Track and Trace

Indispensable Enabler for Global Trade


You’ve heard it over and over. We need visibility. We need Track and Trace. The words have become so common, yet few writings actually have done justice to this deep underlying need of business. And rarely do we have a definition, a quantification, of what it will yield in terms of benefits, although we all know that it intuitively sounds right. Lack of definition and quantification leads to lack of investment and implementation. There is much to learn. We just hope to add to the dialogue.

So, let’s take a look at visibility.


What is Track and Trace? 

 These words are so linked, it is hard to differentiation between the two: Trace is to draw or outline; Track is to follow. 

  • Tracing is the ability to know the historical locations, the time spent at each location, record of ownership, packaging configuration, etc.
  • Tracking involves knowing the physical location of a particular product/unit within the extended supply chain at all times

Often we hear about product traceability and process tracking.  But there are more interesting facets to this issue.

The breadth and depth of the issue is really multi-dimension:

  • Product: ingredients, from source to destination are often called provenance for cheese and wine lovers, pedigrees for pets and live stock, lineage, etc.
  • Process: view of how and when the products are transformed
  • People and Organizations: Who touched it and managed it; Chain of Custody. (CSI watchers are familiar with this term.)
  • Financial views: valuation, pricings
  • Events: what specific activities are occurring 
  • Information: the data associated with these products and processes
  • Supply Chain and Logistics views, shipments, manifests, etc.

Customers, products, people, processes, and money—all are issues that are important. 

In addition, we need to understand the other elements associated with these, such as performance metrics.

These issues above are more of the what.  There are also issues associated with the actual architecting of the visibility and tracking. These are associated with levels of peering into that data.  Are we looking at a shipment as a container’s worth of a company’s product?  Or can we see the multiple layers within—each pallet, carton, product—nesting—and then link to the total data collection above, with data acquisition techniques like manual data entry, system-to-system data, RFID, GPS, voice, video, etc. 

Time and touch are also part of the concept. Are these pre and post event signals and transactions, or the ability to see as it is happening—real-time—so that we can alter these events as they are unfolding?  

Of course, all this takes some kind of technology.  We have seen everything from live video transmission of events in motion in a security application, to fax, to EDI signals coursing from enterprise to data base to enterprise again, across the globe. Seeing is unique to the beholder, it seems.

What are the Processes?  

A few examples of the types of tracking and tracing that we see most often today can be found in the chart at the end of this article[1]. There are many other types of examples such as law enforcement security, medical care, etc. But today these are seen most often and growing in importance. 

How to Achieve it

We need not only  technology, but also data management strategies to achieve results. Therefore, we will delve somewhat into these topics. 

Enabling Technology Architecture

As business has gone global and now shares so much business activity across so many entities, we need to look at how technology supports the rich variety of visibility and track and trace.  We need to distinguish between, within and outside the corporation. Corporate-centric approaches include ERP and mainframes (yes, still) as well as client server environments with distributed processes across the supply chain. But more and more pervasive technologies are gaining center stage.  Peer-to-peer; device-to-device communications are the norm today.  Today’s requirement for item or ingredient level track and trace will most likely mean that the devices of tomorrow will include RFID, sensors, and other nano-level technologies yet to be developed, and then additional devices for collecting and communicating this information. 

Mainframe eraClient/server eraPervasive era
 Hardware Vendor drivenData in the glass houseKnowledge in corporateCentralized decision makingSlow responsivenessSoftware Vendor drivenData distributedKnowledge in departmentsDecentralized decision makingIncreased coordination problemsDrives more emphasis on processExacerbation of integration concerns  Coordination of technology partnerships Mobile, Peer-to-PeerKnowledge with the “consumer”Reliance on Standards Multi-enterprise coordination issuesSOA, Pub/Sub  integration techniques-web services, wireless, GPS, radio frequencies   
Source: ChainLink Research

Data Management Strategies 

ChainLink did a research project on data sharing called the Single Version of the Truth. This report addresses what data is used and what kind of processes will share this data. It is noteworthy that this idea of data sharing has grown significantly in the last ten years. As firms learn to harmonize their processes, we will see increasing adoption of Master Data Management services and technologies, resurgence of data management methods in the enterprise as well as across the supply chain, and adoption of industry standards.  


Although many have been on the journey to data integrity and integration journey for quite a few years, working from inside corporations, the battle front now is inter-enterprise. And it really is the beginning of many techniques such as platforms, on demand networks, MDM services/SOA, industry standards, etc., that can help you on your journey. 

But the real question that we always get back to is: What is it that you want to achieve, and what is it really worth?  Here are a few thoughts on quantifying the value.

