My brother, Scot, and I traveled to North Dakota last week for meetings in Dickinson, N.D. (in southwest North Dakota) and Fargo, N.D. (southeastern North Dakota on the border with sister city, Moorhead, MN). Leaving Oklahoma we traveled north through Kansas, spent the night in North Platte, Nebraska. The next day took us by the Black Hills of South Dakota and Mt. Rushmore. If you have never been there, it's definitely worth the stop. I hadn't realized that the four President's gazed out of the Black Hills toward the east and a vast sea of prairie. We also drove on some beautiful, shoulderless 'blue' highways like that of Highway 85 between Belle Fourche, S.D. and Belfield, N.D. If you love the movie Dances with Wolves, you'll love this stretch of scenery. Lots and lots of pronghorn antelope, too. And Redig, S.D. really is one of those 'towns' with one house sitting on a rail straight road stretching endlessly into the distance. No kidding.
But, I digress.
For those of you who think you are unfamiliar with complex supply chains, allow me to jog your memory because you actually know more than you think you do. Spinach. Lead painted toys. Mad cows. Tomatoes. Jalapeno peppers. Hamburger. What do they all have in common? They are products that originate at the frayed ends of lengthy (even international) supply chains beset by many, many fears related to information sharing. And they are products that have been deemed poisonous (lead paint) or unhealthy (contaminated with e. coli, the prions that apparently cause BSE, or salmonella). Actually, the tomato industry got hammered this summer and they weren't even at fault. But take a look at some of the wonderful, free advertising the tomato industry received before the FDA called off the dogs.
What is the value of immediately accessible, credible, supply chain information? If it incontrovertibly points to you and your business as the culprit in a food disease crisis, for instance, then, yes, you are limiting your options. But if your company uses best practices in its crop management and limits its risks in advance, the value of credible information at your fingertips in a disease crisis is to immediately distinguish your company from (a) the actual culprits, and (b) all other companies who perform best crop management practices just like you but can't provide credible information for months. In fact the damage is not measured in months but in hours. Unfortunately, within hours the damage to reputation has been seeded into the minds of wholesale buyers and retail consumers. And without your ability to immediately provide exonerating information, the government regulators are going to 'play it safe' and cast a broad net that unfortunately ropes in a lot of innocent parties.
Information is like a sword. Unfortunately, if you don't firmly grab the sword and make it cut for you, in a crisis the sword will be out of your hands and you will potentially be sliced to death in the name of 'public health'.
The Dickinson Research Extension Center of North Dakota State University (NDSU DREC) is the first land grant extension center, and perhaps still the only one, to operate a beef livestock age and source verification program sanctioned by the USDA. It's called the CalfAID USDA PVP (i.e., process verified program employing RFID ear tags) and it's managed by NDSU DREC for the real cattlemen of the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association. The Agro-Security Resource Center at Dickinson State University also makes a significant contribution. It's partly research driven (with Congressional funding) and partly market-driven. It's market-driven in that those real livestock producers pay a fee per animal out of their pockets with the expectation that they will receive greater dollars (i.e., premiums) later on that the market pays for credible information about those calves. The CalfAID PVP exists to keep the calves connected with their age (i.e., birthdate) and source (i.e., origin) as each calf winds its way along an otherwise 'information dysfunctional' supply chain.
How dysfunctional is the information sharing? The U.S. has a national herd of about 100 million cattle. There's about a million cattle operations of one sort or the other. The vast majority of calf producers don't know where their calves eventually end up being slaughtered. Most packers don't know from what ranch or farm the animals they slaughter originated from. It's pretty much the same as it was in the 19th century. Most products (i.e., the livestock) are pushed one-step at a time as 'as is' commodities along a supply chain in which each segment only sees one step back, and one step forward. It's kind of like standing in a bucket line helping to pass along that bucket of water to put out a fire. You know who is passing you the bucket, and you know to whom you are passing it on. But in the beef industry, chances are you don't know where the fire is or even where the water is coming from.
In order to set the stage for scaling out from tracking thousands of cattle to tracking potentially hundreds of thousands or even millions of cattle, NDSU DREC has adopted a web service for their supply chain that empowers livestock producers to do with their cattle data what the following jazzy video envisions for social networks.
DataPortability - Connect, Control, Share, Remix from Smashcut Media on Vimeo
The web service, patented and engineered by Pardalis, is called a 'data bank' and it's coded in .NET with SQL server architecture on the back-end (though I would be very interested to see an open source, adjacent Linux system similarly funded and architected from Pardalis' IP as a data bank for the social networking space).
Common Point Authoring ModelSo how exactly does the 'data bank' work. To the right is the information model for the Common Point Authoring system (CPA) - that's the name that Pardalis has used in its most recent patents. You can also compare this image with other views, images and information about the CPA system to be found elsewhere in this blog site. Within the CPA system data cannot be changed once set (i.e., registered) so that the data can be used for verification and certification. Or, put another way, Pardalis has transformed the traditional application of immutable objects beyond run-time efficiencies, and empowered end-users with tools for granularly authoring, registering, controlling, and sharing these immutable objects.
