Signum wins big at customer satisfaction at the annual SAP SMB Summit

Signum Solutions are proud to announce today that it has been named the SAP Business One partner with “Best Performance for Customer Satisfaction 2017” at the SAP SMB Summit in Barcelona.

This is the first year this award has been presented and with the winner determine by customer feedback, Signum have set the standard for customer focus and satisfaction for SAP Business One.

Signum Solutions Managing Director, Lindsay Pointon was in Barcelona to receive the award and stated, “It’s a real honour to receive this award. It was our customers who voted so it’s a huge thank you to each and every one of them for believing in us and awarding us this amazing accolade. I would also like to thank all of the Signum team, this award is a testament to their skill, vision and their dedication to our customers and the SAP Business One community”

 

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It has been a fantastic twelve months for Signum having been also presented the coveted CompuTec Partner Excellence Award 2017  given in recognition of the long standing partnership, excellence in quality of implementations and exceptional customer satisfaction.

For more information on the award or to discuss any aspect of SAP Business One, please contact one of our industry experts on 01244 676 900

How Blockchain is set to transform food safety and integrity

As consumers, our communication patterns, searches and online habits create a digital trail that means algorithms are getting to know many of us better than we know ourselves. Yet the trust and transparency challenges that confront the globalised food system – such as substitution, tampering, misrepresentation, illegal production and contamination – are still compounded by a lack of supply chain traceability.

The problem is, every company has its own way of working: inaccuracies are caused by traditional paper tracking and manual inspection systems; transactions are handled in siloed databases, resulting in opaque supply chains. When it comes to a recall, this can make the difference between identifying a few contaminated bags of spinach, and pulling the entire stock of spinach from hundreds of stores.

As one of 2017’s most talked-about technologies, Blockchain is being positioned as the way to “provide trust in an untrusted world” by transforming systems of record, with use cases ranging from carbon credits to diamonds. But what is it, how does it work, and how can it be applied to solve food supply chain management challenges?

What is Blockchain and how does it work

Blockchain was developed in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2007/8 to deliver transparency, security and efficiency in managing transactions between multiple parties without involving banks. This gave rise to crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin, which can be transmitted worldwide without friction: no intermediaries, regulation or the need to know or trust the parties involved – the so-called “trustless” system.

In the simplest terms, Blockchain is a way to structure data. It uses distributed ledger technology: a database that, rather than being stored in one place, is continuously synchronised and shared among all members of a peer-to-peer network for real-time data transparency.

When a digital transaction is carried out, it is grouped together in a cryptographically-protected block with other transactions that have occurred in the last ten minutes and sent out to the entire network.

Once validated by consensus, the block of transactions is timestamped and permanently added to a chain in chronological order. New blocks are linked to older blocks and contain a reference to the previous block (called a “hash, which is somewhat like a digital fingerprint).

A distributed database cannot be hacked, manipulated or disrupted in the same way as a traditional, centralised database with a user-controlled access system. The data is immutable: once it has been written to a Blockchain, nobody – not even a system administrator – can modify or tamper with it. The technology can work for almost any type of transaction involving value, such as money, goods, land ownership, work, medical information or even votes.

How can Blockchain be applied to the food industry?

Today’s supply chains have an inherent weakness: individual parties are using disparate digital systems, different technologies, and paper-based processes to bridge the gaps. This makes it inefficient to share the critical data that drives supply chain interactions, or to guarantee a high degree of rigour and accuracy.

Blockchain-infused traceability systems could deliver the transparency and trust that has eluded the food industry until now. With immutable data, it has the potential to give growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers, regulators and consumers access to reliable information on the origin and state of food.

Blockchain for agriculture – It will become feasible for farms to create digital records for individual animals to track the lifecycle from farm to fork, using technology such as RFID tags. This enables consumers to read the “digital history” of meat down to the individual animal, including who raised it, how it was raised, what it was fed and who processed it, simply by scanning a QR code on the packaging. As the lynchpin of our food supply, farmers typically have little visibility to the end consumer, and could stand to gain a new voice and new distribution opportunities through participation on Blockchain. There are also exciting possibilities for creating business value with new, previously unattainable data that could be made available through Blockchain, such as how much fertiliser or water was used, as evidence of sustainability assertions.

Blockchain for distributors – Distributors could provide more transparency to processors and buyers in terms of product type, farming practices, harvest data and Fair Trade or similar certifications. With the addition of appropriate sensor technology, valuable information could be provided to actors up the chain, such as the duration of the journey while a product is in transit, or the temperature and humidity of the truck it travels in, to demonstrate that the product is fir for use or sale on arrival.

