Tag Archives: the cloud

Are Traasdahl, Crisp
FST Soapbox

How a History of Slow Technology Adoption Across Food Supply Chains Nearly Broke Us

By Are Traasdahl
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Are Traasdahl, Crisp

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated existing disconnects between food supply and demand. While some may be noticing these issues on a broader scale for the first time, the reality is that there have been challenges in our food supply chains for decades. A lack of accurate data and information sharing is the core of the problem and had greater impact due to the pandemic. Outdated technologies are preventing advancements and efficiencies, resulting in the paradox of mounting food insecurity and food waste.

To bridge this disconnect, the food industry needs to implement innovative AI and machine learning technologies to prevent shortages, overages and waste as COVID-19 subsides. Solutions that enable data sharing and collaboration are essential to build more resilient food supply chains for the future.

Data-sharing technologies that can help alleviate these problems have been under development for decades, but food supply chains have been slow to innovate compared to other industries. By reviewing the top four data-sharing technologies used in food industry and the year they were introduced to food supply chains, it’s evident that the pace of technology innovation and adoption needs to accelerate to advance the industry.

A History of Technology Adoption in the Food Industry

The Barcode – 19741
We’re all familiar with the barcode—that assemblage of lines translated into numbers and letters conveying information about a product. When a cashier scans a barcode, the correct price pops up on the POS, and the sale data is recorded for inventory management. Barcodes are inexpensive and easy to implement. However, they only provide basic information, such as a product’s name, type, and price. Also, while you can glean information from a barcode, you can’t change it or add information to it. In addition, barcodes only group products by category—as opposed to radio-frequency identification (RFID), which provides a different code for every single item.

EDI First Multi-Industry Standards – 19812
Electronic data interchange (EDI) is just what it sounds like—the concept of sharing information electronically instead of on paper. Since EDI standardizes documents and the way they’re transferred, communication between business partners along the supply chain is easier, more efficient, and human error is reduced. To share information via EDI, however, software is required. This software can be challenging for businesses to implement and requires IT expertise to handle updates and maintenance.

RFID in the Food Supply Chain – 20033
RFID and RFID tags are encoded with information that can be transmitted to a reader device via radio waves, allowing businesses to identify and track products and assets. The reader device translates the radio waves into usable data, which then lands in a database for tracking and analysis.

RFID tags hold a lot more data than barcodes—and data is accessible in remote locations and easily shared along the supply chain to boost transparency and trust. Unlike barcode scanners, which need a direct line of sight to a code, RFID readers can read multiple tags at once from any direction. Businesses can use RFID to track products from producer to supplier to retailer in real time.

In 2003, Walmart rolled out a pilot program requiring 100 of its suppliers to use RFID technology by 2005.3 However, the retail giant wasn’t able to scale up the program. While prices have dropped from 35–40 cents during Walmart’s pilot to just 5 cents each as of 2018, RFID tags are still more expensive than barcodes.4 They can also be harder to implement and configure. Since active tags have such a long reach, businesses also need to ensure that scammers can’t intercept sensitive data.

Blockchain – 20175
A blockchain is a digital ledger of blocks (records) used to record data across multiple transactions. Changes are recorded in real-time, making the history unfalsifiable and transparent. Along the food supply chain, users can tag food, materials, compliance certificates and more with a set of information that’s recorded on the blockchain. Partners can easily follow the item through the physical supply chain, and new information is recorded in real-time.

Blockchain is more secure and transparent, less vulnerable to fraud, and more scalable than technologies like RFID. When paired with embedded sensors and RFID tags, the tech offers easier record-keeping and better provenance tracking, so it can address and help solve traceability problems. Blockchain boosts trust by reducing food falsification and decreasing delays in the supply chain.6

On the negative side, the cost of transaction processing with blockchain is high. Not to mention, the technology is confusing to many, which hinders adoption. Finally, while more transparency is good news, there’s such a thing as too much transparency; there needs to be a balance, so competitors don’t have too much access to sensitive data.

Cloud-Based Demand Forecasting – 2019 to present7
Cloud-based demand forecasting uses machine learning and AI to predict demand for various products at different points in the food supply chain. This technology leverages other technologies on this list to enhance communication across supply chain partners and improve the accuracy of demand forecasting, resulting in less waste and more profit for the food industry. It enables huge volumes of data to be used to predict demand, including past buying patterns, market changes, weather, events and holidays, social media input and more to create a more accurate picture of demand.

The alternative to cloud-based demand forecasting that is still in use today involves Excel or manual spreadsheets and lots of number crunching, which are time-intensive and prone to human error. This manual approach is not a sustainable process, but AI, machine learning and automation can step in to resolve these issues.

