This blog is the Part 2 continuation of the post from last week regarding software tools that the mining people should take a look at. Here are a few more ideas that I would like to share, having found that these are also great to have in your toolbox.
Google Sheets and Google Docs: When undertaking group reviews of spreadsheets or text documents don’t many of us have frustrations? We typically end up with different versions of the same document floating around and nobody knows which one is the most recent version and which one they should be editing. With Google Sheets and Google Docs you can create online spreadsheets and documents and then allow people on your team to review and edit them in real-time online. Writing reports gets simpler since there is only one version of the document with which everyone is working. A “track changes” option is still there (called “Suggesting”) and everyone can see the edits as they are being made. No more asking “who has the most current version?” it’s always there on-line. This type of collaborative editing is also great for certain types of spreadsheets as well as for Design Criteria Documents that are regularly being updated by different team members.
Foxit Reader: This is an alternative to Adobe Reader and can be used for reviewing PDF documents, whether text documents or drawings. Foxit provides great editing and commenting tools like highlighting text, adding comments, drawing lines and boxes, adding comment balloons, cut & pasting images into the PDF file, and then saving the commented version. For the most part I have stopped using Adobe Reader and have now switched over to Foxit.
UberConference: This is an online application for team conference calling that allows screen sharing, online conversations, sends out meeting reminders, and it will call participants at the require time. Watch the video on their website to gain a better understanding; it’s entertaining and true to life.
Those are a few of the software tools that I have found useful and so now you’re probably wondering “what else is out there for me?” The website The Freelance Stack lists many of different tools that exist. Check them out and some of the others may be of value to you. :
One of the key marketing approaches used by most of the tech companies is to provide a fully functional product for free and then charge money to access the enhanced features. The objective is to get future users familiarized and trained on the system, and then they will decide that they wish to upgrade their capability and so pay for the full product suite. I’m not sure if any geology or mining software is available in a basic functional format enabling optional upgrading. By functional, I don’t mean simply providing a “viewer” to view the work of others or a 30-day trial period, I mean actual software that provides some actual useful capability for free in order to get you hooked.
My bottom line is that there is a lot of good stuff out there, readily available, much of it free, and it can make managing your project teams easier. Just because it’s related to the tech industry, don’t assume it wouldn’t have an application in the mining industry.
As part of a new side business venture I have been working alongside a team of website and mobile app developers. It has been a good learning experience for me to see how the tech teams do things versus how the mining consulting industry conducts its business. We know there is a lot of private equity money flowing into tech and not mining, so they must be doing something right.
The tech start-up industry has developed its own set of jargon, like agile management, lean start-ups, disruption, minimum viable products, pings, and sprints. Some of their key methodologies would not make sense for the mining industry where one doesn’t have the luxury of trial-and-error and customer feedback to help complete your project. For software development, the attitude is get it out the door fast and your customers will then tell you what fixes they want to see. In mining you need to get it right the first time (hopefully). Having said that, some mining people will say they have seen 43-101 technical reports that follow the “wait for customer feedback” model.
Now where the tech industry can provide us with some useful advice is in the use of project management and collaboration tools. The software developers often work remotely and so make heavy use of the technology that exists or they develop new technology tools to meet their needs. Mining teams are starting to work from remote offices more often these days.
The following is a partial list (Part 1) of free software tools that I have used recently, mainly because I was forced to by the tech teams. Subsequently I have found the tools easy to use and most definitely some can be applied in our own industry, especially with diverse mining study teams. There are a lot more tech tools out there but my list includes the ones that I have personally come in contact with. Most of these are free to use with limited features and enhanced features are available if you subscribe to the full version at minimal cost. However even the free versions are useful and can be used to train your team. Most of them provide both web based and app based access so even when you’re on the road you can still use them and contribute to the team.
Trello: If you want to create a task list for your team, this is the app to use. Imagine a bunch of yellow post-it notes that you can put under various project categories, assign persons to each note, attached a file if you wish, and then have back and forth discussions within each note. Then once a task is done, just drag the note to another category (e.g. “In Progress”, “Completed”). Anyone or selected people can create a note or provide comment. See the image below for an example Trello screenshot.
Slack: If you want to have a running record of group discussions that all or only selected team members can follow and join in on, then Slack is for you. It can replace the long confusing back-and-forth emails that we commonly see, when people sometimes forget to “reply all” so now you’re out of the loop. See the image below for an example Slack screenshot. It’s great for discussions amongst the team and you can have private one-on-one discussions or wide open team discussions and can attached files too. It provides permanent record of discussions or decisions made.
Basecamp: is similar program that incorporates features from both the above and some people swear by this tool. I have not personally used it so cannot vouch for it, but some say it is very good. Watch the video on their website describing what it can do.
My bottom line is that there is a lot of good stuff out there, readily available, much of it free, and can facilitate the management of your project teams. Just because its tech industry related, don’t assume it wouldn’t have an application in the mining world. Next week in Part 2 of this blog, I will describe a few more of the tech tools that I have found useful.
After the Mt Polley and Samarco tailings failures, there have been ongoing conversations about the benefits of filtered or dry stack tailings as the only way to eliminate the risk of catastrophic tailings failure. Mining companies would all like to see a similar risk reduction at their own project. However what mining companies don’t like is the capital and operating costs associated with dry stacking. The dry stack tailings processing cost and the transport cost are both costlier than for conventional tailings disposal and therefore would negatively impact on the overall value of the project. Obviously this reduction in value would get offset against an improved environmental risk and a better closure condition. So what’s a company to do?