By Tony Kryzanowski
Forest industry software solutions provider Silvacom describes its Forest Management System (FMS) as the most comprehensive cloud-based forest management system software in the world. It has been decades in the making.
“It’s one window into a forest company’s entire operation that essentially incorporates all of the woodlands department staff, all the way from the planners to the people who are doing the operational planning to silviculture forestry,” says Chris Lang, Vice-President of Business Development at Silvacom. “It essentially covers the full life cycle from planning to planting.”
The Edmonton, Alberta-based company, established in 1983, develops products exclusively for use in forestry and has grown right along with the industry over the past four decades, back to the time when the first handhelds and software programs were becoming available. In fact, their new head office in southeast Edmonton features a display of many of the data collection and communication tools they have developed over the years as technology evolved. And to a great extent, it is the story of the growth of sophistication in forest management planning and reporting in Canada.
FMS is the culmination of working hand in hand with numerous forestry clients for years, understanding every aspect of their forest management needs, and packaging a variety of software tools into a single package or drop-in elements aimed at helping forest companies streamline operations. FMS is a subscription-based service with an annual fee, tailored and scaled to the number of users and what components the customer is using.
One subscriber to Silvacom FMS is Mercer Peace River in northern Alberta. It harvests large quantities of wood fibre in the Peace River area to supply its pulp mill.
“Silvacom FMS gives us the ability to move information seamlessly, to have access whenever we need it, and to be confident that the information is the most current,” says Stefan Szabo, Woodlands Manager. “It is a resource that you take with you everywhere to access critical information any time of day or night.”
Forestry has changed a lot in the past four decades, and for many forest companies risk management is at the forefront of many of their activities these days. FMS is a powerful tool in helping to manage risk.
“There’s more inherent risk on the environmental and social side now than we’ve ever seen before,” says Lang. “So having a platform like FMS that enables our clients to connect the dots better and to have transparency with stakeholders on the land base is only going to benefit them by demonstrating sustainable forest management in a responsible way.”
He adds that forest companies working, for example, with Indigenous communities are able to use FMS to manage engagement and consultation efforts. In fact, FMS is already being used by stakeholders living on the periphery of the forestry sector, as some Indigenous communities and government agencies have discovered its value.
Silvacom describes FMS as, “made by forestry professionals for forestry professionals”.
Lang says what differentiates Silvacom FMS from its competitors is the level of after-sales customer support offered by the company, given its focus specifically on the forestry sector.
This Esri-based geospatial forestry software solution, hosted in the cloud, offers sophisticated, powerful and easy-to-use workflows. Its integrated system of geospatial forest management applications gives forestry companies powerful tools to easily plan harvesting activities, track operations, manage silviculture, generate geo-referenced maps and much more. It consists of a specific planning module, operations module, silviculture module, mapping module and data management module. Esri (Environmental Systems Research Institute) is an international supplier of geographic information system (GIS) software, web GIS and geodatabase management applications.
At present, forest management planning tools being used by forest companies are often in-house or based off of complex geospatial platforms that are difficult to manage.
“Likely companies are using some type of GIS software, whether or not it is desktop or cloud-based, open source or proprietary,” says Zachary Cole, Product Manager for FMS at Silvacom. “They are likely using these tools with some sort of database. It could be something as simple as Excel or MS Access, right through to something more complex that is more code-intensive.”
It was because of this variety of approaches and their experience working with the industry that Silvacom recognized an opportunity to help companies streamline operations, leading to the development of FMS.
“There are a lot of benefits for an organization to have standardization across all of their woodlands divisions if they are a large company,” says Lang. “It reduces corporate risk. With people coming and going in the workforce, having that standardized system provides a lot of value. Once you have it in the cloud and once it is digital, then it is stored and backed up.”
Lang adds that forest companies of all sizes would benefit from some or all aspects of FMS. And being cloud-based, companies avoid IT annoyances such as expensive software upgrades, trying to facilitate communication across different platforms, and security. Employees simply log in with their browsers and Silvacom takes care of the rest, including staying up-to-date with regulatory compliance requirements across various jurisdictions.
