by George Nott

Miner Newcrest digs Watson Explorer for finding answers buried in 10M documents

Sep 05, 2018
Artificial IntelligenceBig DataCareers

Australian miner Newcrest, one of the largest gold mining companies in the world, has announced it has rolled out IBM’s ‘cognitive exploration and content analysis platform’ Watson Explorer.

The technology is helping the firm’s employees find information buried in 50 years’ worth of geological surveys, environmental impact studies, and complex reports and documents on safety and assets.

The IBM solution has been in use within Newcrest since December 2016, the company revealed today, enabling them to ask conversational questions such as “Where are our largest reserves in Africa that are a particular grade?” and “What reports do we have around geothermic safety in our biggest mine?”

Watson Explorer is being used by around 30 per cent of Newcrest employees to search for best answers in more than 10 million documents. The number of documents is set to increase, the miner said, as additional document sets are added.

“Previously the expertise of our team of incredibly skilled professionals was being lost in the huge volumes of information we were producing, much of which we knew could be repeatable across projects,” said Gavin Wood, chief information officer at Newcrest. “Watson Explorer is helping us unlock that expertise, through everyday verbal commands, on an ongoing basis.”

The miner gave the example of employees producing a geothermic safety study for a particular mine which would usually require several subject-matter experts and significant cost.

“This required evaluating the impact of factors such as atmospheric conditions and storms, noise levels and the introduction of new equipment,” the company said.

Using Watson, the miner’s experts can quickly find earlier reports that previously were ‘hidden’ or not easily accessible.

“These earlier studies can often meet around 95 per cent of the new requirements, enabling the company to reduce the need for duplicate research, while being able to tap into past expertise and insight,” Newcrest said.

IBM Watson has been used in a similar way by Australian oil and gas giant, Woodside, since 2015 in what is said to be the largest commercial instance of the tool. At the resources company the Watson engine is being used to analyse about 200 million pages of technical documents and reports.

Newcrest, which operates mines in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, claims to be the first mining company to roll out Watson Explorer.

“Newcrest is very proud to be the first mining company to successfully implement this innovative technology,” Wood added.

The company is making a significant investment in technology and ‘digital developments’ to “enable safety improvements, reduce the time and cost to conduct research, and allow employees to focus on higher value tasks”.

“Our digital evolution is focused on high-value opportunities, integrated tightly with business improvement initiatives,” Wood explained.

A number of Australian firms and government agencies are using or experimenting with Watson Explorer including Westpac, UBank, the Department of Defence and Deakin University. A number have since halted trials.

“Newcrest is a leader in the mining sector, both in Australia and globally; this is a powerful example of a miner using Watson Explorer to unlock the hidden value in corporate memory,” said Tim Gunnell, IBM Analytics director.

“Ultimately the solution provides the company with greater productivity and sustainability in balancing the economic, environmental and social practices of their business,” he said.