The end-users 'own' and directly control sharing rights over what they author and register (or automatically collect and register), they just can't change it once it's authored. It becomes a part of a permanent, trustworthy record of the bank albeit controlled by the author. Other data bank account holders who receive any information from another data bank account holder know that. And they can remix it with their own data, and further share it, permission being granted to do so by the original author. This all helps build confidence, data credibility and, especially, trusted communication where it did not exist before. It provides a means for supply chain participants to reap benefits not just from their traditional products, but now also from their informational products. And, yes, there's no free lunch. The government might very well be able to subpoena those electronic records in their quest to protect the public's health. But they do the same with traditional monetary banks, too, don't they?
Now there are a number of technological ways to accomplish the same thing, it's just that Pardalis' object oriented approach provides certain long term advantages in terms of scalability, efficiency and granularity in 'the Cloud' that match up extremely well to an emerging Semantic Web. And you don't have to take my word for it. See, for example, the blogged entries, Efficient monitoring of objects in object-oriented database system which interacts cooperatively with client programs and Advantages of object oriented databases over relational databases. And Pardalis’ granular information banking system provides a substantial head-start in the race toward the standardization of a metadata platform for what I call an Ownership Web.
Online encyclopedias like Metaweb's Freebase Parallax are beginning to roll out tools for semantic search and semantic visualizations of publicly accessible information. See the nifty video clip in Freebase Parallax and the Ownership Web. Others like Google, Yahoo! , and Wikipedia will follow. The intrinsic value for connecting these search engines and encyclopedias with the Ownership Web will be the opportunity to likewise empower their authenticated end-users with the same semantic tools for accessing information that people consider to be their identity, that participants to complex supply chains consider to be confidential, and that governments classify as secret.
But, again, I digress.
Here's a film clip demonstrating the the authoring and portability of immutable data objects along the beef livestock supply chain. The interface is neither sexy nor jazzy. But it is effective. This type of look and feel makes sense for the beef livestock supply chain as Microsoft Excel is familiar to a large percentage of cattle producers (at least the ones who have moved on from pencil and paper). Currently, there's no audio because, frankly, I've provided the audio 'live' when called upon to do so. If you, too, would like a verbal walk through, drop me an e-mail. Or, in the alternative, I've scripted a written walk-through that you can download, print and follow as the clip runs its course. If you want to see a full screen version, click on the hyperlinked text below the graphic to take you to the Vimeo website.
In the coming months the data bank will be used not just to track the data uploaded and ported by CalfAID members, but also for helping to keep data connected with the animals from other age and source programs, and probably even for COOL compliance, too.
Once again, there's way more to the data bank than its application to the beef industry. As Dr. Kris Ringwall, Director of NDSU DREC, said in Fargo to a large vegetable growing company during a live demonstration of the data bank, "whether it's an animal or a vegetable, it's a product with a pedigree".
Well, that may be more of a paraphrase than a quote, but I know that Kris in this Presidential campaign season would nonetheless 'approve this message'.
The activities in North Dakota with CalfAID have been suspended. The livestock industry is struggling to find its way when it comes to animal identification. See the New York Times article dated 5 February 2009 USDA Will Drop Program to Trace Livestock in which USDA Secretary Vilsack announces the termination of the National Animal Identification System.
But the activities in North Dakota have by no means gone to waste.
In November, 2009 Pardalis joined with North Dakota State University, Oklahoma State University, Michigan State University, and Top 10 Produce LLC in a grant application filed in January for a Specialty Crops Research Initiative Coordinated Agricultural Project under USDA-NIFA-SCRI-002672. The essential premise of the $5M/5YR SCRI application was that providing supply chain participants (including consumers) with more control (i.e., traceability) over their data will increase the availability and quality of product data, and open up new, sustainable business models for both large and small companies. Though we received notice on 1 June 2010 that we would not be funded, here's what one reviewer had to say:
"Although [the application] addresses a topic area clearly of importance to Homeland Security, the FDA, and of course to USDA, the proposed traceability-system project, as written, could be used just as well for widgets as for fresh produce .... [But what] funding program within USDA or between the interested federal agencies mentioned above could be a better home for this proposal?
The "widgets remark" was right on target. We were indeed attempting to get across in our application that there is now an increasing critical need for bringing infrastructure standardization and uniformity to agricultural traceability in general, and not just for specialty crops supply chains.
Undeterred, the 'SCRI team' is committed to a process of filing applications, and two letters of intent have been filed under the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative, CFDA No. 10.310. They are entitled Stakeholder driven food supply safety system for a real-time detection, risk assessment, and mitigation of food borne contamination (Program Area Code: A4121 of the AFRI Food Safety RFA) and Stakeholder driven food supply safety system for a real-time detection, risk assessment, and mitigation of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli in beef products (Program Area: A4101 of the AFRI Food Safety RFA). Funding for each is potentially up to $25M/5YRS.
And academics from additional universities are coming on board. So are new stakeholders in ag supply chains. The snowball is rolling faster down the hill. Getting bigger. Gaining momentum.
The "snowball" has become The Whole Chain Traceability Consortium™, a trademark of Pardalis, Inc. See http://pardalis.squarespace.com/blog/2011/10/29/the-whole-chain-traceability-consortium.html