Obtaining real-time insights from a centralized, accurate and accessible data source enables food suppliers, brokers, distributors, brands and retailers to share information and be nimble, improving their ability to adjust supply in response to factors influencing demand.8 This, in turn, reduces cost, time and food waste, since brands can accurately predict how much to produce down to the individual SKU level, where to send it and even what factors might impact it along the way.

Speeding Up Adoption

As illustrated in Figure 1, the pace of technology change in the food industry has been slow compared to other industries, such as music and telecommunications. But we now have the tools, the data and the brainpower to create more resilient food supply chains.

Technology adoption, food industry
Figure 1. The pace of technology change in the food industry has been slow compared to other industries. Figure courtesy of Crisp.

Given the inherent connectivity of partners in the food supply chain, we now need to work together to connect information systems in ways that give us the insights needed to deliver exactly the rights foods to the right places, at the right time. This will not only improve consumer satisfaction but will also protect revenue and margins up and down food supply chains and reduce global waste.

References

  1. Weightman, G. (2015). The History of the Bar Code. Smithsonian Magazine.
  2. Locken, S. (2012). History of EDI Technology. EDI Alliance.
  3. Markoff, R, Seifert, R. (2019). RFID: Yesterday’s blockchain. International Institute for Management Development.
  4. Wollenhaupt, G. (2018). What’s next for RFID? Supply Chain Dive.
  5. Tran, S. (2019). IBM Food Trust: Cutting Through the Complexity of the World’s Food Supply with Blockchain. Blockchain News.
  6. Galvez, J, Mejuto, J.C., Simal-Gandara, J. (2018). Future Challenge on the use of blockchain for food traceability analysis. Science Direct.
  7. (2019). Crisp launches with $14.2 million to cut food waste using big data. Venture Beat.
  8. Dixie, G. (2005). The Impact of Supply and Demand. Marketing Extension Guide.
Jason Chester, InfinityQS
FST Soapbox

Digital Revolution: Empowering the Remote Workforce and Resilience Post-COVID-19

By Jason Chester
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Jason Chester, InfinityQS

Around the world, countries are beginning to take tentative steps toward a return to normalcy following months of stay-at-home mandates and other restrictions in light of COVID-19. Slowly, we’re starting to see employees return to their offices, retail stores open their doors, and restaurants welcome back patrons. However, many will find themselves in a world dramatically different from the one they left before quarantine.

Namely, on top of social distancing and disinfection measures to control further spread of the virus, entire industries are re-examining their legacy processes and systems—especially ones that presented operational challenges at the pandemic’s outbreak—the food manufacturing industry included.

In truth, food manufacturers have gone to great lengths to maintain productivity and output to meet demand throughout the pandemic. But they have done so in the face of unprecedented circumstances, with many plants operating with limited workforces and key employees like quality professionals and plant managers shifted to remote work. Lacking connectivity between those on the plant floor and at home due to long-held manual processes, a growing number of manufacturers must now take a hard look at their quality and safety programs and embrace digital tools.

A Wake-Up Call for Digital Transformation

Most technological investments in food manufacturing over the past several decades have centered on electro-mechanical automation designed to scale up the physical production process. Fewer investments, however, have been made on the equally important data-driven, decision-making process necessary for ensuring optimal performance, food quality and safety.

Even in the most heavily automated plants, it’s not uncommon to find manufacturers managing quality through manually updated spreadsheets, which are often only reviewed after the fact, when it’s too late for remedial correction. There are unfortunately also those who still rely on paper checklists, making it practically impossible to take proactive action on collected process data—much less get the information in front of remote quality professionals and managers. Meanwhile, others have gone as far as adopting software solutions for quality data management and process control, but these tend to be on-premises systems that employees can’t access outside of the four walls of the plant.

We have also seen many examples where, due to workforce restrictions and availability, employees from other parts of the manufacturing business (e.g., R&D, IT, and back-office teams) have been brought in to perform plant-floor activities like quality and food safety checks. The goal has been to prevent impediments to production output, just when demand has increased substantially. But ensuring that these employees perform the checks on time and in the correct way—with little time for training or coaching—has left many plant leaders in a precarious position.

The challenges seen with these capabilities and enabling geographically dispersed teams to work together through the pandemic have been a wake-up call of sorts for digital transformation. Manufacturers are coming to the realization that they’ll need data accessibility, actionability and adaptability along the road to recovery and in the post-COVID-19 world. And with social distancing and other workplace precautions expected to continue for the foreseeable future, the imperative is all the more urgent.

The Solution Lies in the Cloud

To digitally transform quality and safety programs today, food manufacturers should prioritize investment in the cloud. Notably, cloud-based quality management systems offer a way to standardize and centralize critical process information, as well as tools to empower employees at all levels of the enterprise.

