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About this Blog

As enterprise supply chains and consumer demand chains have beome globalized, they continue to inefficiently share information “one-up/one-down”. Profound "bullwhip effects" in the chains cause managers to scramble with inventory shortages and consumers attempting to understand product recalls, especially food safety recalls. Add to this the increasing usage of personal mobile devices by managers and consumers seeking real-time information about products, materials and ingredient sources. The popularity of mobile devices with consumers is inexorably tugging at enterprise IT departments to shifting to apps and services. But both consumer and enterprise data is a proprietary asset that must be selectively shared to be efficiently shared.

About Steve Holcombe

Unless otherwise noted, all content on this company blog site is authored by Steve Holcombe as President & CEO of Pardalis, Inc. More profile information: View Steve Holcombe's profile on LinkedIn

Follow @WholeChainCom™ at each of its online locations:

Entries in real-time (2)


Whole Chain Traceability: A Successful Research Funding Strategy

The following work product represents a critical part of the first successful strategy for obtaining funding from the USDA relative to "whole chain" traceability. It is the work of this author as weaved into a USDA National Integrated Food Safety Initiative (NIFSI) funding submission of the Whole Chain Traceability Consortium™ led by Oklahoma State University and filed in June 2011. This work highlights the usefulness of Pardalis' U.S. patents and patents pending to "whole chain" traceability. It highlights the efficacy of employing granular information objects in the Cloud for providing consumer accessibility to any agricultural supply chain. In August 2011 notification was received of an award ($543,000 for 3 years) under the USDA NIFSI for a project entitled Advancement of a whole-chain, stakeholder driven traceability system for agricultural commodities: beef cattle pilot demonstration (Funding Opportunity Number: USDA-NIFSI RFA (FY 2011), Award Number: 2011-51110-31044).

With the funding of the NIFSI project, the USDA has funded a food safety project that is distinguishable from the Food Safety Modernization Act projects being funded by the FDA and conducted by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). Unlike the IFT/FDA projects, the scope of the funded NIFSI project uniquely encompasses consumer accessibility to supply chain information.

A useful explanation of the benefits of a “whole chain” traceability system may be made with critical traceability identifiers (CTIDs), critical tracking events (CTEs) and Nodes as described in the IFT/FDA Traceability in Food Systems Report. CTEs are those events that must be recorded in order to allow for effective traceability of products in the supply chain. A Node refers to a point in the supply chain when an item is produced, process, shipped or sold. CTEs may be loosely defined as a transaction. Every transaction involves a process that may be separated into a beginning, middle and end.

While important and relevant data exists in any of the phases of a CTE transaction, the entire transaction may be uniquely identified and referenced by a code referred to as a critical tracking identifier (CTID). For example, with the emergence of biosensor development for the real-time detection of foodborne contamination, one may also envision adding associated real-time environmental sampling data from each node.

What is not described or envisioned in the IFT/FDA Traceability in Food Systems Report is the challenge of using even top of the line “one up/one down” product traceability systems that, notwithstanding the use of a single CTID, are inherently limiting in the data sharing options provided to both stakeholders and government regulators. Pause for a moment and compare the foregoing drawing with the next drawing. Compare CTID2 in both drawings with CTID2A, CTID2B, etc. in the next drawing. The IFT/FDA food safety projects described above are at best implementing top of the line "one up/one down" product traceability systems with the use of a single CTID. But with “whole chain” product traceability, in which CTID2 is essentially assigned down to the datum level, transactional and environmental sampling data may in real-time be granularly placed into the hands of supply chain partners, food safety regulators, or even retail customers.

The scope of “whole chain” chain information sharing within the funded USDA NIFSI project goes well beyond the “one up/one down” information sharing of the IFT/FDA projects. The NIFSI project addresses a new way of looking at information sharing for connecting supply chains with consumers. This is essentially accomplished with a system in which a content provider creates data which is then fixed (i.e., made immutable) and users can access that immutable data but cannot change it.

The granularity of Pardalis' Common Point Authoring (CPA) system (as is necessary for a “whole chain” product traceability system) is characterized by the following patent drawing of an informational object (e.g., a document, report or XML object) whose immutable data elements are radically and uniquely identified. The similarities between the foregoing object containing CTID2A, CTID2B, etc., and the immutable data element identifiers of the following drawing, should be self-evident.

For the purposes of the NIFSI funding opportunity, the Pardalis CPA system invention was appropriately characterized as a “whole chain” product traceability system.  A further, high-altitude drawing, characterized the application of the invention to a major U.S. agricultural supply chain:

Several questions were required in the USDA's NIFSI "Review Package" to be addressed before actual funding. The responses to two of those questions were crafted by this author. They are worth inserting here ....

