Adelaide based Mark Osborne is Business Adviser for the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program, known as EIP. In his role, Mark actively assists companies to better position themselves when targeting the resources industry in South Australia.
Given his inside knowledge of the region’s mining and resource industry, we took the opportunity to ask Mark to share some of his thoughts on the challenges facing the sector and explain where he thinks the next great opportunities will lie for the region in next 5-10 years.
We look forward to welcoming Mark’s involvement and expertise at the 8th Annual Mining South Australia Conference in Whyalla on the 25-26 November.
Q: Firstly, tell us about EIP (Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program) and the aims and objectives for the South Australian Mining, Engineering, Technology and Services (METS) sector? How does EIP measure success?
The Resource EIP has a focus on improving management capability in Small to Medium Enterprises (SME’s) in METS, with a turnover in the range of $1.5 to $100M and who have been in business for at least 3 years. Our clients are often firms that have reached some sort of limit to their growth and productivity, and are searching for new ways to allow the business access to the next phase of growth. Our job is to identify the pathways for improvement and to provide assistance, including grant access in many cases, to overcome the hurdles. We have a few tools in the kitbag to achieve this and our Business Advisers are all very experienced business people with relevant industry experience.
The EIP measures its success in a few ways. We have a strong focus on client satisfaction and Business Evaluations, which is one of the main tools, are the subject of formal survey. On a historical basis and the client satisfaction levels are very high. There are also “client cohort” verses “non-client cohort” measures which also show the client group out-performing the non-client group in average terms. We also take objective measures at the outset and track these through time to see how the clients are progressing.
Q: Your role involves actively assisting companies to better position themselves when targeting the resources industry in the region. What are the common challenges that companies are currently facing given the current market conditions and what strategies are you encouraging companies to adopt?
In SA, we have a market which is growing slowly in the mining sector and I don’t expect a “boom”. Each of these projects have different needs and have different operational tiers in many, often remote areas. Often, understanding where the firm “fits” and who the customer is can be a major challenge. There is definitely a need to understand how these markets operate and how to differentiate the value offer and again we have tools and experience to assist with that aspect.
Another critical challenge is to understand that a newcomer into these markets needs time to educate themselves and to build into their businesses. Rapid success is rare and therefore having a strategic approach to entering this market, and sustaining that approach for at least 2 to 3 years is not well understood. As we have a relatively small market here in SA, this might involve planning to obtain business in interstate markets where more is happening – fishing where the fish are. It is very rare indeed for the work to find the firm.
Finally, having the internal skills sets for Business Development and Strategic Marketing is often lacking. These soft skills and processes often elude firms which have grown from an operational and / or technical base. It is often the case that it is something they don’t know how to develop, because there is no guiding experience inside the firm. We can help.
Q: Can you share a recent success story from the region?
A favourite of mine is Caledonian Scaffolding. They knew what they wanted but were a little unclear how to go about it – but they have a great attitude. With some assistance from us and others, some determination and a desire to go and seek the markets they wanted, they are now working offshore in the construction of Oil & Gas infrastructure in NW WA and are picking up mining work as well due to the fact that they are up there. They are getting noticed for their skills and services and are starting to go international as well.
Bardrill are also making changes and beginning to see the results, but there are others as well.
Q: South Australia has a rich mining and resources industry which has developed extensively on the last 10 years. Where do you think the next great opportunities will lie for the region in the coming 5-10 years?
Good question and there are lots of opinions out there. I think the SA mining sector will continue with our growth. Olympic Dam is expanding its underground and a new technology solution to access the larger unexploited ore body is in trial. This is driving some demand for METS. The Iron Road magnetite project is looking hopeful and this will be a game changer on the Eyre Peninsula if they can get it up. Others will follow them based on the infrastructure they will bring. There are others, but with subdued mineral prices, each project will have its own unique challenges. But mostly we avoid the boom and bust situation and I think that is a good thing.
Graphite projects have recently emerged driven by global demand for batteries and there are a number of projects on the EP that look promising.
There are still opportunities out there but it is not an easy market to access for the inexperienced. One real emerging opportunity is the repairs and maintenance on all the oil & gas infrastructure which is being completed. It is estimated that there is a $2B per annum market which is new, and might be better to target for SMEs than the construction phases which had a lot of time and money pressures.
Q: You will be facilitating the Mining and Resource leader’s procurement panel discussion at the 8th Annual Mining South Australia Conference on the 25th & 26th November 2014. Which presentations are you looking forward to hearing?
All of them. There is a lot of experience on the panel and I really hope the conference delegates take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions and get answers directly. There are also a lot of miners talking about their projects at the conference and this is a great way to understand how they operate and to network with them. Likewise for Oil & Gas.
Q: What discussions are you looking forward to having with your industry peers in Whyalla this November?
Catching up with people in this space is good fun and always enlightening. I always learn a lot at the conference. I especially enjoy catching up with past clients and chatting about how things are going, ways of meeting new challenges and success stories. Mostly I find that they are growing and experiencing different problems now!
Find out more about Mark’s session at the upcoming Mining South Australia conference this November.