For plant-floor operators struggling to keep up on account of reduced workforce sizes, such solutions can automate routine yet important activities for quality assurance, including data collection, process monitoring and reporting. If a team member needs to cover a different shift or unfamiliar task, role-based dashboards can help them to see required actions, while process workflows can provide guidance to ensure proper steps are taken even with a limited workforce. Further, automated alerts can provide timely notifications of any issues—whether it be a missed data collection or an actual food quality or safety concern present in the data.

Perhaps most importantly during the pandemic and for the post-COVID-19 world, the cloud makes critical quality data instantly and easily accessible from anywhere, at any time. Quality professionals, plant managers, and other decision-makers can continue to monitor and analyze real-time process data, as well as observe performance trends to prevent issues from escalating—all safely from home.

The scalability of cloud-based solutions also streamlines deployment so organizations can rapidly implement and standardize on a single system across multiple lines and sites. In doing so, it becomes possible to run cross-plant analyses to identify opportunities for widescale process improvement and align best practices for optimal quality control at all sites. This ability to understand what’s happening in production—through real-time data—to enact agile, real-world change is a hallmark of successful digital transformation.

An Investment for Whatever the Future Holds

Ultimately, investments in secure cloud-based quality management and the broader digital transformation of manufacturing operations are investments in not only perseverance during the pandemic, but also resilience for the future. Food producers and manufacturers who can readily access and make informed decisions from their data will be the ones best equipped to pivot and adjust operations in times of disruption and uncertainty. And while it’s unclear what the future holds for the world, the food industry, and COVID-19, it’s safe to say we likely won’t see a full return to normalcy but the emergence of a new—and in many ways better—normal, born out of digital solutions and smarter ways of thinking about quality data collection and monitoring.

Richard Wilson, AuditComply
FST Soapbox

Why SaaS and Food Safety Are A Perfect Match

By Richard Wilson
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Richard Wilson, AuditComply

Food manufacturers, what’s keeping you up at night? What’s the one issue that could damage your reputation so badly that you lose customers? The answer: A food safety crisis that at best, requires your products to be recalled and at worst, puts valued consumers at risk.

Similarly, if you’re a global supply chain manager, what’s your number one worry? The answer: Maintaining continuous compliance with industry standards, meeting increased regulation requirements, or maybe it’s a key supplier failing their BRC audit?

Whatever it is, we all know food manufacturers are under increased pressure, facing multiple internal and external challenges in an ever-changing complex environment. Challenges such as price volatility, stronger competition, increasing customer demands, complex supply chains and globalization are all taking their toll.

Furthermore, to add to this increasing pressure, organizations are still relying on paper-based systems and manual processes to help manage their risk, quality and compliance, and even their environmental health and safety (EHS)! This approach is inefficient, makes the audit and compliance process costly and difficult to scale, while compromising quality and complicating traceability. It’s time to take advantage of the digital age and relieve the pain and pressure of traditional risk and compliance management with a SaaS (software as a service) solution.

What is SaaS (Software as a Service)?

SaaS providers use the internet to deliver their bespoke software offering, usually in the form of a subscription-based service with a monthly or annual fee. The main benefit of SaaS is the cloud, being cloud-based software, upgrades and fixes are managed by the software provider, reducing or eliminating the need for an IT infrastructure—all your data is readily available in real time, on one centralized platform. SaaS is delivering more visibility and mobility without hassling organizations with the details and streamlining software integration across the globe.

SaaS solutions have become a game changer in modern risk management, and the following points illustrate why.

Speed of Deployment

Food and beverage manufacturers require a SaaS solution for multi-site global deployment with complete local management. A SaaS solution will graft onto your business processes immediately. No additional IT hardware should be needed, which means you don’t waste your time procuring and installing an IT infrastructure for multiple sites to benefit. It’s important to remember that the food and beverage industry is moving fast, so if your chosen SaaS solution requires months or years to implement, you’re talking to the wrong people. There is a common saying at my company: “We don’t count in months or years, we count in hours and minutes”.

Providers that offer traditional, on-premise solutions, require extensive configuration and bespoke coding to map to the client’s needs. Long rollout and deployment cycles are inherently expensive to maintain and have poor user experience. This is the reason most consumers revert to Excel/Word and Sharepoint, ultimately losing the ability to manage consistently at scale across their real estate. With an RPM (risk and performance management) SaaS solution you can expect a fast deployment with a comprehensive and configurable enterprise workflow from day one.

Staying Up to Date Is Automatic

Your chosen SaaS provider manage your entire solution from their side, which means upgrades, fixes and customization requests are immediate and automatic. Again, reducing or eliminating, the resource needs of an IT infrastructure. Organizations will have the advantage of immediately being able to utilize the latest features the SaaS solution has to offer. These upgrades will often be driven by feedback from users as organizational and industry requirements change. On-going system development will be crucial to staying in, and assuring, compliance and risk mitigation.