Question 1: A reviewer was skeptical that the system would be capable of handling different levels of data (consumer, producer, RFID, bar code) seamlessly.

There is an assumption in the reviewer’s opinion that data is different because it is consumer, producer, RFID, bar code, etc. The proposed pilot project is based on a premise that data is data. The difference in data that is perceived by the reviewer is not in its categorization per se but in its proprietary nature. That is, it is perceived to be different because it is locked up (often in categories of consumer, producer, RFID, bar code, etc.) in proprietary data silos along the supply and demand chains. It is reasonable to have this viewpoint given the prevalence of "one-up/one-down" data sharing in supply chains. As stated in the Positive Aspects of the Proposal, “[t]he use of open source software and the ability to add consumer access to the tracability (sic) system set this proposal apart from other similar proposals.” The proposed pilot project will demonstrate how an open source approach to increasing interoperability between enterprise data silos (buttressed by metadata permissions and security controls in the hands of the actual data producers) will provide new "whole chain" ways of looking at information sharing in enterprise supply and consumer demand chains. For instance, consumers could opt for retailers to automatically populate their accounts from their actual point-of-sale retail purchases. Consumers could additionally populate accounts in a multi-tenancy social network (like Facebook) using smartphone bar code image capturing applications. Supplemented by cross-reference to an industry GTIN/GLN database, the product identifiers would be associated with company names, time stamps, location and similar metadata. This could empower consumers with a one-stop shop for confidentially reporting suspicious food to Likewise, consumers could be provided with real-time, relevant food recall information in their multi-tenancy, social networking accounts, and their connected smartphone applications.

Question 2: A member of the panel was skeptical that the consumer accessibility would be largely attractive as this capability currently has limited appeal among consumers.

We recognize this viewpoint to be a highly prevalent opinion within an ag and food industry predominantly sharing data in a “one-up/one-down” manner. When one uses a smartphone today to scan an item in a grocery store, the probability of being able to retrieve any data from the typical ag and food supply chain is very low. However, we have been highly influenced in our thinking by the existing data showing that many consumers do not take appropriate protective actions during a foodborne illness outbreak or food recall. Furthermore, 41 percent of U.S. consumers say they have never looked for any recalled product in their home. Conversely, some consumers overreact to the announcement of a foodborne illness outbreak by not purchasing safe foods. We have been further influenced by how producers of organic and natural products are adopting rapidly evolving smartphone and mobile technologies as a way of communicating directly with consumers, and increasing their market share. We contend that by increasing supply chain transparency with real-time, whole chain technologies, “consumer accessibility” will become more and more appealing.  We contend this to be especially true when there is a product recall and the products are already in the home. And so, again, our high interest in working with

The foregoing strategy and comments may be freely cited with attribution to this author as CEO of Pardalis, Inc. It is offered in the spirit of the "sharing is winning" principles of the Whole Chain Traceability Consortium™ (now being rebranded as @WholeChainTrace™). However, no right to use Pardalis' patent or patents pending is conveyed thereby. If you wish to be a research collaborator with Pardalis, or to license or use Pardalis' patented innovations, please contact the author.

Go to Part II


The Bullwhip Effect (Part III)

Return to Part II.

The writing is on the wall. The writing is on the Facebook Wall, like it was on the Berlin Wall. Only this time the writing is in real-time. The is in the real-time that it takes to save a life or protect an innocent company from bankruptcy by suspicion. From bankruptcy by the Bullwhip Effect.

Ironically, it won't be the really bad guys who are caught in real-time. You know, the ones who commit out and out fraud. Instead, It will be the companies who really are trying to play by the rules. Who are doing their best to keep the trust of their suppliers and their customers. But even those good companies who are caught up in a recall will benefit from the elimination or reduction of deaths, sicknesses and legal liabilities that would otherwise occur under the good 'ol one-up/one-down paradigm. Instead of hundreds or thousands of people becoming sick from a pepper salmonella contamination over a period of months, flattening out the Bullwhip Effect will mean that significantly fewer people will be sickened before the government regulators react with real-time information at their finger-tips. 

As an attorney who has had a fair amount of jury trial experience, I find myself wondering what a jury of Facebook users would think about questions like these in determining a food company's liability?

  • Could the company have responded in real-time to the food safety incident?
  • Did the company take full advantage of real-time technologies for providing food security for its customers?
  • Was the company a good corporate citizen or did it recklessly ignore real-time technologies to the detriment of its consumers’ health? 

