for Workflow Management
A lot has been written recently about the drastic changes taking place
in the mineral exploration industry. Most of these changes are due
to the fact that the exploration community has stumbled onto the proverbial
“information super-highway”. The focus is shifting from data collection to working with data to achieve project outcomes. There already is a whole bunch
of geo-data, of all kinds and shapes, accumulated in various archives
and storages. The tricky part is finding these data, making them compatible
with one another, and processing them in an effective and consistent
way. The resulting data set guides you to your exploration targets.
Not surprisingly, the geo-software market is flooded with tools that
support this new approach: gridding applications such as Surfer, GIS
such as ArcGIS and MapInfo, and highly specialized, power mapping
systems such as Oasis montaj.
These data management applications enable you to harness the different
types of data to achieve your goal. What about the different types
of users? What, for example, will happen if you give a geoscientist
several chunks of data in different formats and ask him or her to
process these data? Given time and a proper set of tools, he or she
will convert, sort, filter, and otherwise tweak the data, and finally
present them to the world in a uniform format that will make perfect
exploration sense – to this geoscientist. In all likelihood,
this format will not make the same sense to any of his or her colleagues.
On the other hand, if you give the same set of data to several different
geoscientists, they will most probably re-process and use these data
in totally different ways.
A direct consequence of the exploration community joining the IT-ruled
world is division of responsibilities. Gone are the days when the
same bearded geo-genius would plan a survey, do the field work, and
then process the collected data and write a report. Today, surveys
are planned by suit-and-tie office dwellers, field measurements are
performed by designated field teams, and the data are processed by
number-crunchers at a computer center. All the above individuals do
not necessarily work in the same office and meet twice a day by the
coffee machine. They might be (and often are) in the different cities,
countries, and even time zones. They might not know each other personally.
They might come from totally different educational and professional
backgrounds. The only way to make the data flow from one team to the
other consistent and efficient is to instill rigid processing rules
– in other words, to use workflow management.
Several months ago, I was contracted by a North European exploration
company to carry out a geophysical survey, and assist in a geochemical
survey, at their gold-bearing concession in East Africa. In the concession
region, gold is associated with disseminated sulphides hosted in quartz
veins, which are located in certain rock types within the local metamorphic
belt. Strategically, not a very complex task: magnetic measurements
to delineate geological structures, then IP over the structurally
promising areas to find the sulphide-rich zones, then soil and rock
sampling for gold over the sulphides.
The real complexity was introduced by my customer’s organizational
structure and by my position within it. I was stuck between the very
old-school, methodical, “by-the-book” European management,
and a vigorous, inexperienced, slightly fatalistic African field team.
My duties included training the field team in the necessary data acquisition
techniques, receiving and processing the field data in Toronto, and
submitting reports and recommendations to the management.
The management’s approach to any task was “The rules must
be observed. If the task takes a month instead of a week – so
be it.” Conversely, the field team’s approach to the same
task was “The job must be done before the end of the working
day. If some rules get bent or broken in the process – so be
it.” My approach – forged in Russia and hardened in Canada
– is “The result must make sense and be ready by the deadline.
If this means a sleepless night or two – so be it.” It
was clear that, to bring all of us to a common denominator, we had
to have a well-defined workflow. I ordered Geosoft’s Oasis montaj
software and got busy building this workflow.
Oasis montaj offers a rich layer of features that can be used to define
and instill workflows. Some of the features I used were:
Database and map templates – a template unambiguously
defines how the data are imported, stored, processed, presented,
and exported. If all the involved parties use the same template,
you are not likely to be surprised by date/time values presented
as integers in a database, or spend hours wondering why the Northern
half of your site is shown in a map in ARC 1960, and the Southern
half in WGS-84.
Sets of default values for databases, grids, maps, etc. –
serve as a safety net for those operations and entities not covered
by templates. If one group along the workflow chain introduces
an exotic entity, such as multi-component 3D view, using default
values, another group can easily decipher and reproduce that entity.
Quality control tool (for IP data) – helps quickly identify
and analyze invalid or questionable field data. For example, one
of the tricks IP might play is including negative potential values
in the IP curve. The minus sign in these values is not apparent
on the IP receiver screen. The montaj QC tool makes these values
“Locking” mechanism for database columns –
prevents users from making inadvertent changes to the column values.
This is a foolproof method to preserve the “vanilla”
field data across the numerous interpretation procedures.
So far, the established workflow is doing its job – keeping
everybody gainfully busy, and delivering results across the globe
on time and with little need for explanations. The measure of success,
as I see it, is the average number of weekly phone calls from one
team to another – it is pretty close to zero. Hopefully, our
workflow will hold when gold starts showing in the survey area and
fun begins for real.