Achieving proactive traceability
Serge and I have attended the Fruit Logistica conference in Berlin a few weeks ago. We wanted to confirm the relevance of our solutions for the "fruits & vegetables" industry, with a special focus on our Tracking and Monitoring ("T&M") platform: given the intrinsic "perishable" constraints of fruits, we were expecting quite some interest. Indeed.
First things first:
- I have tasted the most incredible dates I've ever had. Delicious. No, seriously. Oh, did you know they must be stored and transported at -18°C? And that a container of dates is worth USD 160k?
- I've travelled quite a lot but mostly in the so-called Western World. I had never seen nor tasted a pitaya (aka "Dragon Fruit"). Surprising.
OK, back to business.
Not my responsibility!
The advantage of these huge events is that you have a chance to meet many different actors across the Supply Chain. There were of course many producers/growers from all around the world but I've also met a few large container ship operators, many road transportation providers, representative of European ports, freight forwarders, country-specific delegates as well as potential competitors/partners in the T&M space (yes, it appears we're not alone on the market).
I'm not a Sales person - Serge takes care of that - so my approach was very product-oriented. I've been lucky enough (or, well, "charming") to convince exhibitors to listen to my solution-positioning speech then get their feedback... which in quite a few cases was as follows:
- Whatever happens after my goods are loaded into the truck is not my responsibility.
- We already have that!
- The only traceability I am bound to provide is the link between a bar code and a production lot.
- Transportation providers:
- If anything goes wrong, we have a good insurance.
- We just throw a few sensors in and can generate reports if we're asked to.
- Freight forwarders:
- If anything goes wrong, we raise a claim to the transportation provider.
- We're just the middle-man.
Am I the only one thinking that something is missing?
- I'm the end customer at the end of the chain. I want to make sure that what I'm buying is "safe" (frozen food, drugs, etc.). Who can guarantee that? Nobody! Each single layer only has visibility on the one before and after. What if my frozen fish has been temporarily unfrozen during transportation or storage? I need to be sick and complain before someone realizes that something has gone wrong! And moving upstream each actor will tell me "not my fault! I'll raise a claim to the actor (even further) upstream!"
- I am a wine producer. Do I want to take the risk that my final customer - who may pay USD 150+ for my bottles - opens a bottle during a classy dinner and finds it has been "compromised" because it was not stored and moved in the right conditions (say, between 12°C and 16°C)? Shouldn't I expect from all actors downstream that they transparently report to me that they've done their job correctly without me losing my brand's reputation?
- "I already have that". No, you don't. You have a set of non-integrated heterogeneous providers and systems that partially covers independent chunks of your Supply Chain. And when something goes wrong, actors downstream need to painfully move upstream until they reach the issue or get directly to you (eventually refusing your delivery and complaining about poor quality) so that you chase up the issue to get part of your money back.
This above is what I'd call "reactive (partial) traceability".
In other words, assuming the (simplified) Supply Chain can be represented as follows:
then the current visibility of the various actors is somehow reflected in the following images:
- The grower only sees production and, when something goes wrong, part of the transportation service.
- The transportation provider only knows about... itself.
- The shop (or distribution chain) may ask for information on the production lot... when something goes wrong.
Call it "visibility"... !
I understand that regulations don't force the various actors to move a step further (yet) but wouldn't it be much better to implement proactive traceability? What about a set of perfectly integrated environments covering the end-to-end Supply Chain and being able to immediately justify to all the other actors - both upstream and downstream - that the job has been done properly? What about exposing this information all the way to the end customer to show that his purchase is not only safe for consumption but also issued from certified sources?
Achieving proactive traceability
S4GV provides a set of perfectly integrated solutions to answer the specific needs of the various Supply Chain actors:
- The RFID Warehousing and Logistics solution covers all the requirements of a Warehouse Manager with a specific emphasis on RFID serialization for improved inbound/outbound accuracy and super-fast inventories.
- The Tracking and Monitoring solution offers both real-time and deferred monitoring capabilities for transportation and for warehouse storage.
- The Store Management solution answers all the "front" needs (POS, fidelity cards, promotions) as well as all the back room integrations for local stock management, automated replenishment from suppliers, etc.
- The Asset Management solution - maybe a little less relevant in the context of the Fruits & Vegetables industry - adds support for the items' life cycle and assignment history, in particular when dealing with the local logistics of large events/conferences. Did you know that up to 30% of the laptops to be loaned to attendees during a conference never make it back?
By putting all the solutions together, S4GV provides the operational end-to-end visibility across all the actors and entities of the Supply Chain.
This would lead to the following Supply Chain execution:
- At the Farm
- Create new box/pallet references in the system (barcodes, QR, RFID, etc.)
- (Optional) Position a sensor on the pallet to start monitoring temperature, humidity, pressure and more during its entire life cycle
- At the Warehouse
- Verify that all that was sent from the Farm has been received (and automatically confirm to the Farm)
- Perform fruit-specific quality controls and store the QA operations in the system for future reference
- Monitor storage conditions in real-time (temperature, humidity, pressure, etc.)
- Always have control on all pallets that are into the warehouse (inventory) and on the outbound operations.
- During Transportation (truck, ship, train)
- Track your shipments in real-time
- Include the full shipment documentation (documents, photos at departure/arrival, etc.) into the system for future reference.
- Where are they? Have they stopped? Have they gone out-of-route? Are they in a “dangerous” area?
- What are the goods’ conditions (temperature, humidity, pressure, light, etc.)?
- Has someone opened the truck/container?
- At the Dock
- Real-time tracking and monitoring (see above).
- At Delivery
- Retrieve the sensor logs, providing the complete end-to-end coverage from the farm onwards.
Since all S4GV solutions are integrated under a single platform, it is possible to access from any location (the "headquarters", be them global or local) a control-tower view from any PC to:
- Get full proactive real-time visibility on your entire operations on all locations and shipments
- What is being sent from a farm?
- What are the current storage conditions in my warehouse W1?
- What pictures have been taken after loading the container?
- How is this set of pallets being transported? Where is the shipment? Is it being moved in the proper conditions of temperature, humidity and pressure? Has someone opened the truck?
- What is the full history of this pallet, from production to delivery?
In other words, S4GV allows you to get full end-to-end control on the Supply Chain with proactive traceability: no need to "complain with someone else", you can certify to all the actors of the chain (including of course end customers and auditors/regulators) that the job is being done right!
Additional notes and comments
To be fair, some of the discussions I had were more in line with my expectations. For example:
- A couple of specialized truck transportation providers did mention that they could considerably increase their prices because they had deployed a full real-time tracking and monitoring of their shipments. In an industry with very limited margins, this is a strong differentiation capability!
- A few growers - mostly from less mature markets, surprisingly - were very interested by the ability to trace their goods from multiple farms to their warehouses, keeping track of the fruit-specific quality controls that were performed at all steps and having a control-tower real-time view of the storage conditions in all their warehouses and of all their transportation in progress.
We believe that in the near future visibility will become the norm as a sign of transparency and responsibility towards the final customer.
Even if our impression is that the Fruits & Vegetables industry hasn't taken the step yet, leaders in the market will realize the business benefits of improved visibility (both internal and external) with regards to risk mitigation, improved efficiency and better transparency-related commercial results. Regulations are also going to evolve to fight against fake/counterfeited products - consider the lawsuits on PDOs, substandard or quality-impacted products, etc. and will (inevitably?) steer the industry towards more proactive traceability.