High technology - computer electronics (macro)_4279072

The food we eat is often sourced from all over the world and products will hit a number of touchpoints before reaching our plates.

Quite rightly a record of that journey needs to take place – in order that all products have full traceability and those in the supply chain have full accountability – but the data generated within that record can be vast, especially when you consider that the multitude of sensors and measurement tools are becoming increasingly ‘connected’ through 'the Internet of Things.'

The measurement of food quality has enhanced thanks to this. For example, as we know it is possible for food companies to measure food quality as it leaves the factory or warehouse, but historically, the information stopped during transit. The technology now exists to track the condition of perishables right through transit too, using sensor-controlled cooling units.

The monitoring and analysis of suppliers has also changed thanks to advances in data accessibility. I’ll elaborate below, but through using cloud-based collaborative tools, due diligence and compliance data is easily accessible, and integration with third-party data sets allows a much clearer picture of a supplier to be obtained much more easily and quickly.

Practical applications

The revolution of big data technologies has brought with it great potential to make today’s food supply chain safer, more effective and more sustainable.

Big data allows co-operation across the whole supply chain, right from growers to retailers who can work together as never before to ensure efficient delivery and food safety. Big data allows companies across the supply chain gain the real-time visibility and enable the automated, intelligent actions needed to ensure food is of the highest quality, delivered on time and prepared in optimal settings.

A key trend that we’ve been able to identify from the data in our Greenlight Quality Control system is that organisations across the whole supply chain are taking quality assurance much more seriously than even four years ago. We’ve been able to see that since the horsemeat scandal, quality control checks in our system have gone up by 140 per cent!

Speaking more generally, supply chain data offers advanced insight, allowing organisations to make very informed decisions. Deep insight into the performance of a supply chain and the products within allows retailers and large suppliers to identify areas of risk (be that rogue suppliers, natural disaster or political unrest to name a few). From that, quick decisions can be made regarding which reputable alternative sources your product can come from.

Cost considerations

Like all technology, the cost of data does reduce over time, however by implementing systems such as ours, huge savings can be made elsewhere, making the return on investment significant.

Fundamentally, data technology drives efficiency, and that can be in various forms. For instance, it could be in your supply chain. The data generated in our Greenlight Supplier Approval software can eliminate duplication of supply, so if two different distributors are delivering goods from a single supplier, this can be quickly identified and analysed, allowing the opportunity to streamline this supply, and source directly from the original supplier. This will inevitably have an impact on waste and the opportunity to introduce savings.

Efficiencies can also be gained in regards to waste. By always having the most up-do-date information of retailer specifications, growers and suppliers are always aware of the customer’s wants and expectations. In the case of one of our customers the improvement of productivity and workflow across the company’s supply chain, has more than halved the intake rejection rate on its fresh produce lines.

In terms of accessibility, as smartphones and tablets play a greater role in day-to-day business practices, the opportunity for more people to assess and utilise this data increases. This in itself cuts cost as bespoke hardware becomes a thing of the past. In the case of our customer, Waitrose, the use of our new Greenlight Quality Control iPhone app has saved a predicted 71 days of checking time alone.

Finally, as the concept of big data matures, the opportunity of integration with larger data sets develops, meaning that the volume of data that existing users can benefit from increases, which in turn enhances and refines the level of insight.

How software can help

The food industry is huge and complex, it’s also heavily scrutinised and it is already generating a vast amount of data. On the one hand this poses a challenge in the sheer management of data that supply chains generate; but on the other, it offers huge opportunity, as that data can provide significant insight to the processes involved and allow those involved in the supply chain to make informed, critical decisions.

Our suite of cloud-based software products span the whole supply chain from grower to retailer and offer total visibility across the chain. The deployment of these systems gives customers a complete view of the supply chain, addressing three key questions: Are my products fit for purpose? Where do my products come from? Who is in my supply chain and are they fit to supply?

One product that really taps into this idea of big data is Greenlight Supplier Approval. Data can be entered by all stakeholders in the supply chain and, with integration of large third-party data sets, those involved at critical stages in the supply chain can build the most in-depth picture of the supply chain possible including all those within it. Retailers (or other food businesses with a supply chain below them and the need to evaluate performance) can see the chain depicted graphically and can focus on that element of the chain centred on a specific supplier or distributor.

But it doesn’t stop there. A retailer, for example, can select an individual grower or supplier and, thanks to the integration with international third party databases (such as GlobalGAP and global pesticide databases) view full and up-to-the-minute details of the supplier’s credentials and compliance. Something that historically was very hard to pin down, let alone view.

The instant view of their supply chain can also be represented geographically using Google Maps to display the disparate locations of all suppliers.

The interpretation of data is a theme that runs across all of our products. Each one is designed to digest the wealth of data, submitted either by supply chain stakeholders or third party data sets. The products then translate that data into easy-to-access insight, from which our customers can make timely and informed business decisions. Without systems like ours, the process of supply chain management is lengthy, unwieldy and resource-hungry. Characteristics that companies in the food sector simply can’t afford to adopt, given the level of scrutiny now imposed on the industry.