the business problem you are trying to solve, then launch into a discussion about process, people and culture (stakeholder engagement) and lastly system requirements. One very good paper I can point to can be found here: AUSIMM White Paper and while the discussion is around completely different subject matter, the concept is the same.
Moving away from a PoC to education and peer networking
So what is the message that I am trying to convey? Where ever possible, avoid a vendor’s offer of a proof of concept or free trial. Nothing is ever free. There is a far less costly, less risky and higher chance of success approach available to an operation that will produce a far greater and much better use of your time that will bring true value to your business. Here are a few key points.
• Do the work to properly define your business requirements to address your operational and business objectives;
• Understand your full scope of technical requirements;
• Take the time to engage your departments and stakeholders. Enrol them in the business case and the journey of change;
• Map your business and operational requirements to known solutions to start narrowing your selection criteria;
• Create the criteria for success in your project to enable you to conduct an effective vendor engagement process;
• Do the research for reputable solution providers/systems integrators with domain expertise and track record of success with the applications you are looking to integrate and operate. Often word of mouth in the mining community is a great source of recommendation;
• Develop a learning relationship with your likely vendors to identify the value proposition from each. What solutions have they delivered in the past, where have they delivered, how do they deliver, what is their technical leadership and capability, do they work well with the various equipment OEM’s;
• Ask to go and visit some of your vendors’ reference sites. If your candidate doesn’t have one return to the previous bullet point, then ask them again about their experience;
• The right vendor will likely share their knowledge so that you will understand all the challenges and pitfalls of your project as learned by themselves in working on similar projects amongst their customer base;
• Yes, in the end, as our technology partners would agree, it’s the domain expertise that makes the solution, not generic labor, so sole source justification is a process you will likely need to go through with your procurement team which will require a well-documented process and business case (please read all the above bullet points).
In summing up, unless you are a leading-edge R&D innovator, there will be countless operating examples of something similar to what you are trying to achieve in your own business. Going out and networking with other mining operations and colleagues to discover lessons learned and what works for others will not only achieve a faster result at a lower cost, it will look good at the next shareholders AGM.