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Connecting Boardroom Strategy to Forest Floor Reality

Coillte introduced collaborative technology to their field foresters to demonstrate the feasibility of their strategic model results. They operationalized scheduling for a large and scattered land base by creating a spatially coherent, tactical-level harvest plan from their long-term schedule.

Coillte is Ireland’s largest commercial forestry company. Established in 1988, the company employs approximately 1,000 people and owns over 445,000 hectares of land, which is about 7% of Ireland’s land cover. Coillte’s core purpose is to enrich lives locally, nationally, and globally through the innovative and sustainable management of natural resources. They use Remsoft technology to drive optimal, long-range strategic forest planning.

Achieving the right balance

In 2010, a number of factors coincided to cause Coillte to undertake a review of its forest management planning approach, including a renewed commitment to value-based asset management, increasingly complex regulatory requirements, challenging and evolving forest certification standards, and tightening supply for customers. Coiltte’s key to successful planning and execution remains in the hands of good local management; however, by 2010 the planning burden was reaching critical levels. Some forest managers were using up to 24 distinct spatial data sets and accompanying rules to determine the shape and timing of felling coupes. Coillte’s five-year forest management plans were taking up to nine months to complete, but only tackled a limited number of goals. They also relied largely on forest managers’ expertise to achieve the right balance and satisfy all necessary objectives and constraints.

A new approach to improve forest resource planning

Coillte saw the benefit in introducing a forest resource planning system that would use optimization techniques to devise strategic, tactical, and operational plans for field forest operations and to aid in the achievement of short and long-term goals. In 2010, Coillte issued a request for tender for vendors to supply forest management software that would drive the company towards improved strategic plans with multiple scenario analysis, improved planning agility, improved resource deployment, and decreased planning costs. Following the tender process, Coillte selected Remsoft and partnered on a series of projects to improve resource planning, better manage sustainable development and save on costs.

The implementation was conducted in stages. Initially, Coillte ran a year-long project to redraw business area unit boundaries from 13 down to eight in order to ensure each could be independently financially viable.

Another year was spent using Remsoft technology to value the entire estate and pass the scrutiny of international forestry and financial experts and auditors. After three years, the strategy was brought to the forest floor where plans were reviewed and edited by forest managers before becoming operational, a process supported by Remsoft analytics. This “ground truthing” cycle was a key part of the project to ensure the “planned” results were realistic, operable, and supported by the forest managers.

Iterating and testing multiple scenarios

Using the intuitive capabilities of Remsoft’s Woodstock Optimization Studio, Coillte was able to loosen constraints and manipulate parameters to test different model behavior and results. Because the underlying optimization technology is ruthless in seeking out optimum outputs within defined constraints, this is critical. It enables multiple scenarios to be run and explored, exposing the correlation between constraints and outputs, and ultimately producing rewarding and sometimes surprising insights into the forest resource and its management.

The relative importance of the inputs can also be tested. In Coillte’s case, it revealed a weakness in the forest inventory for some of its younger crops. The sensitivity of estate value to potential discrepancies in the inventory helped build a case for a refreshed inventory strategy which has produced significant benefits for Coillte.

Stronger, strategic perspective

The Remsoft implementation has enabled Coillte to evaluate the impact of environmental, managerial, and economic changes on its operations. It has also enabled them to track long-term carbon sequestration and remain in compliance with environmental certification programs.

Remsoft’s technology has helped Coillte to meet the global demand for Irish wood exports more efficiently and sustainably, a demand which has significantly increased since 2009. Coillte has also seen several financial improvement areas, including a reduction in contracting costs in the construction of new roads among others.

“Using Remsoft’s technology, we now have a stronger strategic perspective on forest resource management and the ability to make better decisions based on fact supported analysis.”

Gerard Murphy, Coillte Forest Managing Director

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