Using IT for traceability in the food industry

The importance of using IT for traceability in the food industry has undoubtedly accelerated. Suddenly, everybody at every stage of the supply chain is concerned with visibility and data. With a refreshed rigour, people want to know where products came from, how they were processed and who by.  

Yes, during Spring 2020 food and drink manufacturers have tested their resilience to the limit. With consumers dramatically changing how they shop – and in some cases, what they shop for – you’ve had to be flexible, and fast. However, the reason behind this shorter-term behavioural change is likely to alter longer-term priorities too.

Understanding customers and having processes that reflect this understanding has always been a priority for food and drink manufacturers. Being tuned in and quickly adapting to evolving consumer trends, ethics and habits, plus supplier expectations, is fundamental to success.  But nothing in recent history has demanded razor-sharp attention and rapid change than the disruptive force that is coronavirus.


Traceability: the word on everybody’s lips

Food and drink manufacturers have an increased responsibility to gain complete traceability of all raw materials, supplies, ingredients and finishing products, plus its lifecycle from field to fork. Guaranteeing that your product is safe and having the capability to reassure customers, trading partners, auditors, and the consumer market will be critical to ongoing success. After all, you don’t want to just “cope” – you want to thrive, grow and take every opportunity.

The eye-opening experience of coronavirus has revealed vulnerabilities and dependencies, and those previously unengaged with traceability are now paying full attention. Part principle, part meeting demand, the industry is feeling the pressure to achieve near-perfect visibility in the not-so-distant future. All while being more agile, efficient and adaptable.


Getting as close as possible to total traceability

We don’t need to tell you that using IT for traceability in the food industry traceability has been a longstanding fixture on the agenda. We predict that the pandemic – and people’s ensuing worries and priorities – will position food and drink traceability transformation projects centre stage.

For most manufacturers, achieving total traceability is a daunting prospect. But, significantly improving traceability is possible for everybody with smart IT, integrated processes, carefully selected new technologies, and collaboration between every party and process in the supply chain.

We recognise that coronavirus and the urgency of enhanced traceability was a shock and that budgets vary. But, if your project is specified, implemented and managed with precision, honesty and expertise, you’ll soon be in a position where you can confidently tell a clear story about every single product that arrives at your customer’s goods-in door.


Where is the best place to start?

As a starter, you should be seeking out highly configured IT solutions that marry technology, processes and people. Integrating Internet of Things (IoT) devices with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) can help to avoid omissions and automate traceability by leveraging an extensive network of sensors, for example. Live data from the IoT network can then feed insights to your ERP in real time. This allows for instantaneous analysis, proactive monitoring and rapid reactions if your policies are not being met.

To ensure resilience, flexibility and security, traceability infrastructure should send its data to a cloud location, where data and its insights can be stored and managed seamlessly. From here you can provide auditors, trading partners and customers with secure access to subsets of the information and reports, if 24/7 visibility is part of their policy.

IT infrastructure delivering traceability solutions should also run its own network so as not to impact the performance and availability of business-critical operations. Similarly, specialist IoT cybersecurity is imperative – whether you choose to run IoT devices on a segmented network or not.

Using IT for traceability in the food industry calls for extensive specification and auditing, paired with expert project and programme management most likely delivered by a specialist third party. Your focus may be on firefighting the current situation, but it is really important to keep looking ahead and harness the technology at your disposal to build the most adaptable, prepared and above all – transparent – operation you can.

Sentis are experts in specifying, leading and delivering projects that help food and drink manufacturers achieve enhanced traceability. Click here to ask about a consultation.


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