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Microsoft targets SA mining sector with AI, cloud technologies

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 16 Sept 2020
Amr Kamel, enterprise director at Microsoft SA.
Amr Kamel, enterprise director at Microsoft SA.

Microsoft has set its sights on SA’s mining industry, aiming to help the sector accelerate digital transformation to improve operations and drive sustainability.

This is according to Amr Kamel, enterprise director at Microsoft SA.

The company says SA’s mining industry has faced challenges in recent years, which have now been compounded by the impact of COVID-19, but it still has the capacity to respond to these hurdles with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud technologies.

Kamel, who hosted a media roundtable yesterday to discuss how technology can transform and reimagine mining in SA, says technology can help improve efficiency and promote innovation to drive productivity in mining.

This follows Microsoft last year opening two data centre regions in SA.

The mining sector is a major contributor to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), tax revenue and employment, and the software maker sees digital transformation as urgent to drive productivity.

“Mining is a critical industry in South Africa. Last year alone, the mining sector employed over 450 000 people, contributed R24.3 billion in taxes and R360.9 billion to GDP,” says Kamel.

“Together with Microsoft partners, we are working to help our customers to navigate three phases – response, recovery and reimagine – in order to maintain continuity, remain open, drive operational performance and create new business models even in the most difficult of circumstances.”

Kamel explains further: “Digital is the future of mining, and the question now is how quickly companies in the sector can transform to drive growth. This requires partnering with technology companies like Microsoft to reimagine solutions that address specific business challenges and improve operational performance and efficiencies.”

Earlier this month, Microsoft launched an AI centre of excellence for a mining facility in Johannesburg, the Mining Core, which it says is the first of its kind in the country and allows organisations to learn about emerging technologies to build and create solutions that help overcome business challenges.

Kamel says combined with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it becomes clear the sector needs solutions that “can shift and boost it to regain its competitiveness and become a key contributor and driver of economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic”.

“Accelerated digital transformation and the introduction of solutions through emerging technologies such as AI, the Internet of things and data analytics have the power to help the industry adapt, reinvent and transform in a sustainable and responsible way.”

According Microsoft, emerging technologies can also help with health and safety, which is always a priority but particularly so in the face of a pandemic.

“Introducing solutions using technologies like autonomous systems such as drones, drills and vehicles, cognitive services and video analytics for safety management, such as detecting if a worker is wearing a hardhat or protective clothing, can make an impact. These kinds of technologies can also be used to support and manage health and safety protocols related to the pandemic, including social distancing and hygiene measures.”

Furthermore, the software giant says mining companies are increasingly using digital solutions to enable sustainable recovery and decrease their environmental footprint, using them to reduce water consumption and waste, and work towards being carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative.

Above all, Kamel says solutions that are introduced need to have responsible digital transformation and AI at their heart.

“Responsible AI needs good guiding principles to ensure that systems are fair, reliable and safe, private and secure, inclusive, transparent and accountable, and we use our rich partner ecosystem to help with this.”