Applying Technological Solutions to Improve Community RelationsMon, 10/21/2013 - 16:34
Q: How did the business idea behind Borealis develop into a very successful company?
A: Borealis specializes in services software for the monitoring of social responsibility and environmental performance, specifically in the mining and oil and gas industries. At the beginning Borealis was hard to sell because companies did not realize that systems could help them manage their social or environmental risk, but it is now becoming more mainstream. Our solutions make it easier to initiate projects and get companies to understand that this is going to help them manage their risk and be more proactive in terms of complying with legislation, regulation, and international requirements, for example. Once the system is established and being used in the right way, and when communities realize that the formal grievance process is being followed, we have seen many occasions where the system has helped to build trust. In some areas we are looking at using SMS to send information to communities and receive feedback. Solutions like social media can also feed information back into the system. There is a lot that technology can do to support the evolution of projects within communities, beyond just the engineering and the drilling. Technology is developing sustainability on a human scale.
Q: How is Borealis able to establish advanced connectivity in remote locations?
A: The idea is to bring as much information as possible to the field. We have developed offline solutions through mobile equipment such as iPads and smartphones, on which subsets of information can be made available. Our clients can access information as and when they need it in the field, and can also input new information on subjects related to social responsibility or social impact management, and record discussions that are held in the field. The information is then synchronized once an internet connection has been restored. In many cases we work with a satellite connection rather than a typical broadband connection, so we have made the system as light as possible so that even with very limited connectivity the information can be accessed.
Q: What are the main features of Borealis’s programs and how do they benefit mining companies?
A: There are many elements in the system that aim to capture issues at an early stage, allowing them to be acted upon before they become grievances. You can look at the data and see issues categorized according to low or right priority. If nobody does anything about a low priority, it can then become a higher priority, then a grievance, and eventually they turn into a court case. An analysis of the data shows that if you act at the very beginning, when an issue is mentioned to you, you can avoid issues becoming bigger problems that will cost more and take a bigger effort to manage. We have been working on making the software as intuitive as possible, bringing the data to the user rather than the user having to drill into the system to find the required information. We are also trying to facilitate the flow of the process. Technology has evolved a lot over the last few years: we now have iPads, smartphones, and they are all compatible with our programs. Over time we will also centralize systems and increase the integration with existing systems within companies.
Q: What makes your programs a worthwhile investment for mining companies from the very beginning of their projects?
A: Early stage exploration companies do not tend to have the financial capacity to install systems or build up their capacity to deal with communities. Our challenge is to provide an entry level solution for junior mining companies so that they can start collecting information from day one. Having that information demonstrates that they have better control in their relations with communities, which will help them to acquire project financing since more and more financial institutions are looking for signs that social and environmental risks are being managed correctly, even by smaller companies.
We are also working on a ‘software as service’ solution, or a pay per use system, where from day one companies will be able to use the software at a low cost, without having to pay for the whole package. The idea is that they can start using it early on and the system can follow the whole life of a specific project, so that we have a record of the history with the community, even if the property changes hands over time.