I know from the work I do every week with progressive technical directors and technical managers that treating food safety as a "non-competitive issue" allows them to sit down, have conversations and move things forward. If food safety becomes a competitive issue some companies may become introverted and we are all worse off as an industry.
We are now in the digital era and some people would even say that ‘digital’ is the new normal. Consumers are driving this digital change at a phenomenal pace and therein lies the opportunity, and challenge for food safety teams.
Many food businesses will have enterprise systems and platforms in place encompassing ERP, communications, networks etc. Many businesses will be exploring the potential of building digital systems around these. These digital systems could encompass e-commerce, e-business, food supply chain traceability, unified communications and manufacturing execution systems (MES). As businesses work to understand the meaning and potential of digital there are some key areas where this new technology could benefit food safety teams.
Farm to Fork traceability
By connecting farm management systems to the systems used by abattoirs & processors and then onto food manufacturers it will be possible to digitally connect the steps that many foodstuffs have followed on their journey from the farm to the fork. On-pack codes which can be scanned by smartphones will allow food businesses to share the story and provenance of their products with discerning consumers who value this information and are prepared to reward the food businesses with higher prices and a better profit margin. This same technology can take data feeds from your supplier approval management and product specification systems to put a vast range of data in your consumers hands.
You may shudder at the thought of consumers having access to all this data, but it will become a differentiator and without it, your business margins and ability to engage with consumers will be undermined.
The food business with no food factories and physical infrastructure
These businesses already exist, think Innocent Smoothies and Gu Desserts. These are young food businesses which grew quickly, developed brands and very valuable businesses without ever owning a food factory.
Factories are expensive to build and once you have factories you are constrained in what you can produce depending on equipment and capacity available. These constraints force you to plug away trying to sell products where competitive or consumer pressures limit your options.
Think about this, the biggest taxi company(Uber) in the world does not own 1 taxi, and the biggest digital retailer(Alibaba) in the world does not own a single store. Many of you will be aware of the increasing focus of Amazon on entering the food retailing space, I would not bet against Amazon having a very disruptive effect on food retail.
In the digital future, it is likely that technology will result in many more food businesses without factories but with all parts of their supply chains connected digitally.
Big data will deliver insights through analytics
Technical departments in many food businesses are no longer suffering from a lack of data; they are suffering from a lack of the right data. Think about the thousands of paper and electronic process and quality records, traceability data, customer complaints data, sales volume, intake records, etc etc….
QADEX had invested heavily in the Vision platform to ensure that all data across supplier risk assessment, supplier approval, raw material specifications, allergen validation, finished product specifications, goods in & QA checks, vendor scorecards, customer complaints management and product launch management can be used to drive insights. Initially, these are achieved using business intelligence dashboards, with data analytics also possible.
Finding value in this data lies in the ability to analyse it and derive actionable business intelligence (BI).
Technical teams need the right big data to effectively define the strategic direction of their teams.
Transforming food safety with the internet of things(IoT)
The internet of things(IoT) is an environment in which objects, animals or people have unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human interaction. In our everyday lives, it already consists of a network of connected devices that includes everything from smartphones, washing machines, cars, music systems, smart watches, wearable fitness devices etc. In food factories the internet of things will start to appear with temperature probes, metal detectors, cleaning & hygiene equipment, ovens, cooking vessels, packaging machinery, you name it, all connected to the internet. These connections will enable machine-to-machine communication facilitating real-time automated information and decision making.
The number of objects sharing data in the internet of things is expected to grow from 2 billion in 2006 to 50 billion in 2020. With smart, networked objects securely connected to the internet, the power of IoT is achieved through acquiring data, analysing it, and ultimately taking action of the findings to drive new services and value streams for your business, or if not you, your competitors.
Some early stage and simple examples of how QADEX can utilise the internet of things to automate processes and improve food safety.
Temperature checks can be completed using temperature probes connected to the internet and shared with the QADEX QA Checks module, the temperatures are automatically checked against agreed raw material specifications and if outside of specification QADEX automatically raises a non-conformance against the supplier and sends a non-conformance report to the supplier, the supplier is reminded about the need to provide corrective actions and preventative actions and these are delivered back to the site technical manager for review and approval. All supplier non-conformances are tracked and fed back into the QADEX risk assessment module if an adverse pattern of non-conformances are identified the system will suggest that the suppliers risk rating is increased and may recommend an increased supplier audit frequency.
As I sit here writing this blog post I am sitting on an airplane, hoping that I do not spill my water over the laptop. Other colleagues are at other locations able to collaborate on projects, documents and diaries.
Picture a workforce that extends beyond your own business, one that consists of any user connected to the internet. Cloud, social, and collaboration technologies now allow businesses to tap into vast pools of human resources across the world. Channeling these resources to drive business goals is a challenge, but the opportunity is enormous. Such an approach can give every business access to an immense, agile workforce that not only is better suited to solving some of the problems that businesses struggle with today but will often do so at very low cost or even free.
Technical departments dealing with consumer complaints are already starting to experience this with the growing number of complaints coming through social media and are having to quickly adapt customer complaints procedures to manage this new complaints channel.
Businesses already embracing digital collaboration include:
Johnson & Johnson is collaborating in an open and transparent manner with a broad ecosystem of scientists and entrepreneurs at Universities, Academic institutes and start-up biotechs.
Eli Lilly has created a spin-off, InnoCentive, which is a cloud-based innovation management platform. This helps crowd-source innovative solutions and solves problems faster.
The digital future is already upon us, a whole new array of opportunities and challenges will present themselves for food safety teams. Companies that successfully embrace the digital opportunities will unlock exciting opportunities to grow and prosper.
Continuing to do, what we have always done, is not a viable long-term option.