"What the heck is the 'Uberization' of mining?"

This from a new client of mine, a really smart guy who leads strategy for a good-sized mining company upon his return from a conference where ‘Uberization’ was a topic
"What the heck is the 'Uberization' of mining?" "What the heck is the 'Uberization' of mining?" "What the heck is the 'Uberization' of mining?" "What the heck is the 'Uberization' of mining?" "What the heck is the 'Uberization' of mining?"

I explained my point of view on how digital technologies enabled new business models.

"Well," he continued, "how do we figure out this ‘digital' thing?"

That's the third time I've heard that sentiment from clients this month. It's now tied with "we've got to figure out this Trump thing".

The ‘digital thing' is starting to worry people, and for good reason. Big players have been disrupted by digital in retail, financial services and media. Big mining companies have partnered with even bigger tech companies to deliver ‘digital mining'. Boards, investors and consultants are asking CEOs "what's your digital health/readiness?".

Wait. What the heck is digital, anyway?

Ask ten people and you'll get ten different answers, although all will include buzzwords. Digital is the new ‘innovation'; a fuzzy word that means different things to different people.

No wonder, then, that executives scan their peers and listen to ‘experts' with a solution to sell and feel confused. This confusion is leading to piecemeal work; hackathons, technology buys, strategic alliances, but no systemic point of view. This has been done before (see: innovation 2000-2013). 

Back to answering the original question: forget about technology. It's not the key. What is needed is a digital vision, one that supports your strategy and that starts with three components: value, vision and victory.

Value asks the question "what is going to drive value in our business in the future?". Explore how the industry, operations, market and supply and demand can evolve, independent of technology. What problems will you be solving and why? Then determine an understanding of what will drive value for your organisation, where you will find sustainable advantage, and what can stop you from achieving that value.

Vision is a clear systemic view of how emerging technologies can enable the value you have defined as key. This can encompass everything from better decisions (data visualisation, resource knowledge and human collaboration) to better operations (real-time mine data, improving scheduling, flow and analytics and automation). It should, however, be specific to you. Digital is an opportunity to view your business in a new light through new capabilities and ways of interacting, rather than just use new technology to do old things. Future vision in hand, work backwards and create a multi-horizon roadmap that is feasible and outlines the people, process and capabilities required to achieve the vision.

Victory is all about making it happen and laying out the ownership, required infrastructure and plan to achieve buy-in through quick, medium- and long-term wins that will communicate inside and outside the business why, by whom and how the transformation is going to happen. Your digital strategy needs explicit champions, funding and room for trial and error. The hardest part of innovation is the implementation and the same holds true for digital.

With these in hand, you have the beginning of a value-creating digital strategy to inform your approach, including the acquisition of partnerships and technology that will improve the value in your core business and, perhaps even open up new value and opportunities at the fringes of your business.

You know, like Uber. For mining.

George Hemingway is a partner and head of the innovation practice at Stratalis, a growth strategy and innovation consultancy focused on helping leading industrials, including mining companies, to profit from the future. Contact him at George.hemingway@stratalisgroup.com or Twitter: @GeorgeStratalis