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Case Studies, Software Development

Offshoring Development Provides Roadmap for Leading Mining Product

While people in many disciplines have simply watched information technology evolve in their chosen field, Bernie Malone has been much more than an observer, beginning in the 1970s to write software to support his profession and career as a mining surveyor.

That initiative ultimately paved the way for him to start a company which plays a leading role in providing strategically important slope monitoring solutions to the mining industry.

Under Bernie Malone’s guidance West Australian headquartered Softrock Solutions has honed its skills perfecting slope monitoring systems and software over more than a decade.

Now, Mr Malone has chosen to contract future software development to Mitrais as a way of insuring the product development roadmap for a solution that is widely acknowledged as an industry-leader.

A significant technology platform upgrade, from Visual Basic and Microsoft Access to VB.NET and SQL2005, ushers in the software Quikslope5. A new and an ongoing partnership with Mitrais will ensure continuity of the product for Softrock’s growing international customer base says Mr Malone, a trained and certified mine surveyor.

Quikslope is used for slope monitoring, the science of monitoring the movement of slopes, typically found in the walls of open cut mines. These walls move at various speeds and amounts, depending on the rock structures and stresses around them. When the speed of movement becomes too high there is a risk of massive earth slips that can result in death or injury to mine personnel, loss of mine equipment, loss of production or loss of access into the pit.

Using survey prisms mounted in mine walls, Quikslope enables more than 70 Softrock customer sites to manually or automatically monitor slopes.

With many years owning a company that provides surveyors and survey services to the mining and construction industries, Mr Malone says the earlier version of Quikslope was written in-house at the company in Visual Basic 6.

Over recent years the company trialed software development using contractors, hiring a consultancy and even with its own in house software engineer.

“We were let down on too many occasions so, while it was a leap of faith, I decided to try Mitrais because there were obvious savings in labour cost, the Bali development centre was geographically close and the company projected a professional image,” he said.

“We wanted our development to be managed by a professional company rather than an individual.”

Mr Malone acknowledges initial reservations about contracting software development, having heard horror stories about costs spiraling out of control and projects not being completed to specifications.

“After some initial discussions with Mitrais, engaging the company’s services did not seem such a big step at all: certainly not like going to India.”

Softrock monitored the development of Quikslope5 through receiving a comprehensive weekly project report and Mr Malone remains in close communication with the Bali staff.

“Communication is not an issue. Additionally I visited Bali and met the development crew.

“As such I am now keen to bed development down with the same people, people I can trust.”

Mr Malone’s confidence in the relationship with Mitrais is underpinned through formal work orders and signed agreements between both parties.

Having used Mitrais graphic design and software testing services, in addition to software development, Softrock envisages using other Mitrais services.

Until the release of Quikslope5, Mr Malone was solely responsible for writing and maintaining the product in-house.

“Although this was a very good way to launch and upgrade the product through my experience as a user and a developer, it had the potential to demand too much of me.

“Quikslope5 is insurance against all product knowledge being vested solely in me. The relationship with Mitrais will ensure that ongoing development and support will be totally transparent for our organisation and our clients,” he said.

The planned new and improved functions which will be available with Quikslope5 include:

  • Better data integrity through the use of SQL2005
  • Powerful graph edit tools to change the looks of graphs dramatically without changing the raw data
  • Unlimited number of graph points
  • Many graph types
  • Many velocity types
  • Draw gradient lines
  • Remove steps
  • Remove spikes
  • 3D CAD capability
  • Present prisms in CAD in many modes
  • Bird eyes view
  • Use normal CAD tools

Quikslope5 positions Softrock Solutions a long way ahead of other slope monitoring software products because the software is geared for the mining industry, said Mr Malone.

He envisages a significant expansion in the Quikslope customer base, inspired in part by the reaction Quikslope5 is receiving from Swiss company Leica Geosystems, the manufacturer of surveying equipment. Softrock chose to use a Leica SQL database as its data source with Quickslope5, opening the door to the potentially large market of Leica equipment users worldwide.

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