The art and science of forestry planning

November 26, 2014

“Waste” is a situation in which something of value—such as trees that have taken decades to grow to maturity—is being used in a way that is not appropriate or effective.

Doug Jones, vice president, forestry, for Remsoft, the New Brunswick-based, global software solutions company, has a four-letter word for wasted trees in the forest industry: loss or lost, as in lost revenue, lost opportunity, lost competitiveness, and perhaps even lost customers. In his role with Remsoft, Doug travels the world, working closely with numerous companies in the forest industry. His firsthand knowledge of how things work in different countries has given him a unique perspective on the potential and challenges for companies. “There are a lot of inefficiencies out there, and it’s an opportunity for companies if they recognize it and are willing to do something,” says Doug.

Trying to achieve the sweet spot in forest industry operations is like trying to hit a small, fast-moving target in the dark, in high winds. There are so many variables, both known and unforeseen—from nurturing, managing and harvesting a tree at the right moment, transporting it to arrive at the best time at the mill door, and running a well-tuned mill that consistently processes the wood fibre into a high-quality product, all at minimum cost. All considered, it may seem impossible. But when everything is working together, not in silos, the waste can be eliminated and the sweet spot may be attainable.

“We know you can shave anywhere from one to 10% off your operational costs if you have the analytical and operational planning tools to optimize your planning and management,” says Doug, a forester with an appreciation for modern technology. He joined Remsoft in (2002) because he believed information technology and specialized software could be the answer for the forest industry he saw struggling globally.

“The more advanced interest in making a difference is in South America,” he observes. “They have a much greater focus on process and they are newer companies. They are purely export driven, competing with the world, so they have to be lean and efficient.”

South America, Latvia, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland are countries where forestry companies have reached out to Remsoft, particularly for its product SOP—the Sales and Operational Planning software solution. SOP pulls together and analyzes all the relevant, vital pieces of information and develops a go-forward plan that encompasses every phase, every level of the operation, knocking down traditional silos that have contributed to waste. Silos, explains Doug, limit the planning process to a handful of foresters, to the exclusion of others in the company that have something to contribute to the planning and operations.

Today’s advanced analytics, which is the use of advanced techniques and mathematics to solve complex problems, enables modeling and optimization across the entire value chain of forestry, from the tree to the end product.  The key to success lays not so much in the mathematics of optimization or the speed of computing, but in the scope of modeling which allows planners to deal with every type of problem that could arise and still have a shot at making money.  By taking account of all factors, including growth rates, distances to roads and mills, legal restrictions on access and remediation, and of course commodity prices (current and future), SOP allows foresters to bring their expertise to bear when deciding exactly where and when to deploy crews and equipment.

The SOP supply chain solution for forestry brings all the necessary groups together, eliminating silos and increasing transparency across the organization so everyone understands and can contribute to the crucial operational plan. “The plan ends up being proactive, not reactive which is where the inefficiencies happen,” says Doug. “Even in the best-run companies, there is likely some waste. It has been our experience and our clients’ that SOP can help reduce waste and improve profitability.”

SOP can help in the critical nurturing of the trees in the forest. SOP can guide decisions on when certain trees and stands need treatments such as thinning. Also, with SOP, the right decision can be made on when it is best to harvest the tree. SOP enables a company to have a comprehensive, workable plan for its timber resource, removing the possibility of making bad decisions.

“There is no doubt that forest planning and management will continue to be more and more challenging,” says Doug, “and the old way of doing it with spread sheets is just too tedious, cumbersome and mundane. The end result is a plan that does not allow adjustments to be made when unforeseen situations occurs. SOP provides a better plan in the beginning with less risk of mistakes and opportunity for quick adjustment when necessary.”

Remsoft was founded with the sole focus of providing leading edge innovative technologies in the forestry sector. “Most of our staff are foresters and innovative thought leaders,” says Doug. “We can take the real world and put it into a framework, a system, to use the best analytics. It’s all about analysis and planning.”

It’s also about looking to the future and challenging a global industry to function differently.



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