Bookmark and Share

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 usda (4)


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 II)

Return to Part I

I ended Part I stating that industry had been essentially leaving the customer out of the equation, too. What I meant was that enterprise class systems like the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems offered by so many companies ...

... are a significant part of the problem.

Customer Relationship Management is about companies trying to manage their prospect and customer relationships. CRM systems contribute (or, maybe I should say, reinforce) one-up/one-down information sharing in supply chains and ipso facto the Bullwhip Effect. And Michael Hinshaw makes the point that even though billions have been spent on CRM over the last 15 years ($9+ billion in 2008 alone), overall customer satisfaction has remained flat. To the right is a simpler version of CRM.

The flip-side to CRM is envisioned to be Vendor Relationship Management (VRM). VRM would provide to people – individuals who recognize their value as customers, and wish to better define the terms of their relationships – the software, tools and ability to manage their vendor relationships, as well as their interactions and experiences.

To the left is a simple picture of VRM in which a consumer is able to conveniently manage multiple vendor relationships. The critical thought leadership for VRM is found with Doc Searls and the VRM Project at Harvard's Berkman Center but VRM in the marketplace still largely remains a vision.

Picking back up from Part I on the concept of viewing food safety regulators as a kind of consumer, and mashing together VRM (from the perspective of customers) with a whole chain traceability system for supply chains (from the perspective of food safety regulators) it would more or less have to look like this:

"OK," you say, "that's a nice, neat, REALLY simple picture but isn't this already happening on Facebook? Can't the Customer, Producer, Wholesaler, Retailer, and even the Government Regulators all become Facebook friends and experience right now this mashed-together vision of VRM and whole chain traceability? And isn't this what Social CRM is all about?"

No, no and ... no.

The challenge is not one of fixing the latest privacy control issue that Facebook presents to us. Nor is the challenge fixed with an application programming interface for integrating with Facebook. The challenge is in providing the software, tools and functionalities for the discovery in real-time of proprietary supply chain data that can save people's lives and, concurrently, in attracting the input of exponentially more valuable information by consumers about their personal experiences with food products (or products in general, for that matter). Supply chain VRM (SCVRM)? Whole chain VRM (WCVRM)? Traceability VRM (TVRM)? Whatever we end up calling it, we know we will be on the right track when we see a flattening out of the Bullwhip Effect, won't we?

On the one hand, Facebook is highly relevant to this discussion because (a) it has over 500 million users, many of them businesses and government agencies, and (b) because it has helped to raise the expectations of its users regarding the availability of - and their hunger (no pun intended) for - real-time information. On the other hand, we are a long way from seeing headlines that read "Facebook immediately identifies and confirms source of salmonella contaminated peppers" or "Facebook tracks food ingredients in dioxin scare" or "Facebookers receive real-time e. coli food recall notices based on their hamburger actual purchases".* For that to happen, we need a few more ingredients added to the mix and one of them is the metadata ...

... by which each of the participants may be empowered to keep the degree of control over their data that will free it up for real-time access (and analysis) by others. Yes, it's ironic. Give more control to consumers so as to get more, better quality data from them about their experiences with food products? Makes perfect sense to Doc Searls and the VRM folks. They get that VRM is the ironic reflection of CRM.

The other ingredients? I'll finish up with those in the next - and final - journal entry. But I will say that I'll be returning to those interesting comments made by Walmart's Frank Yiannas .....


Continued in a final Part III.


* Actually, for an example of an implementation that is technically achievable right now, see my earlier blog Consortium seeks to holistically address food recalls. Substitute in "Facebook" for "Food Recall Bank".


The Bullwhip Effect (Part I)

There were interesting comments made last fall at the second annual meeting of the Arkansas Association of Food Protection. The comments made by Frank Yiannas, Walmart's Vice-President of Food Safety, continue to resonate with me.

The first thing that struck me was Yiannas' belief that the U.S. is currently experiencing several food safety incidents per year on the scale of the Jack in the Box incident of the early 1990's. That's a chilling perception. In the e. coli epidemic of 1993, four children died and hundreds of others became sick in the Seattle area as well as California, Idaho and Nevada, after eating undercooked and contaminated meat from Jack in the Box. It was the largest and deadliest e. coli outbreak in American history up to that time.

Another takeaway was Yiannas' belief that the food industry is consequently experiencing a "global trust bust" when it comes to food safety. 



I've been thinking a lot about Yiannas' comments and here are some of my conclusions .... 

A significant reason for the continuing series of food safety crises (notwithstanding the recent passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act in the United States) is that the food industry's global and domestic supply chains are increasingly experiencing the Bullwhip Effect. This effect is directly attributable to the inefficiencies of one-up/one down supply chain information sharing.   

What do I mean by one-up/one down information sharing? The requirement of one-up/one-down means that vendors must know what is going on inside of their four walls which means they must know what is coming in and what is going out. Representative laws or regulations requiring one-up/one-down information sharing are: 

  • EU General Food Law
  • Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans
  • US Bioterrorism Act of 2002
  • US Food Safety Modernization Act

Industry will tell you that one-up/one down information sharing is the way it's "always been done" in supply chains. It ignores, avoids or by-passes many or most of the efficiencies of computer networking and the Internet. It also avoids or by-passes many the thorny "data ownership" and privacy issues presented by the Internet. 

