Cooperative traceability: Next-generation approaches for complex seafood supply chains

Boat anchor chain
Seafood traceability requires reliable data, but the logistics of creating, transferring, and receiving trustworthy, timely data in complex supply chains can be tricky.
 
At every link in the seafood supply chain, a new player handles the fish and either creates or consumes data. Each player has various interests and business needs, which means their data needs can also be vastly different. A harvester might want to know where the fish was caught, for example, while a processor might be more interested in shipment arrival times and vessel level yields. In addition to these various points of data generation, and different data demands, each player may collect and consume data using different tools and in different formats.
 
And then there is the fact that seafood supply chains aren’t linear chains at all. One set of trading partners invariably interacts with companies in other chains, creating a much more complex web of data.
 

So how do companies looking to adopt and implement traceability deal with complex supply chains?

What we’ve discovered is that the route to traceability requires two parallel processes:
  1. A precompetitive approach where seafood companies and technology providers set industry standards for technical documents, global understanding, and definitions. Examples of ongoing initiatives in this arena include USAID’s Fisheries Catch Documentation and Traceability in Southeast Asia and WWF’s Global Dialogue. 
  2. A cooperative implementation approach, in which industry trading partners work closely to agree on the requirements for a full-chain traceability system. We have identified a Request for Proposal (RFP) process as an effective approach to address this critical, yet missing component of seafood traceability efforts.
 

For full chain traceability to work efficiently, everyone who creates and consumes data needs to be “plugged in.”

Future of Fish has helped create tools that directly solve some of the issues with implementing technology across supply chains to create, transfer, and receive the information each player needs.

Through an RFP process, every player in the supply chain comes together to agree on the needs and specifications of a multiple-technology-based system. Each player affirms their commitment to traceability and identifies their data needs and collection abilities. The RFP process also helps each participating company identify their specific role in creating and consuming key data elements (KDEs). This ensures that everyone understands the current state of affairs as well as the desired outcomes of the traceability system from the start. 
 
The supply chain describes their requirements in the RFP and makes it available to technology providers. Like any RFP process, the tech companies then respond and compete for the contract.
 
Because no one technology company can meet all needs for robust, full-chain traceability, multiple companies must collaborate to build solutions that meet the multiple functions and needs expressed in the RFP. Over time, we believe this kind of collaboration among technology vendors will help the industry develop and grow.
 

There are many advantages to having an entire supply chain implement traceability under a single RFP.

It ensures interoperability. Because everyone defines their collective needs, we know from the outset that the solution suite will be designed to transfer data up and down the supply chain without hiccups.
 
It improves data predictability. By mapping the supply chain ahead of time, all players know and understand how the data chain will work. Rather than sending their data into a black hole, not knowing if the information will be passed along, players will understand everyone’s expectations and responsibilities in advance.
 
It boosts data security. Rather than spending time and money trying to develop customized hacks to make different traceability tools work together, risking data loss and security breaches, a single deployment of a traceability solution leaves the data chain intact. This gives companies and governments more control, making them better able to conceal proprietary or sensitive information. 
 
It makes costs transparent. Because the supply chain receives bids upfront from multiple tech providers, everyone knows how much it will cost to implement traceability before diving in. This also allows for all actors who consume data (including governments) to play a part in financing technology deployment.
 
It allows for scale. Once a robust network of traceability systems is happily humming along, the supply chain can use that steady foundation to expand and grow. The network can then easily bring on other chains through RFPs based on the same technical specifications--ensuring interoperability among all the technology solutions in place. 
 

Cooperative traceability through RFPs benefits technology vendors too.

It fosters innovation. Supply chains are complex, to say the least. A written RFP process helps developers understand the changing needs of the industry. Technology vendors can better recognize where they add value and where they need to strengthen their offerings.
 
It sets expectations. A written RFP puts requirements in black and white. Literally.
 
It encourages collaboration. If a single vendor can’t meet all needs set out in an RFP, they can partner with others on a bid.
 

Future of Fish and its partners are aligning seafood supply chains.

Getting players to the table is one of the biggest hurdles we’ve seen in helping complex seafood supply chains adopt and implement traceability. For a chain-wide system to work efficiently, everyone must be on board—all stakeholders, including seafood companies at all nodes of a supply chain, governments, and technology providers need to collaborate on effective technology solutions.
 
At Future of Fish, we’re researching and designing resources to engage and support the seafood industry and technology providers through our Fisheries Development Model (FDM). The FDM considers the governance, finance, cultural, and data needs of a fishery system in a comprehensive approach to improving traceability. 
 
As part of our FDM work, the RFP-driven process is already being tested in various places around the world. And this year, through our work with the Oceans Seafood Marketing Initiative (OSMI), we’re refining the model and building it into a tool that will help supply chains through the process. Our hope is that this RFP tool will structure a way for individual companies to remain in control over their technology investments, while increasing their likelihood of success by helping to align trading partners’ expectations and commitments.
In addition, we are actively working with leading traceability technology vendors to support their efforts to meet the diverse, unique, and rapidly evolving needs of the seafood industry. This includes supporting the launch of a Trade Association for Seafood Traceability Technology (TAST-T)
 
If you’d like more information about any of these projects, our FDM work, or to see if Future of Fish can help your supply chain identify and implement an effective traceability system, contact Keith Flett at kflett@futureoffish.org.
 

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