Tainted brands can lead to the demise of your firm. If we look at the recent dog food scandal, it becomes evident that even brand companies did not know the source of many of their ingredients. And it was also exposed that people were paying for a premium brand that had the same ingredients as the discount brands. Double exposure! And there were over 60 cat food and 80+ dog food brands when all was said and done. 

Supply Chains have huge dollars tied up in ineffective processes. So much more can be done here. 

Anyone who is a devotee of lean knows that it is all about making the process VISIBLE, and communicating the metrics to everyone in the process. The concept is the ultimate message board, a google-like subscription, from an On-Demand type platform, shared by everyone across the process.  

Many firms have embarked on the path forward, but most have no cohesive strategy for the ultimate corporate or supply chain monitoring of the critical events that drive value for their firm. This does seem like the place to start. There are many things we wish to see, but not all is achievable in just a year or two. But value driving process visibility seems, in today’s world, as critical as the firm’s accounting system, as a major focus for resources. 


Track & TraceProcessesPurposeTypical VendorTypical ApproachesComments
Trade FinanceMonitor eventsRelease FundsGT NexusTradeCardGE, Seimens and other Financial NetworksOn Demand/Multi-tenant(Highly secure)Banks have some elements,You will see new approaches linking business events with allocation of funds in many industries to support global trade activities.
Compliance Track/evaluate and diagnose compliance issues for Retailers:Trans routesDock reservationsLabeling/bar-codingRight goodsOn timeRetailer/vendor score cardsCompliance NetworksRamcoXignVariousEDI Vans/hubs, like:Avery DennisonInovisSterling CommerceRedTail SolutionsAll inputs, forms, EDI, XML, document scans, manual data entryRetailers look for packaging, labeling and data transmissions. Customs looks for adherence to paper work and processes. Life Sciences compliance to FDA regulations, etc. Data standards, physical restrictions, etc.
ePedigreeTracking through the life of the product from Manufacturing to end of lifeAcsisTagsysRaining DataSupply ScapeRFID and Barcode/Auto IDRFID MiddlewareScanManual data entryPharma and food, but also more organizations are interested in the source data.  
TransportationTrack shipment and documentGT NexusDescartesTransplaceTransCoreSchneiderMenloBridgepointUPSFed Ex, etc.GPSRFIDBar-codingManual EntryOCReHubsAll modes
Mfg RoutingsTrack and direct goods thru Mfg processAPS/schedulingElectronic KanbanRFID and bar-codingMES vendorsPlatform players/ SOA/Middleware
( Acsis, Sybase, BEA, etc.) 
RFID, bar-codingData base  
RFIDTracked, traced and tagged goodsAcsisSaviVeriSignTagsysVarious MiddlewareActive, Passive,Middleware can be on premise or over the web or satellite 
Food safetyTrace food source and ingredientsEmerging spaceLowryCorporate Express/AccusourceBar-coding  
SustainabilityTrack and trace from source (harvest) through the consumer and validate:SourcingVendorProcess stepsIngredientsHandlersEmerging spaceIn-house Shipment tracking:Bar-codingPaper labelsRFID pilotsLumberCoffee 
Risk Management/
Track and Monitor of business events according to plani2 TrackingEvent managementAnalyticsOrchestration 
FinancialMonitor, Trace, Validate financial payments, customers, etc.Financial Services networks(Cardmember Services, etc)ScanningSmartcardsBar-codingMagnetic stripeWirelessAuthentication and Validation serviceseHubs/vans(Highly secure) 
Chain of Custody: Law EnforcementEvidence tracking Bar-coding and security companiesBar-codingAccess ControlDatabase(Medium secure)Many customized solutions in Market
Asset TrackingWithin 4 wallsOutdoorsInter enterpriseSeeControlBlue VectorMany WMSIn-house builtViewlocityEmerging RFID vendorsBarcodesRFIDManual entryeHubsData baseEverything from service supply chain, car rentals, equipment rentals, container tracking
Document TrackingLog, Track and Locate critical documentsUsually in-house builtRFID, bar-coding, scanning,Data base or images, locations, etc.Could have warehouse elements such as put away locations 
LocatingFind specific product in yard or facilityAeroScoutWhereNetRFIDWirelessBackbone database to record /store locationsMaritimeYards (cars, trucks, rail cars)
Product Integrity/
Cold Chain
Monitor and Track for Quality Emerging TagsysSybaseRFIDSensorsDatabasePharmaFoodCosmeticsSpecialty ChemicalsHazardous
Green Supply ChainAuthentication of products produced, processed, used and recycled according to sustainable and Fair Trade practicesVarious brands and tracking solutionsRFIDProduct labelsData basesCertified wood, electronics compliant with Rohs and WEEI standards;  produce such as coffee grown and traded with Fair Trade
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