Blockchain for food processors and producers – As food processors often struggle to validate the origin of their ingredients, Blockchain would enable the validation of information about input products without violating trust be-tween individual entities. For food producers, the nature of Blockchain would mean that any attempt to tamper with a product as it moves through the sup-ply chain could be immediately identified and prevented before it ever reaches a retailer.

Blockchain for retailers – As bricks and mortar stones are faced with in-creasing competition from online food providers such as Amazon, supermarkets often want to provide local produce as a differentiator. With Blockchain providing a web of trust, the information value provided by local farms could be bound to the claims made by grocers. This could effectively create a new model for providing local produce through a national chain, with the evidence of quality, transport and freshness that consumers insist on. Not only can this rich seam of information be used to create a point of sale educational opportunity, but it also bolsters the capacity for a digital recall in the event of a safety issue, such as food-borne illness. In the event that a potentially contaminated product somehow made it onto the shelves, stores could rapidly identify, isolate and remove only the affected items without the need for a costly whole-batch recall.

Blockchain for foodservice – Restaurants have a direct relationship with the ultimate consumer and a growing number are keen to emphasise the quality and sustainability of their food. It could prove a considerable competitive ad-vantage be able to authenticate their menus and justify a premium for local, organic or free range produce.

Blockchain offers many practical solutions to today’s impractical system, and should promote better communication between all parts of the food chain and, just as importantly, between producers and consumers.

Blockchain offers many practical solutions to today’s impractical system and should promote better communication between all parts of the food chain and just importantly, between producers and consumers.

The future is already here

The promise of Blockchain isn’t far-off utopian vision. US agricultural conglomerate, Cargill, has made an early foray into Blockchain, with a pilot through its Honeysuckle White brand. The initiative, launched ahead of 2017’s Thanksgiving celebrations, allowed consumers to trace their individual Thanksgiving turkey from the store where they bought it to the farm that raised it.

Walmart is currently piloting Blockchain technology to trace mangos, in their US stores, and has cut the time it took to provide gate-to-plate traceability to two seconds – a process which used to take weeks. Walmart is also among several companies embracing a new initiative in China focused on food safety and traceability with Blockchain as its technical foundation, following numerous high-profile fake food scandals in the world’s most populous country.

A consortium including Dole, Nestlé and Unilever is working to identify opportunities for the use of Blockchain to improve data integrity and trust between parties in “Big Food”. Meanwhile, technology vendors including IBM and Microsoft are collaborating with GS1, the global business communications standards organisation, to determine how the structure data stored or referenced by Blockchains for shared communications and interoperability through the use of standards.

So while Blockchain may seem like the buzzword of 2017 and will no doubt be the subject of much discussion, it has real potential to be a game-changer for food supply chains, helping the industry to achieve the holy trinity of trust, transparency and traceability.

To understand how Signum Solutions can help in your Blockchain journey, contact info@signum-solutions.co.uk

5 Ways to Promote Consumer Trust in the Food Industry

As a series of high-profile food scandals and scares have progressively eroded public confidence in recent years, consumer protection and the interests of the food industry should go hand-in-hand. Building and maintaining consumer trust is hard. But following a food safety incident or revelation of dubious practices, restoring consumer trust is harder still. The implications for missing the mark in terms of how the incident is handled can come at a high cost from both a revenue and brand perspective. 

While more and more manufacturers are explaining how they source and make products, a significant portion of shoppers remain wary. The human brain is wired to be sensitive to potential risks, therefore bad news spreads like wildfire, and the actions of a tiny minority of rogue suppliers can discredit the entire industry. The reality is that companies invest heavily in optimising food safety, yet very few consumers understand the challenges involved:

Accidental or deliberate contamination 

When our pantry is global, so are the chances of contamination. The majority of food recalls stem from operational deficiencies, and come at a high direct and indirect cost to firms. In undifferentiated markets, where consumers can’t distinguish between sellers of good product and contaminated product, this can result in consumer avoidance of the entire category.

Food fraud – when products are deliberately diluted, tampered with, mislabelled or otherwise misrepresented, or substituted with another product – is a highly lucrative business and often integrated with organised crime networks. But when economic times are tough, the opportunities to cut corners become harder to resist, even for otherwise legitimate businesses, as evidenced by the adulteration of food safety records by a major UK poultry supplier which made the headlines in late 2017. Food fraud also impacts on sustainability, nutrition, animal welfare and human rights, which are becoming increasingly important to consumers.

Food labelling

Food labelling is a huge area of contention: on one hand, consumers want more product information to make informed choices; on the other, they often distrust the accuracy of labels or are confused by them due to inconsistency or information overload.

