Wood Business

All aboard the ‘Digital Transformation Rocket’

October 30, 2023  By Francis Charette

Photo credit: © NicoElNino / iStock / Getty Images Plus.

It’s crazy to think most technological innovations were created in the last 150 years. I used to listen to my grandfather-in-law talk about how he’d seen the world evolve in his lifetime (1930-2021). How he went from cutting ice blocks on the river with his dad, storing it in an icebox to keep food cold in the summer, to calling his grandchildren on an iPad. That is quite a leap forward in terms of technology! 

It’s unbelievably exciting how the pace at which technology supersedes one another keeps on accelerating. Digital transformation, AI, quantum computing, etc. are changing our day-to-day life and I will probably experience exponentially more technological innovations in my lifetime than my grandfather-in-law did. Despite this, the wood industry has not been a leader of tech integration. There’s huge opportunity to leverage data available to our industry and the time to board the Digital Transformation Rocket is now! Why now? Because we need to innovate or else we’ll fall behind other sectors and countries.

With the current challenges in the forest sector, austerity tends to be at the agenda. The pandemic period with sky-high lumber prices is long gone. Allowable cuts are decreasing in Canada. The unprecedented severity of wildfires across the country is troubling, and labour shortage continues to affect productivity. But history has proven many times that it’s during the hardest times that urgency challenges the status quo and from that, innovation is created. If you’re not already on this path, now is the right moment to fully embrace the digital transition. 

Digital transformation can mean many things. But its biggest value is to use digital tech to harness the constantly increasing amount of data and create actionable insights to optimize and automate in real time the many processes that go into making wood products. The sector has started reporting operational data on business intelligence platforms in the past years, and this is providing a flavour of the value created by leveraging available data. It allows us to see on a weekly basis if we perform well and helps focus our energy on processes that need to be improved. 


Data acquisition and visualization were the first step. Now we need to move to the next phase where data is transformed and portrayed in a way where we can extract promptly actionable information. We also need to increase granularity in the data to near real-time. We all know that time is money and the faster you can be notified of an issue, the faster a remedy can be applied. Digital transformation can definitely mitigate the constraints of labour shortage. It can help reduce the barrier of entry to learning new processes and attract tech-savvy talent. The complexity of a process can be reduced by embedding knowledge (expertise) into monitoring algorithm so instead of having an expert analyze and monitor your diagnostics, the system can monitor and optimize data 24/7, reducing dependence on process experts, allowing newer staff to perform at a good level right from the beginning. It will also allow experienced process experts to optimize their time by having all basic data analytics done automatically and work only on more productive/innovative tasks, and even be available to work on other sites/locations remotely.

Digital transformation offers a unique opportunity to retain knowledge more easily. We all know that it takes many years to become a process expert, sometimes restricted to a certain type of equipment or brand. We also know that this knowledge is not easily transferable when someone leaves for another job or retires. When expertise is digitalized, the company’s performance is less sensitive to worker turnover. And the cherry on top: process knowledge is cumulative after digitalization, so you’ll continue to build and accrue knowledge.

Integrating new technologies can be complex, but there are resources and tools that can help (tech companies, research organizations like FPInnovations, universities, etc.). The more the industry utilizes these resources, the stronger the forestry technology ecosystem will be. In difficult times, it’s time to be bold and to hop onto the Digital Transformation Rocket.

Francis Charette is the president and CEO of Algorex.

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