Personal contact in the digital age

13 June 2017

I write this at Ligna 2017. As a first-time visitor to the show, it is impressive. The sheer size alone can amaze. And it is a successful show, by common consent the most successful for several years.

Automation, digitisation, Industry 4.0 are predictable themes here. Given this new digital world one might have supposed that the need for people to travel halfway across the world to show what they and their companies can do and make would be becoming obsolete. We have more-or-less instant e-mail communications; websites can surely demonstrate a company’s products and capabilities. Ligna shows very clearly how untrue this is.

Personal contacts count and are important. More can be learnt over a coffee or a glass of wine or a snack in a face-to-face conversation, even in as busy an environment as a crowded stand at Ligna, than in any number of e-mails or phone calls or even Skype encounters in which you can see each others’ faces and expressions. And if the company representative - or the company owner - you are speaking to on a Ligna stall is someone whom you know, and have perhaps had an after-hours drink with, from the last Ligna two years ago, and have perhaps been doing business with in the time since then, so much the better.

Misunderstandings will be less, the business between you will go more smoothly; everyone benefits. We enter an era when feedbacks, automation, digitisation can control many of our processes and our production lines. That was clearly demonstrated at Ligna. And the controlling machines are no longer large; our smartphones and tablets can do the job, as again Ligna showed. That does not mean that people are redundant. On the contrary: people are more important than ever. As Mark Alness of Hexion points out in our interview on page 48, a major problem for the panels industry is attracting good people to work in it. And as he also points out, the industry can offer rewards, to the right people, that Silicon Valley or high-flying City financial institutions cannot. One of them is the pleasure of working toward the common good, of working with a sustainable resource – wood – as a building material in place of energy-squandering and profligate brick and concrete. In Mark’s words, it is contributing to changing the world; and good people are attracted to that.

So the personal contacts, as well as the business opportunities, than a gathering such as Ligna can offer are invaluable. We are fortunate to work in an industry in which people know each other.