Though mining companies are often reticent to discuss IT projects that positively impact operations — for fear of giving away any competitive advantage those projects might yield — it appears some are happy to share their digital advances with the broader mining IT community.
SAP operates a closed industry group that it uses to drive "co-innovation" around its product set.
"Those kind of workgroups can really be coffee forums or really roll-up-your-sleeves-and-work forums, and we have the latter," Stone said.
"They really hold us accountable to deliver good products and to push the state of the art forward.
"We made the request I think as far back as 2009 that we wanted to have a much closer working model with this group of companies.
"They agreed, and since then we've gone into their operating environments with our product designers and research teams on a near yearly basis to watch how their people are working and to very neatly understand their processes and needs so we can design [our] products differently."
Miners in the group participated with "a very clear understanding and agreement upfront" that capabilities developed under the co-innovation framework will eventually "be available for the entire industry".
"The co-innovation impact on our roadmap is huge," Stone said.
"I'd go so far as to say our roadmap is fundamentally created by the co-innovation activity. It's really that customer pull that's driving us right now."
Stone cites the 'Safety Issue' iOS app as an example of the results of co-innovation.
The free app plugs into a customer's SAP Environment, Health and Safety Management (EHS) system. It allows miners in the pit to use an iPhone to make a "safety observation" in pictures, video or audio and submit that to a safety manager.
"We have customers that have said that they need to be to have their workers enter safety observations in the context of their work," Stone said.
"They can't even leave the context of their work for even five minutes to walk to a kiosk or terminal or go get a form to fill out for a safety observation or near miss, so we created a mobile application [where] you can capture a safety observation in as little as 15 seconds and four taps of your thumb."
Stone said another co-innovation product in development will enable an oil & gas firm to "visualise incidents and near misses" on a "visual representation of the rig".
"We're still in the client-specific side on the visualisation," he said. "Once it's seen as fit for purpose by one customer, it's adopted by many in a rather rapid fashion."
iTnews reported earlier this week that Sydney software house Chocolate Coded is driving augmented reality into mine sites, opening up another front in the drive to mobile, digital systems.
MMG's Peter McLure saw mobile technology as a frontier in the transition to the digital mine.
"There's an opportunity to work with data coming directly out of the [mine] systems," he said.
"I think there are always things IT can do that clearly have payoffs, and step along the way to this digital future.
"We just have to grasp where [these leverage points] are and start working on them."
Stay tuned to iTnews for further pieces on the future of digital technology in mining.