But the "global trust bust" in food safety is building a fire under the boiler, so to speak. And the boiler is reaching its boiling point. It's looking less and less like things can be done the way they've "always been done".

Food safety officials in a recall investigation are like consumers, albeit armed with law enforcement powers. The character above who is wielding the bullwhip could just as well be a consumer as a recall authority. The bullwhip, whether wielded by a consumer or a food saftey recall authority, is representative of a the effect of a demand.

When the Bullwhip Effect appears it is clear evidence of a less than optimal supply chain directly attributable to the inefficiencies of one-up/one-down information sharing. When a consumer makes a demand for a product, the Bullwhip Effect causes product restocking to take days, weeks, or longer ...

... similarly to how it takes days, weeks, or longer for a demand in a traceback investigation to provide the information required for determining (hopefully) the roots of the contamination and how pervasively contaminated a supply chain has become. A consumer who comes to a store to purchase a product that is out of stock causes a Bullwhip Effect in the supply chain. Similarly a food safety recall authority who comes to the store to find out why a customer became sick (or died) also causes a Bullwhip Effect in the supply chain.

OK, so you say, "What can be done about it?"

Well, the food safety recall authorities know what they want:

[T]he regulators want a traceability system that is consistent, speedy, covers the entire supply chain, has electronic records, has interoperable systems, and covers domestic and imported foods. ”


In other words, they want it all! The label they have given to what they want is a "whole chain" traceability system. A "whole chain" product tracing system consists of information elements provided by persons in the supply chain to other persons in the supply chain or to regulatory officials (e.g., during a traceback investigation). See Product Tracing Systems for Food, 74 FR 56843 (3 Nov 2009). To the right is a simple drawing of the real-time, "whole chain" monitoring that government regulators seek in order to overcome the Bullwhip Effect in food recalls.

To drill down a bit more, the government seeks to conduct real-time monitoring of the critical transactional events (CTEs) of supply chains.



And they want to see electronic one-up/one down transactional information sharing like this ...



... to become something more like this ....


The challenge for industry is that government wants "whole chain" traceability and, "[o]n top of that, [they want] industry to develop the tools and to pay for the system."

But that's a real challenge for industry if for no other reason than that the government regulators have left one critical player out of the CTE supply chain, that being ...

... the customer.

But then, come to think of it, industry has also essentially left the customer out of the equation.


Continued in Part II.



Organizing Letter of Intent of the Agricultural Data Coordination Consortium (Ag DCC) – Work in Progress

Organizing Letter of Intent of the “Know your Food, Know your Farmer” Agricultural Data Coordination Consortium (Ag DCC) – Work in Progress

WHEREAS, today’s numerous agricultural and food supply chains are being called on more and more to provide two products. One, the traditional plant, animal, processed food or other commodity. And, two, authenticated, traceable data products identifying the source, age, and processes applied to the traditional commodity. While agricultural and food supply chains have been highly efficient in providing traditional commodity products foods, they face numerous technological and sociological challenges in effectively providing authenticated, traceable data products. There is a disconnect between the local farmer and consumers; there is too much distance between the average American and their farmer.

WHEREAS, in recognition of the foregoing, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has commenced a nation-wide effort to create new economic opportunities for supporting local farmers, strengthening rural communities, promoting healthy eating, and protecting natural resources by better connecting consumers with local producers. This effort is the “Know your Food, Know your Farmer” program (

WHEREAS, new advances in unambiguous product identification (e.g., radio frequency identification – RFID), the deployment of massive data centers around the world (i.e., “the Cloud”), the concurrent rise of virtual machines for maximizing digital spaces in the Cloud, the increasing available of low-cost software as a service (including social networking sites like FaceBook, Twitter, etc.), and new, technological means and functions for minimal data disclosures and granular data sharing by end-users, provide a convergence of technological opportunities for creating economic opportunities by better connecting consumers with local producers consistent with the USDA’s “Know your Food, Know your Farmer”.

NOW, THEREFORE, we, the undersigned, in recognition of the foregoing, do form the “Know your Food, Know Your Farmer” Agricultural Data Coordination Consortium ( Ag DCC).

THE INTENTS AND PURPOSES of the Ag DCC shall be for the networking of individuals, private entities, and public entities, all meeting and exchanging information in like-minded support of agricultural supply chain data coordination for the furtherance of the USDA’s Know your Food, Know your Farmer program.

The homepage for the Ag DCC shall be a sub-group to the ‘Data Ownership in the Cloud’ ( networking group on LinkedIn.

[Editor's Note: This is a work in progress and may be updated without notice. Membership in the Ag DCC is by invitation only. Membership in the Ag DCC requires (1) a LinkedIn profile and (2) membership in the Data Ownership in the Cloud networking group on LinkedIn. Only members of the Ag DCC may be signators to the final, organizing letter of intent for the Ag DCC. For further information, please contact the Editor or leave a comment.]