Platforms and forestry

Platform economy brings along new opportunities for forestry, ranging from more efficient management to new data-driven services and enhancing of industrial ecology. Increases in the amount and accessibility of forest data as well as data on the raw material cycles enable new solutions and collaborations and invites novel cross-sectoral innovations. Combined with advances in material technology, forests are set to become a key component in the emerging circular economy.

Why is this mportant?

There are three main areas of impact platforms can have in the forestry sector. The first is the gathering, analysis and use of forest data. Digital platforms provide an easy access to forest data. Globally this is linked especially to monitoring forest growth and identifying illegal logging. In Finland the use cases have more to do with increased efficiency of forest management, transparent sales and new services based on data.

The second area of impact is the control of the flow of materials, including wood, cellulose and further refined products. Recycling and end-of-life management also come into the picture. Wood and particularly cellulose, and their recycled fractions, can be the (raw) material for a wide range of products from packaging and clothes to fuels and energy. However, this requires good data on the characteristics of material flows and the efficient coordination of these flows. Here a platform-based system and operation model can be helpful.

The third area of impact is increased collaboration between different actors. A traditional approach is to center the activities around a specific place or plant, and there are signs of a new wave of such industrial ecology platforms, such as the Äänekoski bioproduct mill. What is especially interesting from the point of view of platform economy are the more data-driven and virtual collaborations.

Things to keep an eye on

Having good and reliable data on forests as well as the flow of wood-based materials is essential. Therefore it is worth following how the Finnish law concerning forest data proceeds, as well as what kind of players exist in the forest data business. For example, the US company Trimble acquired two Finnish companies, Silvadata and Savcor, in 2017. Furthermore, as an increasing number of new cellulose-based materials enter the market, it is good to look at the bigger picture of material flows and collaboration between actors.

Selected articles and websites

Bittejä ja biomassaa – Tiekartta digitalisaation vauhdittamaan biotalouteen
Design Driven Value Chains in the World of Cellulose dWoC
Trimble Connected Forest
Infinited Fiber brings radical change to the textile industry
Forest Solutions Platform
Global Forest Watch
The Äänekoski bioproduct mill – a new chapter in the Finnish forest industry
Trimble doubles down on Finnish companies
Finnish plastic replacement raises EUR 1 million
Metsätietolain muuttaminen

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Accounting of information flows: Data balance sheet

Systematic accounting of data and information flows is about to be acknowledged as an integral part of regular internal and public reporting by organisations.  Alongside finances and corporate social responsibility, the topic of data has now found its way to annual reports. Forerunners publish even dedicated accounting reports for data and information flows, something which can be recommended in data-driven sectors.

For example, Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi recently published their second data balance sheet (tietotilinpäätös), an annual report describing their data strategy, related architectures and inventory of data and information flows. This supports Trafi in their aim to be a forerunner in collecting data but also opening it up for maximum use for societal benefit. Through digital public sector services and open data policy, Trafi among others encourages data flows between authorities, between authorities and (typically data-producing) users and towards companies to boost business. Examples of Trafi’s data include statistics and registers on vehicles, licences, permits and accidents. Another pioneer in data accounting is the Finnish Population Register Centre, having compiled data balance sheets since 2010, although due to the nature of the registers only a summary of the report is available for the public.

Why is this important?

Platform economy is all about unleashing the cornucopia of opportunities linked to data. Users and producers as well as the functioning of the platform create, process, store and exchange data, and these data and information flows form the key type of interaction in platform economy. Furthermore, many of the emerging technology areas linked to platforms, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain or automation, are extremely data-intensive.

Management of data has therefore become an increasingly critical and strategic part of activities of companies, public sector authorities and even individuals. On the one hand, data is an asset of real value, but on the other hand, this value can only come to fruition and grow through sharing and opening. This challenges existing business logics in many sectors, where data previously had little or no role or where data flows and information systems used to be strictly in-house matters.

Arguments favouring the introduction of data accounting to regular managerial and strategy work of organisations include both discovering opportunities but also addressing threats and uncertainties. Systematic data accounting helps internal monitoring and improvement, and an open approach helps to expand collaboration and partnerships with others (users, customers, companies and authorities). Accounting should also include responses and preparedness for safety and security issues as well as strategies related to data ownership, surveillance and fulfilment of possible regulatory requirements.

Things to keep an eye on

A significant change factor in the topic of data management in Europe is the data protection regulation (EU) 2016/679 that is to be applied in all European Union Member States in May 2018. This regulation addresses the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data.

European Data Protection Supervisor lays out a definition of accountability in the meaning that organisations need to “put in place appropriate technical and organisational measures and be able to demonstrate what they did and its effectiveness when requested”. Suchlike measures include “adequate documentation on what personal data are processed, how, to what purpose, how long;  documented processes and procedures aiming at tackling data protection issues at an early state when building information systems or responding to a data breach; the presence of a Data Protection Officer that be integrated in the organisation planning and operations etc.”

Another great resource on the topic is the recent publication by the Finnish Government´s analysis, assessment and research activities on use and impacts of open data.  The report describes the openness of major data resources maintained by the public administration and on means to assess the economic impacts of open data in Finland. An analysis of the relationship between firms’ use of open data and their innovation production and growth is also provided. To conclude, the report proposes specific recommendations how to enhance the impact of open data in our society, including the use of tools such as data balance sheets.

The European Digital single market strategy and especially the subtopic of online platforms fits well into the above-mentioned discussion. Issues addressed under these activities include for example concerns about how online platforms collect and make use of users’ data, the fairness in business-to-business relations between online platforms and their suppliers, consumer protection and the role of online platforms in tackling illegal content online.