As a food manufacturer, it is important that your SaaS solution comes with a comprehensive document control library—a feature that will always be automatically updated by your SaaS provider. When you are conducting assessments in the field, many users require the ability to refer back to specific document types such as manuals, procedures, work instructions and the latest standards or regulations. These documents should be all managed by your SaaS provider, with teams consistently reviewing and updating important industry documentation on the platform for any user out in the field.

Ease of Use

Proofs of concept are crucial. Living in a world where we have an abundant amount of choice, organizations need to know their chosen SaaS solution has the ability to meet requirements and demands of both the organization and industry. This is made easy with SaaS, allowing organizations to test the software functionality in advance of purchase. Even for large food manufacturers, SaaS offerings can be used to test the software before it is purchased, and there should be no limit to the amount of trial users. The right risk and performance platform will also allow your team to upload specific templates, allowing new users to be familiar with assessments provided on the platform, easing your transition to a digital format.

Mobility and 360o Visibility

For further flexibility, popular SaaS providers will offer their solution in mobile format. Assessments conducted on the platform should be seamlessly synchronized between smartphone, tablet and desktop, allowing you to start an assessment on one platform and then pick it up on another. Users are no longer restricted to one location and can access their robust platform from any device, online or offline. We know that many companies are operating in

harsh environments, whether it’s the scorching temperatures of the Sahara desert or the blistering wind chills of northern Canada—your SaaS solution needs to come equipped with the right tools. By utilizing SaaS mobile offerings, organizations gain full visibility of their risk profile, making room for a culture of continuous compliance whether they’re in the field or back at the office.

Scalability at a Lower Cost

Implementing a SaaS solution means all your data is securely stored in the cloud. This provides scalability to match organizational growth strategies. Food manufacturers can add more users as their business grows without ever thinking about changing the hardware or requiring a full IT department for assistance. However, although SaaS offerings are provided at a lower cost than traditional solutions, each platform has its own rates, so shop around for a solution that will best suit your budget and requirements.

Bottom Line

Cloud-based software models have made risk, quality and compliance more affordable and flexible, considerably improving and streamlining business processes worldwide. Next time you are evaluating a SaaS solution for your food and beverage organizations, remember, the providers are staking their own survival on the software platform working. Whether it’s the protection, security, availability or performance of your data. Providers want to make their platforms a hassle-free and secure option for any food manufacturer looking to thrive in this demanding industry.

Relieve the pain and pressure of traditional risk and compliance management: Realize your investment from day one.

Randy Fields, Repositrak
FST Soapbox

Food Safety Technology Disrupters

By Randy Fields
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Randy Fields, Repositrak

We’ve all heard about the latest disrupters in the retail supply chain, like the Internet of Things, wearable computers, cognitive analytics, machine learning and even the new value chain in which these technologies intercede to provide a better and more accurate shopping experience for consumers. There are also developments like digital fabrication that interacts with both the consumer and appliances to improve the way product gets to the consumer from the point of production.

Technology disrupters can fundamentally change supply chains, destroying existing ones and creating new ones. Other disruptions can be caused by not a single technology but by several new and existing technologies that come together in innovative ways. Smart retailers and their trading partners are working to judge the impact of these technology disrupters before or at least as they occur. They need to be more proactive by investing in key areas of strategy, culture and partnership.

A company’s supply chain can be the weakest link in its food safety program. Learn how to mitigate these risks at the Food Safety Supply Chain conference | June 5-6, 2017

Many of the technology disrupters in food safety are based on the growing ability to apply analytics, including machine learning, to drive a better understanding of and increase the personalized relationships with the consumer, and to glean insight from all the data being collected. Knowing exactly what information shoppers require to feel safe with the products they are buying from you can only help build and maintain a great reputation. Further, analytics help companies predict and address the weakest links on the production floor and in their own extended supply chain to keep those customers free from potentially deadly pathogens.

Cloud computing for the delivery of IT and business processes as digital services is transforming the food safety world through the unprecedented speed and agility it enables for mobile and social engagement. Telling your customers that a recalled product could cause an illness used to require lots of phone calls or even snail mail, but now technologies in the cloud facilitate almost instantaneous messaging of the warning to whole or subsets of a population. This is just one of the ways that everyone from shoppers to business people are changing the way they interact with each other and the way we all do business due to the cloud.

Security in general and cybersecurity specifically are disrupters for companies concerned with food safety, because they can fall prey to sophisticated hackers and other crooks that try to ransom a business’ reputation in the digital world. Think how important it is to protect your own information as well as that of your consumers and customers for payment details and personal data. Now add health data to the mix and you’ll recognize the critical nature of the issue.

All of these technology disrupters have the potential to seriously impair your food safety plans and procedures, but they can also help you better deploy resources to address individual food safety emergencies and ongoing issues. Knowing the impact of the disruption is the first step in addressing it; then you need to develop a plan that helps you take advantage of the positive sides of the disruption and eliminate the negative ones.