FMS is gaining attention throughout the world based on the number of inquiries that the company receives every week and the number of demonstrations it hosts for jurisdictions around the globe. The program is adaptable and customizable to other forest environments outside of Canada and to the individual needs of clients.
It helps companies put their strategic plans into operation, such as planning cutblocks, roads, stakeholder buy-in, and stakeholder sign-off. Then it assists with streamlining government submissions by generating geo-referenced map products while also meeting internal reporting requirements.
FMS data is used in the field so that supervisors and contractors have what they need to ensure harvesting activities comply with the approved plan, with their activities migrating back into the FMS dataset so that silviculture planners can generate the proper reforestation prescription that meets regulatory requirements.
Cole explains who specifically within a forest company’s woodlands department would typically use and benefit from the product:
Essentially, it covers off woodlands planning from a 200-year horizon, down to day-to-day operations, and then planning for the future with site reforestation.
Not only is FMS a tool to manage woodlands operations internally but it also provides the data required for reporting to regulatory agencies to ensure that all activities are in compliance.
Customers using FMS save a considerable amount of money by streamlining operations while also improving staff morale by removing mundane tasks like simply keeping databases up-to-date. The functioning of the FMS software does that for the company, meaning that staff can focus on more strategic planning and execution of actual operations.
“It just happens within this system,” says Lang. “We have access to all this information and we do it for everyone once a month. All those processes are standardized and all our clients benefit from it.”
For example, on the mapping side, companies currently employ GIS specialists whose main job is simply to keep maps up-to-date. FMS automates and streamlines that process in an area where many companies are having difficulty finding employees. Redundant and repetitive workflows have been automated within FMS as much as possible. Enforcement of topography rules have also been automated and are updated regularly within FMS through combining regulatory datasets with operational planning geo-referencing maps to avoid trespass and encroachment issues.
“If you can use computers to help take that function, standardize it and make it better, you need to do that to stay ahead right now because that’s the way the world is going,” says Lang. “You are further ahead by trying to embrace it rather than fight it.”
Silvacom has recognized that companies are struggling with retirements as well as hiring and keeping employees. So many are leaning more heavily toward using contractors for some functions. With the confidence of an intact cloud-based, digital database, companies can simply provide access to those contractors to fill employee gaps within their organization.
“That hybrid approach lends itself well to this technology,” Lang says.
For forest companies, it is critical that budget planning and spending happen in tandem with forest management activities. FMS allows for that to occur. Managers are able to track the cost of activities against funds set aside for those functions, streamlining financial monitoring and reporting.
On the Cover:
Adam Williams, owner of A.R. Williams Logging, of Englehart, Ontario, has been learning the ropes on some new, but also familiar, logging equipment, from John Deere, harvesting wood in northeastern Ontario, near the Timmins area. Over the past year, Williams has been demo’ing a John Deere 953MH Tracked Harvester with a Waratah 623C harvester head—and which features John Deere’s latest operator assistance control feature, Intelligent Boom Control (IBC), which the company has introduced for its 900 MH-Series Tracked Harvester. Read all about how IBC is working well for Williams beginning on page 22 of this issue. (Cover photo courtesy of John Deere).
Mercer moves into mass timber
In an interesting strategic move into the mass wood market, B.C.-based Mercer International has purchased the bankrupt Katerra Mass Timber Plant in neighbouring Washington State—which uses Canadian SPF lumber as feedstock.
On a Mission to build a new sawmill
The new $160 million (U.S.) Mission Forest Products sawmill in Mississippi draws on a wide variety of suppliers for equipment, including a number of Canadian companies.
Forest management: from planning to planting…
Silvacom’s comprehensive Forest Management System software seamlessly covers operations, from planning right through to planting.
Deere’s new Intelligent Boom Control (IBC)-equipped tracked harvester at work in Ontario
Contractor Adam Williams is having solid success working with the new IBC-equipped harvester, working in northern Ontario forests.
PAL Lumber is all fired up…
Ontario’s PAL Lumber is one busy operation these days, producing firewood for everyone from cottagers to large commercial customers, with the solid support of a tough Bells 4000 firewood processor.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
B.C.’s Forest Practices Board is keeping tabs on spruce bark beetle harvesting, notes Jim Stirling.