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Transforming data into discovery: Vale's vision to turn exploration information into a corporate asset

Earth Explorer Q&A

Vale's vision to turn exploration information into a corporate asset

Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (Vale), the second-largest diversified mining and metals company in the world, is turning exploration information into a corporate asset, with a solution that focuses on three simple goals: quality, security and flow.

In this Q&A, we ask Ana Maria Goncalves, information manager for Vale's exploration and project development division, to discuss how her company is ensuring it gets the most value out of data.

Vale Solution Overview

Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (Vale) joined forces with Geosoft Global Solutions Group to develop an exploration information management solution that met their need for data quality, security and efficient flow to regional exploration teams for opportunity development. They began with an extensive review of their diverse data and client needs within exploration and resource allocation. Their solution combines a family of technology platforms, to create one corporate infrastructure for their exploration information management.

A data architecture and metadata management system organizes and stores geophysical and exploration data in Geosoft DAP Server. The DAP Server also provides a standard way to archive and access all their georeferenced data, including drillhole and geochemical databases.

Vale is using Geosoft's integrated exploration software suite, Oasis montaj and Target for ArcGIS, for their data visualization, integration, mapping and analysis. Having used Oasis montaj for more than 16 years, the company has built vast resources of data in the Geosoft format. GIS is used extensively for data integration within their exploration projects and the Geosoft Target for ArcGIS extension allows their geoscientists to easily view and work with all their exploration data in the GIS environment.

With their information management solution, Vale is addressing the global organization's need for corporate standards and consolidated exploration data management, while providing better access to tools and data for exploration project development.

What is your vision for transforming Vale's exploration information into a corporate asset?

A few years ago, we envisioned creating a global information management mandate. At that time, we had many of the elements in place (exploration software, GIS, databases) but no cohesive strategy for exploration information. Also, Vale as a global exploration organization was not yet a reality. Today the corporation has regional offices around the globe. With our growth and globalization, the need to consolidate and manage the flow of data has also grown.

We created an information management area in our exploration division, to address the requirement for standards and practices in how we collect, organize, process, store and manage our information. Our vision is based on understanding and supporting the diversity of exploration needs. In our organization, many different people need to access to exploration data, including field and project geologists, geophysicists, analysts and engineers. They all differ in how they work with and interpret data. There is value in that diversity. Our information management strategy must balance the corporate need for greater transparency of data and decision-making with the needs of our exploration professionals.

When you looked at delivering greater value through information - where did you start?

First we needed standard procedures and policies to address the basic issues of security, quality and data flow, both internal and external. We identified the different types of data that were most important to exploration, as well as the flow and use of data through the exploration project cycle. Once we understood the information, we identified the best tools and platforms for dealing with it. We then identified the integration that was needed to create a solution for Vale.

From the start, we saw our role as providing the resources, processes and technologies to help people organize data. We're currently establishing data specialist roles in various regions of the world. We also have a team in Brazil that provides data support for exploration projects. On the technology side, we are well underway with getting the technology platforms in place, and a key focus now is communication and training.

Vale's vision to turn exploration information into a corporate asset

Vale is the world's largest iron ore miner.

How important is information management to the future of exploration at Vale?

It is essential. In exploration, we generate technical information and knowledge that show the value of projects. This information is confidential and strategic. That said, we need to understand, organize and manage our data as a corporate asset.

More and more, exploration companies are looking at information as an asset. When you consider that companies are spending more money and yet discovering less, it stands to reason that data management would be used to gain a competitive advantage.

The exploration industry is cyclical by nature, and these cycles can take their toll on historical data. Information management protects the value of data in the long term.

Among your new initiatives, which have demonstrated the greatest business value? What advantages have you seen?

We have seen great advantage in having a system for data maintenance, storage and security. Basically, we have a lot of data, and the ability to put it all into our Geosoft DAP server means that we don't have to rely on CDs, DVDs, or the individual who last worked with the data.

For the longer term, we are building an information asset that will continue to deliver value in the future. Having main datasets and meta data within our DAP system means we can track and access data in a standard way, as well as identify the latest version.

For management, there is also the value of transparency - knowing what information we have and where it is - and that it is all stored in a secure system. These benefits are a reflection of our three goals of data quality, security and flow.

Outside of data management, we have seen a lot of benefit from our use of Geosoft's Target exploration software for ArcGIS. Target for ArcGIS has come to play a big role as the link between GIS and exploration.

What are the biggest challenges your organization faces in building Information Management infrastructure to support Vale exploration?

Vale's vision to turn exploration information into a corporate asset

Aerial View of Vale's Sossego Copper Mine.

There are challenges with any change in how you do things. Support from management is critical to making change happen. Information management needs to be part of the company's plan.

Bringing people into a new environment is always a challenge. In our case, we didn't change our core exploration applications but we did move away from using technologies that some of our people were used to. This challenge is quickly resolved with the right training, information and support.

For information management to work, you need collaboration, and achieving the right level of communication and relationships takes time. We need to continually support the use of information management and demonstrate the positive outcomes at all levels. At the end of the day, it's all about providing solutions that improve the business of exploration.