Smart Keys: How do digital tools accelerate traceability?

In an age of transformation to responsible fashion and transparent communication, traceability represents an essential pillar for virtuous metamorphoses. It enables users to identify, audit, collect information, and trace operations and suppliers to obtain a clear overview of the situation — a crucial foundation for achieving continuous improvement and adopting corrective action plans. Self-evident though it may sound, implementation is an entirely different story. The legacy of a value chain that has become fractured across the globe in the past 30 years, as well as siloed systems to ensure data confidentiality, traceability represents a systemic challenge for our industry.

The hurdles of data collection

Across the board — from SMBs to luxury and mass market powerhouses — businesses are confronted with the extremely time-consuming activity of data collection. The level of complexity for products containing multiple components and involving numerous stages of transformation can be daunting.

In very rare cases, retracing the value chain, from manufacturing back to raw material, can be done without running into any obstacles.

Suppliers need to create structure while also making time to meet multiple requests. These demands are still quite new and certain upstream players are overwhelmed by the various requirements linked to different brands’ respective specifications, or to particularly intense regulatory pressure in Europe and the United States.

Information security, the challenge of authentic data

Certificates designed to reassure was a system that worked until fakes started surfacing. Due to price pressure, yield trends, and chemical substances used in excess, some chose instead to counterfeit those precious paper certificates, which inevitably led to the need to be able to verify and guarantee the veracity of documents issued. When the environmental profile of a product is at issue, clarification becomes all the more important.

What tools are now available to make these situations more fluid? A review of digital solutions for transformation, from online services to blockchain.

Smart Key #1: Provide turnkey services

From multiple steps and multiple vendors to multi-sourcing for a single product, the common denominator to the challenges of traceability is….. multiplicity.

SaaS (Software as a Service) offers one solution. This cloud-based online software does not require specific hardware or installation, thus promising ease of use and access for various actors in the value chain.

The same principle applies to information aggregators, which can be a flexible solution for a complex value chain. By facilitating data collection through aggregation and tracking, traceability solutions including Crystalchain, Footbridge, TrusTrace, and Fairly Made are working to simplify systems and processes by using artificial intelligence to improve efficiency.

Thanks to technology and automation, information is collected from suppliers, consolidated, and then circulated through systems used by the brands to feed the various fields of information required. The differences among players includes the granularity of information that can be activated, from referential traceability to the product to transactional traceability down to the batch to ensure the most accurate information possible.

Information collected can be used as dynamic data that evolves over time, for production flows, for example, or static data, such as certifications and audits.

Read also: Smart Key: Physical traceability, integrity at the core of the fiber

Smart Key #2: Securing data

Blockchain has emerged as a solution to aggregate the links of a secure traceability chain. Data is a veritable treasure. Once collected, its authenticity and security must be ensured, which is where blockchain comes in.

Data is stored via a secure channel, in an inviolable, decentralized digital register. Once verified and confirmed, the information becomes immutable.

If a certificate code is falsified, for example, the platform will recognize it and alert the user. This tool is just as useful for upward traceability, from the raw material to the finished product, as it is for downward traceability, to fight counterfeit and guarantee the distribution of authentic finished products.

Smart Key #3: Enable system interoperability

With information scattered and stored in disparate ways, between Excel files, PLM, and various other platforms, the essential criterion for scaling solutions industry-wide will be their capacity for interoperability.

Collecting information is essential, but so is circulating it and connecting it to various networks and application systems while preserving its integrity.

With well-established systems in place to retrieve, consolidate and guarantee quantitative data, traceability moves into a new high-speed trajectory.

Complementing digital traceability, physical traceability will ensure that these remarkable vehicles contain qualitative data.

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