The past few years have seen both breakdowns and an evolution in the management of supply chain quality. An important aspect of the evolution is the demand by consumers to be informed about more than simply the availability of any specific product. In a way, consumers are transferring their existing approach to services they use (for example, to travel) to other domains.
The travel season will soon be upon us. Many families, aware of the price increases summer brings, are already considering their plans for summer vacations including, for the more adventurous, travel to far off lands. Some destinations, Europe for example, offset a family’s expenses with transportation opportunities that remove the burden of driving.
What can a family vacationing in Europe possibly have in common with the new developments in Supply Chain Quality Assurance Management? Let’s move quickly to the Consumer Goods Forum* (CGF), specifically their END-TO-END VALUE CHAIN & STANDARDS & GLOBAL FOOD SAFETY INITIATIVE, entitled TRACEABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY.
The Forum’s charter is to focus on the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) industry, but the approach also applies to multiple industries where distributed manufacturing and extended supply chains are normal. These are composed of suppliers, sub-suppliers, co-manufacturers, external production resources, and distributors with their producers.
Interestingly, the challenge a family faces is, in rough terms, similar to the challenge the Consumer Goods Forum is addressing. Here are some of the questions a family (perhaps even your family) probably asks:
TRUST: Is the system trustworthy? Northern European trains have a superb reputation for being on time, with modern trains providing the promised services. (And, come to think of it, can our family say the same thing about the supply chain of the yogurt we will be eating for our train lunches?)
LINKAGES: Can we easily hop from one system to another? Are all the lines in the system interconnected? The denser the system, the more attractive it is. The bigger the gaps, the more difficult the “hop”, and the less functional and convenient it appears to be. The same is true of supply chains that span the globe: there are more cost-effective materials and ingredients, and distances that complicate tracking and tracing anything.
These two – trust and linkages – are two axes that concern us on many fronts today. For example, the linkages provided by the Internet are, like a well-developed transportation network, superb if the data is available to support those linkage functions. However, when it comes to trust, the problems are enormous. Huge quantities of material flow through these networks, but can they be trusted? If we can move through a transportation system from one link to another with no gaps, but we can’t trust what the schedules say, how functional is it?
Recently, the CGF network and its offspring GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) took on a similar challenge, with a focus not on businesses alone, but also on consumers. Hence the name includes END-TO-END Traceability and Transparency.
The Goals of the Initiative
What is traceability & transparency? It’s about interoperability, information and developing effective crisis management systems globally.*
The three main concerns are CONSUMER TRUST, INTEROPERABILITY AND LEGISLATION. Interoperability is another way of saying that, like passengers, consumers should be able to flow through various supply chain members’ systems without knowing about those repositories, gathering information they want about regular consumer goods they buy every day. They need to get quick but complete and trustworthy answers to questions of rising concern: What are the products they consume made of, how safe are they, and what evidence exists to prove the claims? What country are they from? What impact does their production have on the environment? What about the social impacts – child labor, forced labor, unsafe working conditions, other human rights abuses? The Initiative documents state:
Almost any product attribute can become critical for consumer trust if given sufficient attention in the social and mass media as evidenced by the horsemeat, Rana Plaza and Thai shrimp scandals.*
The LEGISLATION component of the Initiative is aimed at encouraging proactive changes, rather than waiting for government bodies to step in and force various industries to respond to new regulations.
Reaching the Goals
The objectives of the Initiative are clear and well stated. The next challenge is determining the mechanics of achieving them. Many companies document their processes, and do so bilaterally, up and down the “silo,” i.e., between their suppliers and themselves. Much of the documentation is produced to maintain convenience and familiarity for a company’s supplier, and usually on paper documents or their electronic equivalents.
Unfortunately, these “siloed” methods of communication can’t meet the challenge the CGF and its members have set for the industry. Like a train that runs on one track with no linkages to the entire network, information is inaccessible to the other tracks, and certainly not accessible to consumers, whose trust the initiative is designed to garner.
What could help supply what is missing? Certainly, the “medium” must be the “message.” The flow of information must be digital, easily accessible and capable of being adjusted for the lowest common denominator, requiring few tools and able to cross cultural barriers and disparate systems.
One example of a system that could potentially meet this challenge is GSQA®, a Software-as-as-Service solution. At the recent CGF Conference in Houston, EMNS, Inc. demonstrated GSQA® as the first deployment of receiving and replying to queries over the web from the CGF’s Open API automated query pilot system in real time, hosted in the CGF’s own booth. Of course, there are other solution providers working to achieve the same functionality. The key is that in the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) industry, a consortium of large companies is leading the way for development and deployment of industry standards that will enable the sharing data about products, their ingredients, their sources and their implications in the environmental and social realms.
Is this likely to occur in other industries? EMNS, Inc. is betting on it. Our commitment is to provide all-electronic, Internet-based product QA information for private supply chains so they seamlessly interoperate with over-arching industry data-sharing methodologies like the CGF’s Open API.