John Szabo, Manager at GS1 Australia Advisory Services, explains how GS1’s Traceability standard builds on the non-profit’s pathbreaking work in developing universal barcodes and a shared language of commerce, and how the organisation can assist companies taking up and implementing traceability solutions through advice and assessment services.
The name ‘GS1’ is iconic in international commerce. With a history stretching back almost half a century and a presence across more than 155 countries, the not-for-profit organisation has been indispensable in creating a world of uniform and robust barcodes and barcoding standards.
While GS1 barcodes are the organisation’s foundational and most recognisable standard, the organisation has continued developing new standards with the ambition of becoming – as it says – “the global language of business”.
Visibility of inventory and chain-of-custody considerations have become more important in modern supply chains, says John Szabo, Manager, GS1 Advisory Services. That means proper traceability standards are vital to supporting supply chain integrity, whether assessed in terms of commercial efficiencies, ethical sourcing, combating counterfeit and substandard goods, or ensuring best sustainability practices.
That’s why John is passionate and engaged in advocating for GS1’s Traceability standard.
But what precisely is the GS1 Traceability standard, and how does it operate?
“The traceability standard outlines the key pieces of information required to be captured and shared to enable enhanced end-to-end supply chain traceability,” John says. “Information such as the product, the associated batch code, manufacture dates and so on. The standard also sets out a framework for identifying ‘Critical Tracking Events’ and ‘Key Data Elements’. For example, I might be receiving products – a critical tracking event – and I capture the key data elements, or ‘KDE’ – of what I received, where I received it, from whom, when, and the process by which it was received.”
DEVELOPING THE GS1 TRACEABILITY STANDARD
John says that the tools and concepts behind the traceability standard have existed since GS1 introduced the first barcode more than 45 years ago.
Although GS1 has established a myriad of standards – global languages each tailored for the ever-growing sub-domains of practice, process and methodology affecting international commerce – John notes that the organisation’s standards can be separated into three basic components: ‘Identify’, ‘Capture’ and ‘Share’. Respectively, these standards govern firstly, the unique identification of products, places, and things; secondly, capturing identity and other information encoded into barcodes or RFID tags; and finally, how such data is shared with trading partners, consumers, and patients (in healthcare contexts).
“The traceability standard brings the three components together and is sometimes referred to as the fourth component – the ‘Use’ component,” John says. “It was developed to assist businesses implement end to end traceability, incorporating the GS1 standards that were already in use by the company.
“The first version of the standard had a strong focus on the food sector, with implementation guides developed for meat and poultry, fish and seafood, wine and fresh fruits and vegetables,” he says. “GS1 works with industry – while remaining industry neutral – to develop standards. Our work program is driven by user demand and so new versions of the traceability standards have been released to keep up with new developments, such as incorporating the use of Critical Tracking Events and Key Data Elements, for example.”
IMPLEMENTING GS1 TRACEABILITY 2.0
The GS1 standards are of course voluntary – indeed, voluntary uptake and feedback by industry with respect to standards is why GS1 has done so well. But the more organisations that implement traceability systems based on GS1 standards, the better, John says.
“Our role is to provide a set of standards that will, if implemented, assist organisations in improving their traceability capabilities, help them comply with regulations and enable traceability information to be shared across the full supply chain,” John says.
“So many companies have wanted to implement traceability throughout their supply chain processes but didn’t know where to start. Now we have a standard which they can simply roll out without having to start from scratch and re-address all the problems that we have already addressed.”
Although GS1 relies on third parties – consultancies or solution providers – to carry out implementation, it does provide a helping hand to both the end-user and those implementing traceability solutions.
For instance, GS1 now offers those responsible for implementing GS1-standard-based traceability systems an easy way to check and self-assess that their solution is meeting guidelines.
“We have recently created a voluntary service for our Traceability solution providers to complete self-assessments of their solutions,” John says. “This service allows the solution provider to check if they have implemented the GS1 standards correctly. If they desire, they can also have their solution claims validated by GS1, which involves a deep-dive review of their solution.”
For those organisations that would like to implement a traceability system that meets GS1 guidelines, GS1 offers advice that helps orient them in the right direction.
“One of the biggest challenges with organisations is knowledge,” he says. “We can provide knowledge of the standards and how best to go about implementing them to improve traceability systems. Our team can assist organisations, whether it be simple training or running collaborative discovery sessions, where we unpack the challenges and issues and work to develop a roadmap and recommendations for implementation.”
Because the idea of traceability covers everything in the supply chain, successful implementation will necessarily be different for unique organisations dealing with unique goods, John says. The key question to ask, he notes, is ‘What is most suitable for the organisation’s needs?’
“Identifying the core issues and what the business is trying to overcome should be the main driver,” he says. “This may be related to how product recalls are managed or improving food safety, through to being able to prove specific claims – for instance that a product is gluten-free or adheres to sustainable farming practices.”
John and the GS1 team are ready, able, and willing to help organisations get into the GS1 Traceability framework, because the benefits to individual companies – and industries as a whole – are so clear.
“An effective traceability solution using GS1 standards is an enabler for a business to make better decisions,” John says. “Traceability systems can lead to improved stock visibility and accuracy down to batch level with greater visibility of use by and best before dates. This can also lead to reduced wastage of stock due to expiry dates. Better traceability is good for the users, good for customers, good for sustainability – because of reduced wastage and more economical movement of goods – and good for the industry.”
To learn more about GS1 Traceability, click here.
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