by Johan Theron, Director at Deloitte Consulting
The new mining environment in South Africa and Africa is all about entrepreneurial flair and fast reaction to volatile commodity markets. These miners want flexible, scalable and affordable back-office support.
This article was written by Johan Theron at Deloitte Consulting. If you have any questions or would like to arrange a more detailed discussion, contact Johan at firstname.lastname@example.org or +27 12 482 0514
It seems like there is a new scramble for Africa under way at the moment. Africa’s rapidly urbanising and increasingly affluent populations are certainly an attractive potential consumer market, but the real driver is global hunger for Africa’s mineral wealth. There’s also no doubt that Africa’s attractiveness as a market for goods and services also ultimately depends on the profits from mining Africa’s minerals.
The markets may be hungry for African minerals but they are also highly volatile—and look set to remain so. Long-term planning is thus much more difficult, but mining still requires significant long-term investment. Strong demand has also bred strong competition: it is now feasible to exploit smaller, less concentrated ore bodies. As a result, there are many more mining operations across the continent, and ownership is not nearly as concentrated as it once was. In part, at least, this trend is driven by Africa’s determination to participate much more actively in the mining value chain in order to ensure that more benefits remain on the continent.
In South Africa, in particular, the need for black economic empowerment has seen the birth of many junior miners, some of which have been hived off from larger entities. However they were formed, these ventures are primarily aimed at spreading South Africa’s economic wealth more broadly.
This changing mining landscape is driving the emergence of a new breed of entrepreneurial miners.
A new breed of miner
These new-generation miners are a far cry from the traditional mining houses with their impressive head offices and centralised, highly skilled finance, HR and IT teams. The new miners are building up their businesses—thus they are concentrated on exploration, followed by the creation of the infrastructure to support a mining operation and get the product to market.
All of this activity is, one should not forget, taking place at a time of severe fiscal constraint. Overheads thus need to be kept low, and fixed costs are much preferred because they make planning much easier. At the same time, as I noted earlier, demand has bred fierce competition: these companies definitely need to be run efficiently and to meet their delivery commitments.
These conditions place executives in a tight spot. Their main focus has to be entrepreneurial as they help to clinch new deals and partnerships, and generally create the strategy needed to prosper. They don’t have time to worry about day-to-day back-office operations although, at the same time, of course, they are dependent on them for cash flow.
A long established solution to challenges of this nature is, of course, to outsource some of the vital but non-core processes like payroll, HR or IT. Talking to these executives, it becomes apparent that payroll and IT are the processes most outsourced, but that other processes are rapidly catching up. The benefits include reduced risk and increased efficiencies—not to mention cost savings that, in our experience at Deloitte, can reach 30%. Benefits also include the flexibility to scale operations up or down according to business strategy, better regulatory compliance, a stronger control environment and access to global skills as needed.
Next-generation mining outsourcing for next-generation miners
Mining is one of the engines of our country’s and Africa’s future prosperity. I believe that this new breed of miner cries out for a new outsourcing model in which the key non-core back office processes are outsourced to a single vendor. The reason behind this thinking is, I think, compelling.
The first element of this thinking is that mining companies need to standardise on best practices appropriate to their sector. The days of extensive (and expensive) customisation are over. Both the systems and the back-office processes they enable should become background utilities comparable to water and electricity.
This is a welcome development because at one stroke it prevents companies from remaining hostage to the status quo—especially as the status quo might not have been optimal in the first place. It also means that software upgrades are easy and quick as there is no need to undergo the expensive customisation process each time.
Another key driver for today’s miners is the need to be able to predict costs accurately. This ability helps protect the bottom line and gives companies the flexibility to invest in their core activities.
Pulling all of this thinking together, I would propose the creation of an integrated solution based on an enterprise system that is preconfigured with best-practice mining processes. I would argue that it makes sense to outsource the financial processes that are enabled by this preconfigured system to the same vendor—along with the necessary IT infrastructure. It’s a winning approach because it enables process efficiencies across what is essentially a tightly integrated ecosystem. Along with these process efficiencies come significant cost reductions, as well as an easy-to-manage relationship with a single vendor.
The benefits for the next-generation mining house are manifold. As I have made clear, these operators are entrepreneurial in nature and are heavily into the investment phase of their life cycles. This type of approach gives them the freedom to focus on their core business strategy, secure in the knowledge that their non-core business back office operations are taken care of—and are optimised for the mining environment. The fixed, “pay as you go” cost structure means that CFOs can plan better, and can focus their efforts on growth activities.
A solution constructed along these lines has the advantage of being quick to implement (anything from four to six months would be standard, in our experience)—and it gives the small or mid-sized mining house a Rolls-Royce engine that it does not need to own or manage, but that that will give it the power it needs to do great things. Deloitte makes pioneering on the world’s final investment frontier easy.
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