FSC-IC conducted an online briefing yesterday, attended by 50+ stakeholders who have interest in their new Online Claims Platform project (link here).  The briefing – presented via webinar – was well organized and presented.   Unfortunately, the Q&A function broke down, preventing real-time feedback, which was disappointing.  We’re told that numerous questions were captured after the fact and will be distributed soon.

This project has not yet gotten the attention it deserves.

I have written about the OCP before (on 10/23/12).  I have also had a lot of informal conversations with clients, with friends in the business, and with responsible staff at FSC.  I have been frank with everyone:  I am worried about this thing.  

I have watched FSC wrestle with this problem for nearly a decade.  How can they maintain effective control of their brand image in the wild and wooly world of global commerce?  The answer, in my opinion, this lies in the awkward and challenging business of accredited, 3rd party, certification systems.  These programs are far from perfect.  They are complex, frustrating, expensive, and often unsatisfying.  But – for the most part – they work; because they rely on the same business-to-business relationships that underly all commerce.  FSC needs to accept that, in the business world, perfect solutions are hard to find.

FSC is, unfortunately, trying a different approach.  They are designing and attempting to implement a technical, information-management tool which will (apparently) track, manage, and supervise the entire scope of global commerce in FSC-certified wood products.  The term used yesterday is “the single source of truth” (sounds Orwellian, doesn’t it?).  A single, master database will (apparently) capture and administer all FSC-certified purchase and sales transactions in the world.  CoC companies will be required to upload their individual transactions (all purchases & sales), and their customers will be required to accept the transaction before it becomes “official”.  This will all be managed by a UK consulting firm under contract to FSC-IC.

The idea is – frankly – amazing.  The scope is beyond precedent.  The problems are, unfortunately, too many to list.  Will thousands of CoC companies agree to provide proprietary day-to-day business data to an NGO?  Can the IT design manage the vast diversity of formats without crashing?  Is FSC-IC (the same good folks caught flat-footed by a minor webinar glitch yesterday) really prepared to manage a system of this vast scope and complexity?

I have absolutely no doubt that the FSC staff and stakeholders who conceived this project have the very best of intentions.  When they describe this as a benefit and valuable service to certified companies, I am certain that they are sincere.  I am also quite certain that they are mistaken.  If this new system is implemented as designed, it could lead to a number of major stakeholders simply walking away from the FSC program.  That would result in the loss of a big part of the remarkable progress FSC has made in influencing the global wood product marketplace over the last several years.  And that would be a shame.

UPDATE (1/11/13):  I confirmed late yesterday that FSC’s intention includes a rather complete overhaul of their main Chain of Custody standard (FSC-STD-40-004 v.2-1).  This revision process has been talked about informally a good deal, but (to my knowledge) has not been publicly announced.  Expect to see more updates here as they are available.