Example of Forest Information System dashboard built with the framework approach. Learn more.

6 principles that help to design a robust Forest Information System

Costly missteps can be avoided by gaining a basic understanding of application development processes and design principles.

Alexander Watson
Jul 5, 2018 · 6 min read

Why are information systems needed?

Thousands of forest operations and forest landscape projects run successfully using Excel files and Word documents. But there is the point when organizations grow, complexity increases exponentially, and the information management gets stuck in chaos.

The Forest Information System

In the following, when using the terms database, software and application we refer always to the Forest Information System.

Simplified overview of the components of a Forest Information System.
  • yield predictions,
  • reporting and controlling,
  • risk management and assets valuation,
  • documentation and presentation.
Overview of the information flow within a Forest Information System. Italic terms describe the steps of the information supported decision-making process.

Reasons for and against off-the-shelf Forest Information Systems

Some off-the-shelf Forest Information Systems are affordable and allow a fast commissioning. Especially for new projects without an existing data structure these solutions should be evaluated.

  • Overwhelming and confusing number of functionalities of which the user only needs a few.
  • Essential functionalities are missing.
  • Limited flexibly to adapt to the specific and continuously changing needs of the project.

The modular framework approach

In comparison to off-the-shelf-solutions, the development of software applications from scratch is very cost and time intensive and can only be accomplished by organizations with a certain financial leeway.

  • flexible geodatabase,
  • various modules e. g. for mapping, management planning, forest inventory,
  • data import and export interface.

Design principles for the development of a customized Forest Information System

The following basic design principles help to guide the process of the establishment of a flexible as well as cost-efficient Forest Information System that precisely serves the needs of the decision makers.

1. Principle: Build a data infrastructure that supports the information flow.

Form follows function. The design of a fluid information system requires the careful analysis of the current business workflow, the identification of the user needs and the fields where the application adds significant value to the business process. The data model needs to be designed in a way, that the data flow follows the business information requirements.

2. Principle: Find a balance between the number of features and usability.

It is attempting to integrate as many features as possible into a database application. However, this comes at the cost of a reduced usability and increased time for training on the software. Therefore, it is needed to prioritize features and only integrate as many features as absolutely necessary.

3. Principle: A modular approach for organic growth.

Projects often start small but might grow bigger over time and integrate more complexity in their activities and services. Your software application should reflect this and be as dynamic and flexible as your ongoing business requirements.

4. Principle: Iterative implementation.

The ability to predict the future is almost impossible in a complex and dynamic world. The same is true for scheduling the implementation of long feature lists within the software development process.

5. Principle: User-stories instead of feature lists.

Acknowledging the requirement for a flexible implementation process, features are formulated today as user-stories.

  • collection of tree position, height, and diameter
  • automated synchronization of data with a centralized database when an internet connection is available

6. Principle: Open data standards.

Software applications develop fast during these days. Therefore, when developing a Forest Information System make sure that “the heart” — your valuable data — is stored in open data standards and database formats which allow an uncomplicated migration between various applications.

Conclusion: What a Forest Information System should be!

Modern database applications are

  • web-based,
  • accessible,
  • modular,
  • flexible,
  • use open data standards to prevent vendor lock-in, and
  • should be able to evolve continuously.

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Get in contact with us (alexander.watson@openforests.com) for more information about framework based Forest Information System or follow us by subscribing to our newsletter HERE.



OpenForests empowers people to make more sustainable forest projects.


OpenForests builds information tools to support sustainable forest projects. Get in touch contact@openforests.com or learn more at www.openforests.com

Alexander Watson

Written by

Founder and CEO of www.openforests.com Information systems to improve forest management for people and nature.


OpenForests builds information tools to support sustainable forest projects. Get in touch contact@openforests.com or learn more at www.openforests.com

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