When modellers collaborate, they work faster and think smarter. But getting them to share is not as easy as it sounds. The process needs to be effortless and automatic to deliver the best results, says Seequent Senior Technical Leader Julia Oliveira.

It’s hard to overstate how important collaboration is in our industry. Modelling is not a one-person game, or even a one-team game. When you try to model by yourself that only makes it harder, and that’s because geology is not a one-person truth.

You need to be open to let the data talk, and I do believe that if you try to do that all by yourself, you are going to miss opportunities and miss possibilities. It’s when you can discuss your model with other people that you begin to see sides of the data that maybe you didn’t notice before. Perhaps you haven’t got the knowledge to realise what the data is really telling you. Maybe your head wasn’t in the right space the time you first looked at it.

When you develop a model for a big mine you need to discuss it with another geologist because it’s a huge challenge and it’s impossible to know everything. When you can show what you’re doing to a coworker and talk it over, that’s what gets you modelling faster.

However, while geologists are incredible and talented people, we are used to working by ourselves, so sharing our knowledge is not always a natural habit for us.

For example, I once remember a client telling me he was planning on moving all his short term and long-term engineers to sit together. They weren’t talking to each other and it was the only way he could think of to make them do it!

Changing perspectives on collaboration

This is one of the reasons I think Central can work so effectively for the mining industry. It can change the perspective on collaboration and do it quietly in the background but really well. Geologists don’t need to do the hard work to share their knowledge. They just put up their model and tells the story. Central takes on that role of nudging them to share by making it easier and almost automatic. They start to see the benefits and then they embrace it.

In that example of the client and his teams, Central was able to break down the barriers that moving desks alone couldn’t. Suddenly those two teams were talking to each other. It’s amazing when you watch a technology transform how a company operates and how the workflow just becomes easier.

So, attitudes are shifting, even in an industry like mining that can be slow to change. I think it’s coming from two directions. Some companies know they need to change the way they go about exploration and observation. Technology has had to develop in order to solve that problem for them. But I’ve also found that in other mines it’s about showing them how technology such as Central works, and then they go ‘hey, we could do this with it.’

The secret is not to scare people. Don’t say: “Hey, I have a new technology. You should all be using it.” Instead say: “Hey, let me show you something really cool”, and leave it there. Then they start using it and say, ‘oh, it’s solved that problem where I couldn’t send my model to that person; oh, I’m modelling faster now; oh, I don’t need to do backups; oh, I know where my data is coming from…’ and so on.

Helping modellers read each other’s minds

As a geologist, what’s amazing about Central is you can go to the software and see the whole story of the model – how it was built, sometimes even see what the geo was thinking when he or she was building it. You get your mind blown sometimes, and if you have all the models tracked, it’s incredible.

So, while mining is an industry that moves slowly, at the same time I think it’s an industry that has become aware it needs to change. You can’t deliver a model in six months anymore. You need to deliver it in two, or even less.

That’s the big challenge. How can you deliver that speed and still be ‘friendly’? By that I mean, how can you encourage people to collaborate more closely without completely breaking the workflows they have become used to? How can you adapt to the workflows people are already using? How can you help them to find their own way, rather than forcing a completely new way of working on them?

I think that’s one of the big secrets of Central’s success; it’s very good at adapting to different types of realities, different types of companies and different types of teams. It helps people to change; it doesn’t force them to. It helps people share by making it easier. It helps modellers not just collaborate but want to collaborate when they see how much easier their work is as a result.