Guidance on how to prepare a data balance sheet is provided by for example the Finnish Data Protection Ombudsman in English and Finnish.

Selected articles and websites

General Data Protection Regulation (EU) 2016/679 – EUR-Lex
European Data Protection Supervisor: Accountability
European Commission: Digital single market – Online platforms
Valtioneuvoston kanslia: Avoimen datan hyödyntäminen ja vaikuttavuus
Liikenteen turvallisuusvirasto Trafi: Tietotilinpäätös 2016
Väestörekisterikeskus: Tietotilinpäätös
Data Protection Ombudsman: Prepare a data balance sheet
TechRepublic: Data’s new home: Your company’s balance sheet

Heidi Auvinen

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Center of Finland Ltd
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Agriculture in the platform economy

The opportunities with platforms do not limit to specific high-tech industries only, but spread across the society and the economy. One sector that has so far received little attention, yet holds great economic, societal and environmental promise, is agriculture.

Why is this important?

Applying digital technologies to agriculture could improve the quality, efficiency and safety of farming and the down-stream industries such as food, textiles and fuels. Although digitalisation within agriculture has been modest compared to some other sectors, platforms have been or are being developed to for example the following use contexts:

  • farm management information systems
  • machine and equipment management; including asset-sharing
  • irrigation, fertilization and pesticides; including monitoring and optimisation
  • use of automation and robotics
  • food processing
  • management of subsidies.

In the centre of it all is the farm and the farmer, and platforms could, besides boosting performance of the farm as a unit, facilitate interaction between producers and other businesses along value chains and value networks. Platforms could even involve the end-customers as well as the public sector, in their roles as consumers and authorities.

The opportunities of platform economy paint a more sustainable picture of agriculture, enabling better economic performance as well as less environmental burden. Animal health and welfare could be improved and aspects of safety and ethics of end-products could be better addressed and traced. Imagine being able, as a consumer, to make affordable and fully informed choices on food and clothes, matching your personal values!

Things to keep an eye on

Currently most platforms in the agriculture sector are fragmented to small, unique solutions with little or no connectivity or interoperability to other systems. However, the vast potential of more integrated and interactive solutions to connect entire value networks are envisioned, and strategic efforts are on-going for example on the European level. The Digitising European Industry initiative has carried out extensive work, including exploration of platforms for industry, and Smart Agriculture has been identified as one vertical perspective of specific importance.

Empowering the farmers is a prerequisite for boosting digital technologies and platform economy development in agriculture. Technology developers need to establish an alliance with farmers to pinpoint concrete opportunities and co-innovate.

Selected articles and websites

Working Group 2: Strengthening Leadership in Digital Technologies and in Digital Industrial Platforms across Value Chains in all Sectors of the Economy, First report (December 2016)
Digitising European Industry initiative
EIP-AGRI: Agriculture & Innovation
GODAN, Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition
365FarmNet: Agricultural management software
SMAG, Smart Agriculture: Farming information systems, cloud computing & SaaS, mobile applications

Heidi Auvinen

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Center of Finland Ltd
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Digital Twins (of products)

The concept of a ‘digital twin’ has been suggested as one of the top technology trends for 2017, but what is it all about? The digital twin is the virtual counterpart of a real physical product, and it captures the data and information related to a product’s lifecycle from design and manufacturing all the way to use and final disposal.

Why is this important?

The existing applications of digital twins include for example storing and accessing product information using RFID codes and computer-aided 3D design models. However, technology development under the megatrend of digitalisation holds promise for way more radical progress with digital twins: In-house manufacturing applications are about to step up towards solutions across entire supply chains and end-use. The lacking connection and integration between the virtual model and the physical product will be intensified towards dynamic use of data and information flow. And the advances in blockchain technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems will level up the importance of digital twins, as decision-making, transactions and learning will growingly rely on interconnected products and systems, i.e. Industry 4.0 and the internet of things (IoT).

Things to keep an eye on

The role of the digital twin in the platform economy is central, as it can ideally be the universal access point for all product information as well as accumulated data along a product’s lifecycle. For design, modelling and manufacturing of products the use of digital twins is typically managed with dynamic software models. These will be in the near-future even more closely interconnected to production processes and equipment, and applications are expected to spread and evolve from manufacturing industries to many other contexts such as end-user interfaces, transport sector, service industries, etc. Platforms managing and making use of all these data, information and interconnections will evolve, and the business models to product and service industries are going to change too. Visionaries anticipate even more radical opportunities in the longer term as digital twins of products and services will be followed by digital representations of facilities, environments, people, businesses and processes.

The digital twin is much more an opportunity than a threat, as the involvement of the virtual dimension aims to improve the quality, efficiency and performance of products, services and processes rather than replacing or displacing the real physical counterpart. In fact, the digital twin has been claimed to support the human knowledge kit, boosting problem solving and innovation by enhancing our uniquely human capacity to conceptualise, compare and collaborate.

Selected articles and websites

Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017
How To Put Your Digital Twin On Steroids
Leveraging Digital Twins To Breathe New Life Into Your Products And Services
Digital Twin: Manufacturing Excellence through Virtual Factory Replication
About The Importance of Autonomy and Digital Twins for the Future of Manufacturing
Digital Twin Data Modeling with AutomationML and a Communication Methodology for Data Exchange
Digitalization in machine building: The digital twin
GE Digital Twin Game

Heidi Auvinen

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Center of Finland Ltd
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