When Supply Chain Managers turn Hansel & Gretel…

As kids many of us read the fairytale of Hansel & Gretel being abandoned in the forest by their step-mother, and how they dropped stones and breadcrumbs to leave a trail to get back home. With increasing incidents of product recall, and regulations like FSMA and DSCSA, many supply chain managers frequently find themselves in the children’s position. They have to regularly trace the origin of contaminated, expired, unauthorized or counterfeit products in a global supply chain. They painstakingly do this with outdated spreadsheets, phone calls and educated guesswork.  Ironically in a world that thrives on having information at their finger-tips, many of them are saddled with tools that make Hansel & Gretel’s stone trail look sophisticated.

With increasing product and supply chain complexity, the need to trace individual or batches of products and their components has increased. While regulatory traceability requirements are well known, managers often overlook the business benefits. This has resulted in implementation of solutions that meet just the minimum requirements laid out by government bodies.

Where do these “barebones” track and trace systems fall short, and what is the impact?


Thanks to the FDA push for serialization, there has been a renewed focus on the tracking granularity. Tracking each unit of finished goods with a unique identifier can take care of the serialization requirements and there are mature technologies like RFID and Bar-coding which can enable that. But in industries like Hi-Tech and Auto where the supply chain is deep, limiting tracking at the unit level can turn out to be expensive in the event of a recall. Knowing the components and sub-component inside each unit of the final product and having quick visibility to the same can make the difference between recalling a few dozen vs. recalling tens of thousands. Current assembly lines have the ability to track information about components going into a unit. So, data gathering is no longer the problem.  What is needed is the ability to traverse the extended BOM, and consumption of components and finished goods, in either direction. The user should be able to enter the serial numbers, manufacturing date or supplier details and quickly zero in on the few units that have the faulty component.  The result is not just cost saving from fewer units being recalled but also improved customer satisfaction and brand reputation.

Real-time monitoring and alerting

Many products especially in the pharma & food industry need to be stored under controlled conditions.  Today IoT enabled devices and beacon technology are making it easier to detect instances where the required environment was not maintained. Analyzing this information together with product/ batch tracking numbers can tell the supply chain manager about the units that need to be scrapped.  That ofcourse is the regulatory requirement.  But this wealth of information if analyzed in real-time can also enable managers toopportunistically promote products before expiration and/or pull the supply chain quickly to bring in replenishments on time.  So, once again an intelligent track and trace can go beyond compliance – in this case it can result in additional revenue due to timely availability.

Sophisticated monitoring is also necessary to ensure that scrapped goods do not get back to the supply chain or to make sure that goods authorized for sale at a particular geography are not traded illegally elsewhere.  Again not just better compliance but higher revenues too.

Ability to tie together information from multiple systems

For effective track and trace, information from multiple systems has to be brought together. More often than not, the tracking system is synchronized with only a few of them.  Operations teams rely on outdated batch reports or spreadsheets to fill in the gaps. This may be sufficient to meet regulatory requirements but comes at the cost of time spent on manual analysis. A system which captures continuous streams of business event data from all sources of transactions, and stores them in a data store capable of retrieving relevant information in real time, can provide a single view of the product or batch genealogy to all stakeholders across the extended enterprise.  This not only increases agility by detecting discrepancies in real-time, but also provides visibility to what is pending for a particular batch of finished goods or intermediate products to be released to the next stage – the result is streamlined operations, and the capability to leverage track and trace towards new business enablement.

Today for most supply chain managers, track and trace is like a treasure hunt where they rely on hidden cryptic clues in the form of disconnected reports. Historically things had to be done that way due to the lack of availability of computing power and technologies – details about each unit of the product and its inputs at the most granular level does amount to demon sized databases. But today, with event driven process agnostic data stores, powered by in-memory technology platforms like OpsVeda and cloud infrastructure that costs a fraction of what it used to, enterprises have the opportunity to convert track and trace from a painful compliance requirement, to a real-time capability that provides a competitive edge. Two centuries ago Hansel & Gretel realized the importance of having a connected stream of information. Unfortunately for them the birds ate up some of the bread-crumbs they laid to identify the trail and they got lost in the forest.  Fortunately for our customers OpsVeda has been enabling reliable real-time track and trace.

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