Fundamentally, consumers’ needs are simple: they want to know they’re buying food that’s safe to eat, and doesn’t harm people or nature. In today’s digital world, relevant information needs to be made available to connected consumers at the time of purchase, particularly online where the shopper is at arm’s length from the physical product and packaging.

Greater supply chain complexity

No food safety system is perfect, but the greater the number of links in the supply chain, the more points available for penetration. Food supply chains are becoming longer and more complex, and therefore more prone to potential disruption. Most food retailers know all their first-tier suppliers, or have a good understanding of those suppliers with whom they have the highest spend, but a lack of insight into subsequent tiers or smaller suppliers means many can’t determine where ingredients are sourced from or how those ingredients are processed or handled.

Establishing the vulnerability of suppliers, especially those operating in higher risk jurisdictions, can be time-consuming unless companies implement ways to monitor and manage increased sourcing complexity. But without effective visibility into the supply chain, businesses can have significant blind spots in their enterprise risk management structure, leaving them exposed to potential legal, financial and reputational damage.

Shifting regulatory framework

The food industry has had to contend with a large number of new regulations and standards in recent years, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, together with numerous national programmes and industry initiatives that attempt to address the issue of food integrity and authenticity.

It’s therefore worth looking to the pharmaceutical and life sciences sectors, which provide a leading indicator of what’s likely to come in the food industry. Several bills and directives have been introduced across the EU and US dealing with pharmacovigilance, such as the use of serial numbers and track-and-trace technologies to prevent counterfeit drugs entering the legal supply chain.

Given the impact of food on public health, it’s feasible to expect to see greater regulatory focus on implementing similar requirements in the food industry.

Amid this complex landscape, food businesses can respond to these risks and challenges effectively, and help to restore consumer confidence in the industry as a whole, by taking five fundamental steps:

Step #1: Promote a culture of safety and quality from the farm to the shop floor Forward-thinking companies develop a culture of food safety through education and communication to ensure staff are aware of the importance of good practices and the controls to be applied. They are also proactively identifying and managing potential risks by analysing data within and beyond their organisation on leading indicators such as customer complaints and media reports. There is a range of nationally and internationally recognised standards for certification relating to product quality, social and environmental sustainability and system and process certification. Voluntary participation in such schemes can enable organisations to provide various assurances as a competitive differentiator.

Step #2: Lead risk-resilient business culture and best practices from the topThe buck stops in the boardroom. Business leaders need greater over-sight of and engagement with food trust issues, and executive buy-in is essential to developing a culture that is relevant and responsive to both current and emerging concerns. Food businesses need not reinvent the wheel, but should instead look to adopt proven practices from similar, highly-regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals, to start building transparency and trace-ability into their processes now, rather than waiting to be forced by evolving regulation.

Step #3: Continuously review supply chain risks and benchmark against best practicesBusinesses are held accountable for their supply chain actors’ performance, yet for many, supplier risk management is regarded as something of a tick-box exercise. Regardless of which point in the supply chain may be responsible for a food crisis, customers tend to blame the brand from which it was purchased.

So it’s vital to have end-to-end visibility of the supply chain and carry out regular reviews of suppliers’ food safety and quality standards. Taking a pro-active approach to supplier risk management can pay dividends in terms of product integrity, reducing compliance costs, and minimising the need for product recalls.

Step #4: Make considered investments in technology-enabled solutions – The key to transparency is to capture full and accurate data about product movement. Modern manufacturing, warehousing and traceability solutions are designed to help businesses improve standards, manage risks and provide consumers with better information about food products. Industry-specific solutions are purpose-built to support full compliance with food regulations and guidelines, such as GS1. Real-time visibility enables businesses to pinpoint inventory at any stage of the production or logistics process, and automate quality controls and monitoring from end to end, so any problems can be caught before products make it into consumers’ hands.

Step #5: Focus on consumer transparency and prepare to handle crisis events – If a crisis should occur despite all reasonable endeavours, food companies should be able to support near-surgical recall – getting the minimum amount of product off the shelves at maximum speed. This capability can be developed through scenario analysis, planning and drills, underpinned by robust product recall and crisis procedures. A swift response is also reliant on the availability of data in a suitable reporting format within minutes rather than hours, which can support both the crisis event itself, and open and honest consumer-facing communications after the fact.

As bargaining power in the food industry shifts towards the consumer, we will see the lines becoming increasingly blurred between food safety, health and well-ness, and corporate social responsibility. When risks are well managed, there are opportunities to deepen relationships with today’s connected and demanding consumers, and create the conditions for sustainable, profitable growth in the process.

To understand how Signum Solutions and SAP Business One Food and Beverage edition can support such initiatives as GSI contact us on 01244 676900