With different businesses facing different challenges solution providers are being forced to shun the one-size-fits-all product development strategy and adopt a COTS first approach, feels Geoff Wade, Natural Resources Manager, Esri
What is the role of commercial GIS software versus in-house development in the mining sector?
They both play a significant role. Over the years, we have realised that many corporations need easy to deploy, configurable ‘template-style’ solutions, specifically focused on their common business related functions. But that’s tricky since different businesses face different challenges. There are, however, some core workflow functions that are common across departments and companies. We have, therefore, been working closely with our user community to deliver a core (COTS) spatial platform capability. Recently, we developed a set of configurable/extendable workflow oriented templates to give our users a jump-start on specific workflow applications. Users can simply ‘configure’ from a template — rather than start from scratch — to build a desired application. We also want to work with our business partners to extend this framework and provide a platform which suits their needs and help them to leverage their expertise and specialties. In summary, I believe today’s approach is COTS first, configured second, in-house development ‘only if absolutely required’.
What is the level of customisation that is often requested by mining companies? Are your services tailor-made for each?
Many mining customers today use Esri software as is — straight out of the box. Indeed that’s how most customers begin their first GIS projects. Over time, such projects can become more complex. Information and workflows may warrant integration and more formal information management practices may be applied. Therefore, a GIS platform today needs to be flexible enough to provide a simple starting point for some, and a rigorous corporate (global) platform for others. The mantra is: while no customisation is required; plenty is possible. We are working with the community to develop configurable templates that help new and established users deploy straight-forward spatial solutions to common business challenges; and thereby limit service offerings infrastructure, spatial data management, or implementation advice.
What is the role of mine modelling in planning future exploitation activities?
The role of mine modelling in a broad sense is critical. We have been working with many customers, and strategic partners like Geosoft, Spatial Dimension and aQuire, to help develop regional exploration plans, prospect inventories, lease positions, drilling programs, etc. — but ultimately, it’s about 3D modelling of the ore body for exploitation. Esri has some terrific capabilities in 3D, but we are not specialists in mine modeling. Therefore we look up to our strategic partners to leverage both our platform and their own specialist and sophisticated modelling capabilities to provide much of the desired functionalities. This is an active area of research for us and we are looking to develop appropriate partnerships in this space driven by broad community requests. Once the mine is in operation, GIS very much plays a role in real-time operations efficiency, health and safety, environmental compliance, etc.
Does open source play any role?
To Esri, the term ‘open source’ refers to something that can be modified (extended, customised) because its design is publicly accessible. As we develop our platform for use within the geospatial community, we understand that there will always be a need for integration and customisation.
To this end, Esri has invested heavily in many open initiatives. We have released open specifications ( example, the shapefile format), Open APIs (the Geoservices REST API, the File Geodatabase API), an open community for geospatial collaboration ( geonet.esri.com) and a wide variety of source code that we have open sourced (these include Esri’s contributions to libraries such as GDAL, contributions to supporting open-source web APIs etc.). A large chunk of Esri’s efforts in the open source area can be seen in the popular Github repository. Without a doubt, almost all large domains of interest (mining included), will find that there is appreciable value in investing in a comprehensive platform that leverages open patterns.
What is level of utilisation of software by small players?
Esri software today is used by a very wide array of customers — from independent exploration consultants to the largest corporations. The starting point for many in the past was a single ArcView licence. Today, it may well be a SaaS web app, and in the future perhaps the experience will be seamless between your office desktop and your chosen PDA/tablet. The important thing is that there is an easy and low-cost entry point for new/small players, which allows them to get going swiftly and deliver real value for critical tasks. They can then build gradually on this infrastructure as needs expand. Configurable templates designed for purpose in concert with the mining community and a cooperative ecosystem of partners is one way of assuring we deliver targeted value no matter the size of customer.
What is the cost of software and RoI?
The software stack is componentised and available for a single desktop install starting at about $1000, and is expandable to a global enterprise agreement for large corporations and all their staff. No matter the size of install, the most important issue is always ROI. We are working closely with our mining community users to understand their common requirements; and build intuitive, easy to deploy, workflow oriented solution templates that assure excellent ROI. Such solutions may come with a data-model, a configurable web-app, and a guide to swiftly deploy and gain value. They are being designed to deliver specific information products that answer critical, metric based KPI’s for prioritised workflows – because we know customers don’t have time to build such apps themselves. This collaborative work with our mining community is user priority driven, focused specifically on getting critical jobs done, and thus delivers tremendous ROI.