Digitalisation is discussed a lot these days, both in positive and negative terms. Some people find that handling things online is quick and easy, while others prefer doing business face to face.
I believe it is important to develop digital services for forest owners in cooperation with them to be able to meet the ever-increasing needs of the various users. Services have, in fact, developed at a vast speed over the past few years, and sometimes people even wonder whether we are moving too fast.
I have had the chance to actively monitor the development of digitalisation in wood supply over rather a long period of time – already since 2010, when I started working as a trainee in Metsä Group’s wood supply operations.
My first work tasks included marking felling areas with ribbon and updating growing stock information. We navigated in forests with the aid of paper maps and looked for borders with a compass or a GPS device – unless someone else happened to be using it at the same time. In 2010, GPS devices were still expensive and not very widely used.
Ten years on, a GPS function can now be found in just about every mobile phone and using map applications is commonplace. When talking about digitalisation and developing applications, it is good to try to see ten years into the future, but it is equally important to look into the past to understand that even the boldest visions can be everyday phenomena in ten years’ time. Who would have believed in 2010 that more than half of Metsä Group’s wood trade and forest management service orders would be handled online in 2020? Or that there would be applications such as the Finnish Koronavilkku mobile app that alerts you if you have been in the vicinity of a person with the coronavirus and have thus been exposed to the virus yourself.
Data security and the handling of personal data are important factors to consider when developing services. The introduction of the GDPR has certainly advanced this aspect. At the same time, online services have also made it easier to access and maintain one’s personal data in different registers.
But what will happen in the next ten years? Remote surveying of forests is developing rapidly, and we are receiving increasingly precise information on Finland’s forests. The landscape in Metsä Group’s virtual forest is already beginning to look familiar: the road to your cottage is in place, as are the waves hitting the shore. There is a huge amount of data on felling and forestry work available, and there is a lot more that can be shown to forest owners who are interested.
I believe that virtual meetings will become more and more commonplace, the forest owners will be able to adjust their forestry plans increasingly to their own liking, and the monitoring of felling and forest management operations will become a lot easier. It will be possible to view the results of the operations on the screen of one’s own mobile phone, tablet or computer.
However, I also believe that despite digitalisation, the familiar forest specialist will still visit the forest owner for a cup of coffee when asked – sometimes, perhaps, even without asking.