Room for Rent: Virtual Data Rooms for Mineral Explorers

As the Eagle’s Nest exploration project in Ontario’s Ring of Fire region blossomed into a potential mine, the exchange of data between the camp in the James Bay Lowlands and Noront Resources’ corporate headquarters in Toronto became overwhelming. Frustrated by files that were too big to download, insecure data transfers, and slow upload times, Noront hired an IT firm that moved the Eagle’s Nest data onto an FTP server for easier and more secure access. An added advantage was that Noront could store all its corporate documents, such as 43-101 reports, environmental assessments, and tax documents, in the same place.

Iron ore mining truck

Although the FTP solution was a significant improvement compared to the patchwork of e-mails and storage devices Noront had been using previously, it was not ideal. Uploads and downloads at the camp remained annoyingly slow and occasionally timed out, and Noront had trouble navigating the site and providing access to specific folders. Noront cut ties with the IT firm and was casting about for alternatives when it came upon Firmex, a Toronto-based technology company that provides virtual data rooms for a range of corporations, including 60% of the Fortune 100 and seven of the top 10 mining companies.

A virtual data room is an online, cloud-based service for organizing and sharing large volumes of confidential documents. The data room provided a logical solution for a junior exploration company that had massive documents and files moving back and forth, and a desire to satisfy the information requirements of both potential and existing shareholders. “Having a virtual data room has definitely improved communications with our investors,” says Matt Downey, senior geologist for Noront. “It has removed IT headaches and made data transfer a lot more efficient. “Last week I did a 40-gigabyte upload and instead of taking days, it took hours.” Downey appreciates that the data room was quick to set up, allowing him to simply drag and drop files from Windows into the cloud.  And if any of Noront’s users have a problem or question, they have 24/7 access to support, a bonus for exploration companies that may be working, or have investors, in more than one time zone.

Motivated by Noront’s story and others like it, Geosoft recently announced that it has partnered with Firmex to offer a virtual data room service tailored to the needs of mineral exploration companies. The data room solution, powered by Firmex, adds to Geosoft’s existing services and technology for exploration information management which enable companies to validate, catalogue, and share their exploration data. While Geosoft’s focus is on helping explorers manage and interpret spatial, iterative information such as results from magnetic surveys or soil-sampling programs, Geosoft CEO Tim Dobush recognizes the added benefit of being able to store more static corporate, financial and technical documents in the cloud. “Juniors are facing a lot of pressure when it comes to access to capital, and here is an opportunity for us to reduce their costs,” says Dobush. “They can now keep their corporate governance information in a secure site, accessible from anywhere in the world. This reduces their overhead costs without compromising security, accessibility and scalability.”

The virtual data room solution is economic compared with the cost of hiring an IT firm or individual. It also saves explorers from having to waste time managing documents when they could be finding orebodies. “There are cash costs associated with not having a data room, but there are also intangible costs,” says Joel Lessem, CEO of Firmex. “These range from frustration with FTP servers and documents getting caught up in e-mail filters to losing information or just not having any visibility.” The flexibility and scalability of the subscription-based service make the virtual data room an especially good fit for companies in the cyclical mineral exploration sector – companies which may have plenty of capital to spend on technology one year but be strapped for cash the next. And with public equity markets becoming less accessible to explorers, juniors are finding more occasion to share that information as they turn to alternative sources of funding such as royalty companies, private equity firms, and sovereign wealth funds, or merge together to survive.

Being able to showcase their assets in a virtual data room allows them to woo potential suitors with ease and professionalism. Lessem says Firmex’s mining customers, including such names as Canadian Zinc Corporation, Cirque Resources and AQM Copper, are especially keen on having their corporate documents and data encrypted in the cloud. The virtual trail helps them maintain regulatory compliance while allowing potential investors to access information securely at the drop of a hat. “Velocity helps,” Lessem says. “Some companies have limited time to do a deal at the burn rates they have.  If they have all their information organized online, it’s going to make the process easier.” Subscribers can control who sees certain information and monitor what different users are looking at and downloading.

That’s invaluable for companies such as Brigus Gold, which is based in Halifax, trades in both Canada and the U.S., and has projects in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. “We’ve been able to provide access to data in a straightforward manner to teams of financiers, bankers, and auditors that are dispersed worldwide,” says Brigus CFO Jon Legatto. “The Firmex virtual data room service is professional, secure and reliable. It gives us everything we need through a user-friendly interface and at a reasonable cost.” Article courtesy of Earth Explorer


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