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Traceability standards according to GDST 1.0: These are the required software capabilities

After nearly three years’ work of the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability (GDST), the first GDST standards and policies for the traceability of fish are now available. What does GDST mean for your company? And what are the ensuing must-have features in your software? This article gives you an overview.

In April 2017, two dozen companies came together to launch the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability and to draft new leading industry standards. Their goal has been to enhance the interoperability and verifiability of all seafood traceability systems. On March 16, 2020, the GDST introduced the first version of the GDST standards and policies. So, what's next?

What are the disadvantages of previous seafood traceability solutions?

Reliable traceability of seafood has become a must for every company in the fish industry. Whether this is about compliance with the corporate social responsibility policies or addressing central operational issues such as supply chain transparency and risk management: the businesses must have quick access to verifiable information about product origins throughout the entire chain. New digital technologies have made traceability more possible and affordable. But there are two major obstacles:

  1. Inconsistent demands for information coming from governments, NGOs, and retailers or other downstream companies themselves are leading to confusion, higher compliance costs, and lower motivation among producers.
  2. Incompatible digital information management systems, resulting from the large number of uncoordinated traceability solutions and solution vendors, impede the information flow while causing rigidity in business relations and raising barriers to on-boarding new suppliers and customers.

As you see, an internal software solution working with its specific standards, but without any interfaces to other traceability solutions would not produce the intended outcome. An easy solution to this problem is using an established solution that has proved its worth in many areas: an integrated ERP software solution incorporating multiple EDI interfaces to vendors and customers in its standard version. Without interoperability of the systems, you would never know for sure whether the data that you can retrieve as a processor or consumer is valid.

What does interoperability mean for your software?

System interoperability, or closing gaps in the information flow from sea to fork  utilizing software systems, means that your traceability software must speak the same language as the software of your vendors and customers. The multitude of software solutions used by the single actors must be able to answer any questions arising in the process, and to share information in the same way, without reinventing the wheel. This requires data to be queried in a standardized format, with consistent designations, and communicated in a verifiable manner. Plus, the interfaces in your software must have predictable formats that are based on global standards.

Yet this does not mean that every company would have to use the same software solution according to the motto “one size fits all”. Nor would it mean that you have to disclose your confidential information, or fear a loss of control.

How can your software implement these standards?

Importantly, the GDST does not impose a “uniform solution”. GDST 1.0 provides design standards that can be flexibly implemented in multiple proprietary systems, including cutting-edge technologies like blockchain. It is also understood that implementation of the standards will take time and may involve a phased approach.

In general, traceability is ever more closely related to the digital transformation. Digital supply chains are the future of the seafood industry, in particular. Paper-based systems are no longer competitive and are bound to disappear. From my conversations with executive managers from various areas of the fish industry, I learned that the step towards full digitization of all processes is and will be a challenge for many companies, especially for smaller players. Fortunately, for these enterprises, the GDST has decided not to require complete digitization of internal operational processes, but focuses only on the digital data transfer between supply chain partners.

There are various options for the data transfer methods. Basically, the actors need to exchange communication protocols that comprise the data relevant for traceability. The GDST has taken an open approach to data sharing with the understanding that trade relationships take on various forms and technology adoption may dictate the level of coordination needed between supply chain actors. This means that digitized companies, and companies with little or no digitization at all, and the varying levels of digitization will always be able to share the communication protocols. The GDST has defined fixed conditions for sharing information: the relevant data should be exchanged in specific data formats that contain additional details about sender, genuineness and authenticity, and that are capable of receiving an acknowledgement on the receipt and the status of the data. These are precisely the terms that your software has to comply with in order to be able to implement the GDST standards. In its standards and policies, the GDST has defined detailed recommendations for the communication between companies with different degrees of digitization.

How trustworthy are the GDST standards?

As GDST states, its standards are technically solid and were road-tested. These tests examined how the standards work in various business use cases. These activities involved numerous experts and stakeholders, including third-party vendors that are preparing GDST-compliant solutions. In brief, GDST 1.0 can be used by companies within the supply chain, but also by third-party vendors of solutions. The GDST standards could be a turning point in the seafood industry. In view of increasing commercial and regulatory demands on traceability, the GDST standards will not only allow interoperability but will also increase predictability and enable fair competition. The implementation of the GDST standards will help companies meet their commitments to responsible sourcing while ensuring that future investments in their traceability systems are in step with industry trends and technology developments.

 

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