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July 28, 2022

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An interview with GS1 US: What does the future hold for supply chains?

Laura Hindley

PR & Content Manager

Many business leaders were holding out hope that supply chains would recover as the effects of the pandemic recede. However, a recent White House report argued that supply chain disruption is here for the foreseeable future. As such, supply chain leaders need any possible advantage to make operations run smoother and more effectively. And one of the most critical components in streamlining supply chains and ensuring inventory reaches businesses, storefronts, and consumers’ homes is also one of the most overlooked: the label. 

With this in mind, I sat down with James Urquhart, Director of Partnerships at GS1 US, to discuss the future of supply chains and the important role that Enterprise Labeling can play in mitigating disruptions for businesses of all sizes. 

Q: Aside from the impacts of COVID-19, why has there been an increased focus on supply chain visibility and traceability? 

James Urquhart (JU), GS1 US: Supply chain visibility and traceability are critical to meeting the growing demands of information-hungry consumers and driving business processes, such as traceability, inventory management, and sustainability – all of which require real-time visibility.  

Covid-19 has created an even greater need for supply chain visibility given the multitude of disruptions and mismatch of supply and demand. As we all experienced, panic buying, shelf clearing, or even reasonable ‘stocking up’ by the consumer can create a ripple effect. Being able to see those events happen in real-time and react to them quickly can minimize the negative impacts. More and more segments of the supply chain will need to become actively involved in providing that traceability. The traditional blind spots in the process must become more accountable and provide up-to-date visibility to facilitate these real-time decisions because fragmented data systems that are not standardized and digitized prevent the easy and accurate exchange of data among trading partners.

Q. Loftware's '2022 Top 5 Trends in Labeling and Packaging Artwork' report highlights how migrating to a cloud-based labeling solution can help companies of all sizes take fast, corrective actions to eliminate supply chain bottlenecks. How do you see the cloud impacting mission-critical barcoding and labeling?

JU: Visibility and traceability are facilitated by GS1 Identifiers (GTIN, GLN, etc.) and are crucial to quality data. The tactical use of this data can result in a strategic competitive advantage. Cloud-based Enterprise Labelling solutions fed with quality data can provide tremendous flexibility in the process, perhaps even enabling a timely pivot that could mean the difference between an empty shelf and a happy consumer.

Q. How does Enterprise Labelling, leveraging GS1 Standards, help improve communications and overall visibility throughout the supply chain?

JU: If you think of the supply chain as a narrow staircase, and the product flowing through it as a large sofa, there will inevitably be someone at the front of that complex predicament asking the folks doing most of the heavy lifting to “Pivot!” In the past, the supply chain had about as much flexibility as that scenario, and making a change was impossible once the product left its origin.  Enterprise Labelling can help facilitate mid-stream changes, pivoting your supply to meet the demand where it is needed most.  

However, to meet this requirement for visibility and accountability, more links in the supply chain will have to become active in the digital chain of custody. The prior ‘black hole’ of logistics/transportation and third-party warehousing may need to be addressed for the full flexibility and benefits of Enterprise Labelling to be realized. 

When data is not digitized, it cannot be easily and accurately exchanged among trading partners, creating inefficient supply chains. As such, all stakeholders across the supply chain need to have a keen focus on digitizing their data, implementing automation technology, and leveraging data standards to store and transfer data so organizations can exchange information smoothly and electronically. This will not only eliminate manual and error-prone processes but will also provide the visibility needed to inform business decisions. 

Q. How will GS1 Standards continue to facilitate the future supply chain? 

JU: GS1 Serialized identification plays many crucial roles for consumer-facing brands. Two areas that continue to be high in demand from consumers are product authenticity and environmental impact.  I spoke with Nicholas Latwis (NL) and Vivian Tai (VT) from the GS1 US Innovation team for some thoughts on these hot topics. Here is what they had to say: 

NL: Digital passports and verifiable credentials are likely to be major players in the authentication of sustainability credentials, with increased scrutiny against companies to prevent “greenwashing.” One key facet of this authentication will be linking the product’s physical and digital identity, via a QR code, RFID tag, embedded DNA, or another data carrier.  

VT: By providing the framework for globally unique and persistent identification, GS1 Standards not only identify products, assets, locations, and other elements in the supply chain, they also provide an anchor of trust throughout the various processes. GS1 Standards are compatible with counterfeiting technologies and techniques, such as digital watermarks, nano-tagging technology, or biomolecular taggants, to ensure that authenticity beyond the packaging can be achieved.

Q. What is GS1 US currently focused on for the future of the supply chain?

GS1 US collaborated with industry leaders to identify a timeline for the transition from one-dimensional barcodes (U.P.C./GTIN) to 2D barcoding at retail. This transition will offer a host of supply chain benefits and use cases, as well as simplified product packaging and a data-rich consumer experience via a simple smartphone scan. Additionally, the recent ratification of the EPCIS 2.0 standard for tracking and tracing transactional data allows IOT device interoperability for the supply chain (i.e sensor data). Both new areas of focus facilitate traceability initiatives and support enhanced supply chain visibility.

Q. How does GS1 US partner with Loftware and the Solution Partner Community?

JU: GS1 US is a not-for-profit organization that collaborates with the industry to provide a system of standards that facilitate low-cost efficient supply chains. Beyond the simplicity of a single U.P.C. barcode (GTIN), implementing and fully benefiting from the full suite of GS1 Standards can sometimes require outside assistance. The GS1 US Solution Partner Program, of which Loftware is a Silver member, provides our member base with a curated collection of Solution Providers. The program offers education and certificate programs to ensure that members can provide their customers with the highest quality GS1 Standards-based supply chain solutions.  

Visit the GS1 US Solution Partner Finder here. For more information, get in touch with James directly at: Jurquhart@gs1us.org  

*In this publication, the letters “U.P.C.” are used solely as an abbreviation for the “Universal Product Code,” which is a product identification system. They do not refer to the UPC, which is a federally registered certification mark of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) to certify compliance with a Uniform Plumbing Code as authorized by IAPMO. 

  • Supply Chain
  • Labeling