The open data movement aims at improving decision-making on natural resources. In Finland, legislation is planned to be changed to make forest management inventory data, currently available only for forest owners, freely available for everyone. Opening the forest resource data is expected to benefit the whole forest sector, in particular forest industry. However, realizing the benefits requires that the data is actually used.
The most obvious benefits from a new source of information can be cost savings. For instance, currently nearly all stands are inspected by a forestry expert before the sales contract is signed. Achieving cost savings from the new electronic timber sales systems requires that the whole work flow of timber sales is changed, so that visits to the stands are markedly reduced.
Another way to benefit from forest information is improving the value of end products. This is possible, if each sawmill receives optimal type of timber to meet the demand they face: the correct tree species, the quality of timber at required level, and bucking carried out optimally according to the needs of the mill and the size distribution of trees in the stand.
The most obvious benefits from a new source of information can be cost savings.
The currently used forest information does not provide enough information on the size distribution of the trees or the timber quality, and the main tree species information is estimated to be incorrect in one stand out of ten. Thus, making the decision on mill supply requires visits to the stands to be harvested, and acquisition of this information by visual inspection.
The data quality plays an important role
The full benefits of information are only available when the information is perfect, which is not a realistic. Therefore, we need to analyze the level of accuracy needed to realize the above mentioned benefits and the costs of acquiring data meeting these standards. Obtaining accurate enough information with the available technology may be too costly to achieve significant benefits.
This may be the case, for instance, with the timber quality information. Even then, the analyzed benefits can be used to direct the future development of the data acquisition methods. The risks related to relying on incorrect information also need to be analyzed. For instance, what happens if the bought old spruce stand is found out to be a young pine stand when the harvester is sent to the stand?
Realizing the benefits requires rethinking data and work flows
The examples above show that obtaining the full benefits of forest information may not be as straightforward as expected: while one part of the process could introduce cost savings, another part of the process may prevent them. Thus, we need to think about the work processes as a whole.
The first challenge is the databases and computing systems used. The systems used now may not allow for introducing new data. Different users of data in an organization may use different systems, and the flow of data from one system to another may be a problem. The second challenge is the people using the data. In order to motivate forest experts to utilize the new data, the data needs to be efficiently integrated in their workflow. If the quality of data or usability of computing systems are poor, compared to the needs of workflow, forest experts are likely to keep on using the familiar data sources, also when new data comes available.
Therefore, when the forest resources data is opened, realizing the benefits may still require years. Thus, the time to start adapting to new sources of forest information is now!
Annika Kangas, Research Professor
Tuula Packalen, Research Professor