McKinsey & Company partner Oliver Ramsbottom said COVID-19 had driven an acceleration in the adoption of technology and digital but this was not the sole key to success.
"I think the quote by the CEO of Microsoft that we've seen two years of digital transformation happen in two months really sums up how quickly this move towards digital has occurred," he said.
He said innovations were increasing, such as the use of drones for geological mapping and start-ups emerging to focus on areas including cognitive AI, crunching volumes of data to accelerate exploration programmes and increase success rates.
"Unsurprisingly, in an industry where the average life of a junior is only two years, success is everything - that's to say that continued funding very much relies upon successful exploration and drilling programmes," he said.
However his reference to a short lifespan for the average junior was disputed in the accompanying live chat, with PDAC being held as a virtual event for the first time in its 89-year history.
Ramsbottom said the sector tended to be cyclical and had historically delivered poor returns to investors but there was "significant potential" for technology and digital tech enablement to drive improvements in productivity and success rates.
"But we'd also point out that technology is not the silver bullet," he said.
"It's one part of a holistic system that needs to be deployed to bring the productivity improvements in exploration that both investors and mining operators demand."
‘You would never buy a house based on a picture'
VRIFY CEO and Integra Resources chairman Steve de Jong said better technology meant explorers could bring drill results to life in their company announcements.
He compared an eight-page data-heavy release with one including a 3D model, which demonstrated where drill results were in relation to an existing resource to provide better context.
"We've always had this data, but only in recent years have we had the tools to be able to communicate effectively," he said.
He believed the trend towards the visualisation of data would continue to accelerate.
"One of the best things I can equate it to, is you would never buy a house just based on a picture … you really need the full story," he said.
"And this is not me trying to say kind of every mining stock, every investment, is essentially a sink hole, that's not the case - it just makes no sense to be making investment decisions like real estate off this sort of this tunnel vision of information."
400 jobs going
It was important to find the right people with the right skill sets and be able to communicate information effectively, the session heard.
"With over 400 job openings for Canadian geology-related jobs on LinkedIn today, it's no secret there is a people and skills shortage and now this poses an immediate and future risk for companies," Orix Geoscience president, CEO and principal geologist Ashley Kirwan told the session.
Speakers agreed there were numerous issues to address regarding data, including transforming valuable historical information into quality data, data management and input, such as current core logging practices and methods for data collection being "highly variable".
"As an industry we know that the cost of discovery is increasing," Corescan chief geologist Cari Deyell-Wurst said.
"This is driven by a number of factors, including remote projects, social and environmental challenges.
"We are drilling more, but are we extracting as much value as possible from the material that we collect?
"Well the answer is a definite no."
She, Kirwan, de Jong and Seequent's Janina Elliott and Rose Pearson all outlined their companies' various technological advances aiming to improve data efficiency and management.
"This really is an exciting time to be part of this industry, change is happening and it's happening quickly," Deyell-Wurst said.