Nothing grabs our attention more urgently than a food recall news flash and no other supply chain is more complicated. A Financial Times podcast posted yesterday interviews Mick Keyes, a business technology expert for HP who claims that the "food supply chain contains up to 20 nodes from producer to retailer" and that this level of complication has historically resulted in a "40-50 day time frame to identify the source" of food contamination.
According to HP's blog "HP announced [on 08/24/09] along with the Canadian arm of GS1 -- a leading global nonprofit organization dedicated to improving supply chain efficiencies -- a cloud-based recall service that traces and removes potentially harmful food products from the supply chain. The GS1 Canada Product Recall service will run on the HP cloud computing platform for manufacturing, which allows companies to see and share information across the supply chain. Food and consumer products organizations can use the service to reduce errors, decrease the amount of time it takes to respond to a recall, and mitigate the costs associated with managing the recall process."
In the FT podcast Keyes states that "what we're looking for from this cloud concept is to an aggregation model where each node in the supply chain will supply information to a centralized repository system [and] feedback information to every aspect of the supply chain". He further claims that once instituted "product identification can be accomplished on a real time basis or [at worst] in a matter of hours".
While establishing this system globally will take far longer than the average historical recall, this is truly uplifting news -- to say nothing of its applicability to all recall processes. Having personally witnessed aspects of the reverse engineering that follows massive food recalls -- and suspecting that much of what was being trashed was in fact not tainted -- it is vastly encouraging that current technology can drastically enhance product and ingredient traceability ... and procurement can and should play a much broader role.