Actually, it's not inconceivable that a jury comprised entirely of users of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) would be seated even today. I wonder how much ag and food companies have thought about that? It may even now be almost impossible for their attorneys to avoid juries who in their daily lives are reading the real-time writing on the Facebook Wall. But the companies who early adopt and bring forth VRM and whole chain traceability will be the companies who will benefit even if they end up in court. At least they will be able to look the jury in the eye and say, "We acted as good corporate citizens with the best available real-time technology. We saved lives that might otherwise have been lost. We played by the rules and we didn't try to bend them."

But the fraud-committing bad guys, they'll surely run the greater risk of being bankrupted into oblivion.

Juries rest at the foundation of democracy here in the U.S. They give voice to the voiceless. They send messages (i.e., verdicts and liability judgments) out to our society that are often heard as clearly as if the President had signed significant Congressional legislation. They're not real-time messages but sometimes they kind of feel like it because they often seem to come out of nowhere.

 A few years ago I prosecuted a prisoner for escaping from a penitentiary. He wasn't a bad guy in a violent sense. In fact, he wasn't violent at all. He was a middle-aged, property thief who was a kind of 'nice guy' among bad guys. The prison warden even designated him as a trustee so that he could work on the farm outside of the walls of the Big House. At least until he tried to escape at all of about 15 mph (24 kph) on a farm tractor. It didn't take long to catch him.

The prosecution of escape cases rarely go to trial because, well, what's the point? I offered the prisoner's attorney the minimum sentence of 2 additional years to do just so we wouldn't have to pick a jury but he said that his client wanted a trial. What? Huh? Why? "He wants a trial and I don't know why," the attorney said with a shrug. He was as perplexed as I was. Both of us knew that the prisoner risked receiving the maximum of 7 additional years in prison for making the judge and members of the jury go through an unnecessary procedure. That is, for wasting everybody's times.

So one afternoon the prisoner was transported over from the Big House to the courthouse. We picked a jury. I rested my case. The prisoner took the witness stand. He swore to tell the truth. His attorney asked him to tell his story. The prisoner said, "I escaped".

There is a tenet among trial lawyers that you should never ask a question that you don't know the answer to. I didn't have to ask the prisoner a question at all. He was going to be convicted. He knew he was going to be convicted. The jury's decision was made for them. There was no need for deliberation. The jury members were relieved that they would all be home well before dinner. But I had to ask him because I genuinely wanted know, "Why have we gone through this process of picking a jury and conducting a trial when you admit straight up to escaping?"

"I've been in and out of prison my whole life," the prisoner said. "The 5 or 6 times that I've been put back in prison was because whomever my attorney was at the time told me to plead guilty. I always did what I was told. This time, I wanted to do it my way. I wanted my day in court. I wanted to be heard. I escaped ... but now I have had my day in court. That's all I wanted."

The jury was touched. There was even a knowing smile or two in the jury box. They quickly came back with a verdict - the 2 year minimum that I had offered to begin with. The prisoner went back home to his cell in the Big House that night with a smile on his face. He had had his day in court. A jury of his peers had actually listened to him. And heard him.

 I was touched, too. It was one of those teachable moments that we find ourselves surprisingly carrying with us, and from time to time reflecting upon. People want to be heard. People don't want to be managed into "doing the right thing" and muzzled in the process. Even in a losing effort. The need to be heard is a powerful human need. That's the bull's-eye that VRM is aiming to hit. It's the right target.

I began this three part series of journal entries referencing comments that Frank Yiannas made at the second annual meeting of the Arkansas Association of Food Protection. He said something else that I hadn't mentioned. He said that when he first took on the food safety position at Walmart that their marketing department wanted to broadcast the message that food safety was now a priority at Walmart. Yiannas said that - to the surprise of the marketing folks - he nipped that at the bud. His reason? Food safety is not a priority because ... priorities change. Food safety is a commitment ... and commitments don't change.

If we can just get VRM and whole chain traceability connected with Yiannas' corporate philosophy of food safety committment, there will be a whole lot more customers feeling like they are able to do it their way with companies who are truly acting as good corporate citizens in a real-time world. Lives will be saved. Customer loyalty will be increased. Liability risks for companies and industries will be eliminated or reduced. Lots of money will be made.* And maybe, just maybe, the global trust bust - identified as being real by the largest retailer in the world - will begin to fade away.


This is the third and final part of a three part journal entry. Feel a need to comment? Please do so at Data Ownership in the Cloud on LinkedIn.


* And kept from the hands of the dreaded trial lawyers! :-) Like Bill Marler says, "Put me out of business - please!"