What services will experience the largest growth in 2020 in Oman?
The largest growth in 2020 will be in exploration because large-scale exploration has not been done in Oman. The entire country has total exploration of around 125,000m of drilling, and it should develop 40,000-50,000m per year and is currently moving in that direction. To discover minerals, you have to do exploration, and for that local geologists are needed. We are training and developing Omani geologists. We already have a great team, and that is key, as we cannot do exploration based on a 30-day visa since it is a long-term commitment. Other than that, there is a need for innovation, which we are working on internally, doing a great deal of software development and AI. There are many technologies in mining that can improve one's efficiencies and cut costs as the commodity price cannot be controlled. The only thing one can do is reduce costs through innovative technologies such as drone-based surveying, monitoring, satellite mapping, and drone-based geophysics.
What room for improvement is there in terms of collaboration between the public and private sector in the local mining industry?
We bring in the latest technology and software and use it in our work across Oman. Moreover, when big companies come in, they bring in new ideas and training opportunities, sustainable development, and smart mining. However, the ease of doing business must improve. The Public Authority of Mining has been unnecessarily loaded with many compliances. In mining, there should be licenses for just two things: the mining license, which falls under the Public Authority of Mining, and environmental clearance. Right now, companies have to apply to the Public Authority of Mining, which is responsible for getting approval from nine other industries that do not know the importance of mining. If we have in place environment clearance, then the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs can be responsible to ensure mining is being done in an environmentally friendly way instead of not handing out licenses. In other countries, it is easy and quick to apply for a license. According to the new mining law, a license can be provided in 60 days compared to between 60 days and 60 months in the past.
What can the mining consulting industry offer in terms of Omanization?
Mining is a priority sector for the government, though there is neither a mining education center in the country nor a single mining engineer student. The first thing the country needs to do is develop its own people as one cannot grow their industry with expats. Expats can come and train in the short term but cannot run the show for the country. Oman has a long-term vision, and it needs to be developed by training young Omanis and encouraging entrepreneurs to enter mining. Our Omanization rate is at 95%, and every month we are hiring, developing, and training in-house. We have experience working in 68 countries and plan to send some of our trainees to international projects to gain more exposure. We have transformed the industry, as five years ago there were no private consulting firms.
What is the potential of the software development division of mining consultancy firms in 2020 to improve the business?
Exploration data in the past was all handwritten, and we are still converting data to digital in Oman. The country therefore has lost money; a dynamic exploration database is required that is smart and monitors the process. If Oman does not do this, it cannot proceed further. If it does not analyze or quality control a sample, it will not be fit for purpose. We do this with automation of the field management. When an issue is flagged, we can call an operator remotely, so efficiency management is about monitoring one's equipment with software.