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Software Adoption for Forest Companies

Forest companies, large and small, need databases and software for managing their ongoing business operations. Early in my career, this meant large single-purpose software applications running on desktop computers, Enterprise software running on dedicated servers, and bulky field computers running MSDOS.

Today, companies have more software options available for meeting data and processing demands. The current trend in software deployment is Cloud Computing, officially known as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). While SaaS has been around for several decades, more software providers are developing SaaS alternatives for their forestry customers. The obvious benefits with SaaS over traditional methods are ease-of-deployment, and less IT overhead required. This translates to lower costs, more reliable uptime, scalability, and solutions that are device agnostic.

As companies navigate their choices for software solutions and providers, the right path may not always be clear. There are several factors that should be considered before a company chooses to replace antiquated systems or to invest in software for a new purpose.

Software Adoption in Practice

When acquiring new software systems, companies should consider whether the solution meets the following key criteria. Is it practical, is it valuable, and is it sustainable.

Is it Practical?

This term has everything to do with how the software will be utilized now and in the future. It makes little sense for a company to invest capital in software, that no-one will use. In the long run, it helps to involve the intended end-users in the acquisition process. In my experience, mid- to upper-level managers undervalue software investment decisions, especially when they are several levels removed from the intended use.

Secondly, ask the question, “Does the software do what we need it to do?”. And, the follow-up “Are we paying extra for features that we don’t need?”. Just because software solves a “pain point“, doesn’t mean companies should “bite the bullet“. Managers might find less painful solutions by investing time researching alternatives. I’ve found that companies often miss these opportunities, simply because they don’t realize there are other solutions available, and/or they don’t understand the underlying technology. This can be a costly oversight!

Is it Valuable?

Granted, companies probably wouldn’t be considering software solutions if they didn’t first have some indication of their potential value. To answer this question objectively involves a diligent evaluation of the intangible and tangible benefits and costs associated with the software. In my opinion, rarely do companies actually perform a cost benefit analysis before replacing an existing software system. I can’t speak for all companies, but in my experience I’ve seen many such decisions made “on-a-hunch“, or worse, based on what the competition was doing.

In addition to a cost benefit approach, companies should attempt to determine actual use-metrics such as the number of people who require the software, the typical time spent on current tasks, and current limitations and inefficiencies. This information will help with the cost benefit analysis and when comparing alternate software solutions, and ROI’s.

Another consideration is how the software solution will align with current business goals and processes. The spectrum ranges from “absolutely does not align”, to “aligns perfectly”. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the answer will lie somewhere in between. Companies should take the time to study these critical processes. Again, it helps to involve the end-users in this step as it makes for a smoother transition.

Companies like to talk about due diligence when handling forestry investments on behalf of their clients. The cost benefit analysis and subsequent internal process alignment considerations are the equivalent of management due diligence when adopting new software solutions.

Is it Sustainable?

Sustainability is another industry buzzword, often relating to the management of forest land. But here, it refers to the service-life of the software. Rapid changes in technology make it difficult to predict the useful life of a software solution. But, I’d offer that some general trends about the stability of the business, the platform, and the software provider might help.

  1. How closely the software aligns with internal processes will provide some indication of its sustainability, assuming internal processes remain relatively stable. Progressive cultures, or rapidly changing business environments will almost certainly have an impact on the internal business processes. No one has a crystal ball for predicting the future, so it’s important that companies consider their internal processes and current business environment when adopting new software solutions.
  2. Stable technology platforms provide greater sustainability. This is not a hard rule, as sometimes new disruptive technology can provide longevity for many years down the road. But as a general rule, large providers tend to have the most stable platforms. It’s common in the software industry for smaller companies to partner with the larger tech giants and build solutions on-top of their existing platform. This trend enhances the stability and reputability of the smaller company, but keep in mind that the smaller companies have very little influence or input on the underlying platforms, which leaves everyone downstream at the mercy of the larger company.
  3. Lastly, the stability of the software provider can be an indication of the software sustainability. Even more so nowadays, as single-purpose, off-the-shelf software solutions have been traded in for larger platforms with combined solutions for multiple business functions or supply-chain processes. A good example is a company like ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) which has built a stable GIS platform for Enterprise, Desktop, Mobile and Online, with expertise in various vertical markets and a presence in forestry organizations for many decades.

Summary

All companies in the forest industry have a critical need and reliance on software. The industry is witnessing a transition where web and mobile platforms are replacing legacy desktop systems and on-premise servers, through Software-as-a-Service delivery methods. Prior to adopting software and database technologies, companies should consider the three critical questions outlined above, “Is it practical?, “Is it valuable?”, and “Is it sustainable?”

Categories: Technology Investments

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JwL

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