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Forest Technology Standards

In this article I would like to consider the topic of Technology Utilization in the Forestry Profession. Forestry technology exists in many different formats, and there are likely more providers today than at any other time in the history of our profession. So, I think it is best to frame the discussion of technology that is available to all, with the greatest possibility for impact on the profession, as opposed to technology solutions developed “in house”. It is also important to note that we are living in an age where remote sensing, cloud computing and cross-platform solutions are becoming mainstream within other industries.

The purposes of this article is to begin a dialog about concerns I hear from others with regard to technology adoption in the profession.

First Concern: The Forestry Profession is Lagging when it comes to technology utilization?

Technology is improving rapidly, but there is reason to believe that utilization in the forestry profession lags behind other industries, though it may be increasing somewhat. A current article by McKinsey & Company indicates that “Forestry…has lagged behind most other industries in the adoption of digital technology.” (Choudry & O’Kelly, 2018). Let’s dig into this and see if we can identify why this could be.

The Technology Adoption Life Cycle is a model that segments technology consumers into five distinct categories, Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards.

Technology Life Cycle: Borrowed from Business-to-you, Source

The TLC model flows from left to right, through a cascading effect. The first to adopt a new technology are the Innovators and the Early Adopters, followed by the Early and Late Majority, and then the Laggards. Notice the gap between each group. These gaps are called “credibility gaps” which means that people tend to trust sources from within their own adopter group (Business-to-you, 2020). The large gap between the Early Adopters and Early Majority groups illustrates that these two groups are significantly different in terms of their approval and acceptance of technology. In other words, marketing efforts should avoid trying to convince Early Majorities to adopt a technology based on references from the Early Adopter group. While this model is intended to inform marketing strategies, I believe this gap explains some of the breakdown in Forest technology sector.

In my experience, companies prefer a “trial phase” when searching out technology solutions. There is nothing wrong with making sure the product is right before buying, but if the process is mishandled, it can lead to a stall in seeking out the right solutions. Some companies struggle within the trial phase, either due to a lack of technical knowledge, support, engagement, or user skepticism. I believe this partly explains why some technologies stall, as technology providers struggle to gain the user base needed to move the product into the mainstream.

Secondly, I believe by our nature Foresters tend to be more conservative, or skeptic, when it comes to using new technologies. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “I just don’t see how we can get employees on board.” or “What we have is lacking, but it’s okay for now!”. In a sense, no one wants to be the frontrunner for a new technology venture. Part of the problem could lie in “fear of the unknown“, and managers who are unwilling to correct the problem. Regardless, any negative attitudes toward technology can be countered with finding the right person for the job and training them. Also, the training needs to focus on specific, practical solutions that make sense to the company’s bottom-line.

Second Concern: There is a lack of standards for developing Forest technology.

What if you owned a home that was built without standards? How would you replace faucets, electrical outlets, lights, knobs and fixtures if none of these were standard? This would be a nightmare. In the same sense, technology solutions need to be standardized.

Every so often I ask myself these two questions, “Which technology has the power to transform what we are doing today?“, and “How frequently is it used?” The lack of available data on this subject makes it impossible to provide a reliable answer. To my knowledge, there aren’t many technology standards that deal with creating, sharing, maintaining, or utilizing technology specific to forestry. The only one that I’m currently aware of is called StanForD. StanForD is a communication protocol for forestry machines (e.g.; harvesters, forwarders, feller-bunchers, etc.).

In addition, there are many unique business structures and segments within the industry. This has created a diverse ecosystem of technological tools and operating preferences. Choudhry and O’Kelly (2018) observed that our processes are “highly manual and analog, with ‘broad-brush’ management prescriptions.” I’ve often said that technology vendors must develop a product that is “general enough for the masses, yet specific enough for the few”. Over the years, this trend has led to bloated technology solutions that are difficult to maintain, and lack transparency and the ability to scale quickly.

Let me get back to this idea of technology standards. What do I mean? Imagine if companies could collaborate to develop a set of standards to ensure that solutions are compatible. Standards allow the development of products that are able to create, maintain, and share information across multiple platforms and devices. Standards can be as specific or general as they need be. For instance, a specific standard could be developed for Timber Cruising software.

A few years ago I needed to design and oversee a property-wide inventory project. After speaking with several inventory contractors, I learned that my platform was no longer compatible with their data recorders. I would have to upgrade to their system, even though I had a working system of my own. A large investment was overkill for a two month project. This is absurd! Timber cruising software should be device agnostic, and the data should be somewhat compatible across platforms. Cruising software is one of the longest running and most widely used tools in the industry, and I can think of no good reason why these products shouldn’t be somewhat compatible.

How do we get vendors to adopt a standard? Look around, standards are commonplace in our industry. How did we get landowners to adopt Forestry Best Management Practices? Through standards. How did we get companies to agree to Sustainable Forestry certifications? Through standards. How can we get companies to adopt technology that has a lasting impact on their business and bottom-line? You guessed it, through standards. Companies do not want to invest in technology solutions that will become obsolete in three or four years, requiring additional upfront capital, only later to be told they need to upgrade to the latest and greatest incompatible system. I believe technology standards could help address some of these concerns.

I’m curious how others would classify the Forestry profession in terms of technology adoption? If you have experience, or an opinion on the matter please leave a reply below.

Categories: Technology Adoption


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