Getting Started with Blockchain: TagOne Featured in Food Engineering Magazine

TagOne is featured in Food Engineering’s panel alongside: BlockApps, Inc., CAT Squared, GS1, IFS, Infor, U+, and Wholechain.
Here are the highlights of our CEO and Co-Founder, TJ Gupta’s responses:

(Read the original full article here: https://www.foodengineeringmag.com/articles/99861-getting-started-with-blockchain )


In “Blockchain technology: Is it ready for prime time?” which will appear in January, we look at the current state of blockchain technologies applied to food and beverage.

In this article, we will show how blockchain networks are initiated and the mechanics of creating them and bringing suppliers on line. We will also look into cost structures and delve more deeply into connection to other systems such as MES and ERP. The panel of experts I invited to participate in this article includes representatives of MES and ERP companies, three relatively new blockchain companies, a high-tech consulting/engineering firm and GS1 US.

TagOne CEO Trinanjan Gupta (TJ)

FE: Who initiates a blockchain network—and how? If a food processor initiates a blockchain network, how then does it get its supply chain participants to sign on to it? Who pays—each participant or the initiator—or someone else? Isn’t it possible that a food processor could wind up being a member of several blockchain/supply chain networks, for example when farms and other ingredient manufacturers have initiated their own blockchain platforms? Wouldn’t this get needlessly complex and costly? Aren't there already non-blockchain solutions that are just as effective?


TJ Gupta, CEO and co-founder, TagOne:

Different use cases dictate who initiates the blockchain. For example, one of the blockchain scenarios we are focusing on relates to supporting the FDA proposed New Era of Smarter Food Safety guidelines. As part of this, we are working on building an open source blockchain platform for which we have shared details publicly as part of our award-winning FDA submission under the Global food traceability challenge. A couple of key points from TagOne’s proposal include:

  • TagOne will run one or more nodes where we will store our customers’ data. For bigger customers the private node will store their private data separately, while for smaller customer nodes will be shared and data security will be ensured by TagOne managing the node exclusively for TagOne customers.

  • Any company/set of companies (not using TagOne) can start their node on our blockchain platform and store their private data exclusively on their node. This will ensure that their private data is secured and still can be validated for immutability when these companies decide to share the data to their partners or auditors.

  • We will work with industry leaders to create a consortium based blockchain administration model

Our view is that for broader industry adoption, we need to have an open source blockchain where anyone in the industry should be able to run a blockchain node or provide services for data capturing and populating the blockchain for data immutability. This open-source blockchain platform is the final repository of traceability data, and there will be open standard-based services for posting data in the blockchain. Service providers can build industry solutions for capturing the data at source and then use these open standard-based services to post the data in the blockchain. We are also providing a framework for data capture at source. Key features of this framework include:

  • Customers will capture supply chain data via pre-populated Excel/CSV files that will need to be uploaded to the TagOne portal with basic info

  • Customers will be added on the TagOne network based on their role in the Supply Chain

  • They will get access to an Excel sheet pre-populated with CTE’s (critical tracking events) and KDE’s (key data elements) specific to their role

  • At the basic level, they just need to populate a few minimum KDEs to ensure compliance

  • We will also provide a mobile app functionality to upload relevant KDEs

We also believe that there will be many blockchains running [in] parallel, and there should be interoperable standards for each of these blockchains to share public data, which will provide end-to-end traceability. This will ensure that each participant in the supply chain can decide to participate in their preferred blockchain consortium. Therefore, we proposed a low-cost solution for participants to join our TagOne blockchain platform to meet the upcoming FDA New Era of Smarter Food Safety requirements.

FE: Should a blockchain track-and-trace system be a standalone system that can run like a smart phone or tablet app? Should consumers have access to some of the data? Or should the blockchain be integrated with ERP, MES, or supply chain management systems?

TJ Gupta, CEO and co-founder, TagOne:

Any good track and trace system like TagOne will require some level of data from a company and its supply chain to enable end to end traceability. If this information is available in the TagOne system because the different supply chain partners captured the data directly in TagOne, then yes, the system can work as a standalone application that uses smartphones, tablets or other means to capture data and access the application.

However, for bigger and even many mid-sized companies, a lot of their operations data is already being captured in their existing ERP/MES systems and we don’t believe customers should have to deal with dual data entry. In these cases, it is imperative that the track-and-trace system like ours pulls in relevant data from these systems to link the supply chain together.

We believe that there are three drivers for transparency in the food and natural products industry:

1. Reduce risk (food safety, regulatory and legal)

2. Improve operational efficiency

3. Build trust with consumers on food provenance

We absolutely believe that consumers should have access to some of this data which is one of the key reasons we built our solutions. TagOne: Engage was developed so that companies can share product and lot-specific info with consumers.

 

Takeaways

No doubt, the promise of blockchain technology for track and trace has a bright future in promoting food safety, securing transactions, helping to prevent pilferage and adulteration—and having some standards behind it. As GS1 US’s Kevin Otto says, the first step in preparing your data for blockchain is to determine “which data” must reside on the ledger and which data can be accessed off-chain. To ensure interoperability, addressing this topic early in an implementation is essential.

“Blockchain may prove highly useful in supporting an immutable record of product movement through the food supply chain that is fully transparent,” adds Otto. “As blockchain’s potential application continues to be evaluated, GS1 standards will be essential to ensure interoperability for the information exchange.”

But, have the right data and make sure it is accurate—because as TJ Gupta says, “companies need to recognize that blockchain is less forgiving when it comes to data entry errors. Once data is posted on the blockchain, it will be permanent.”

“Blockchain has been a rapidly increasing segment of the technology space in the past several years and we believe that its ability to keep data securely yet trackable throughout various systems across hard goods global supply chain networks will continue to grow its adoption and will soon become a standard requirement for conducting efficient and transparent business, especially in security sensitive fields such as food or medicine,” says Jan Beránek.

The question is whether the blockchain is truly a value-add at this point and across the entire industry, says Beránek. Until the technology becomes mature, affordable, and tangibly useful, it is important to consider the added costs of implementing a system in parallel to the existing systems and whether the added trackability is truly more functional or of added value than current MES system tracking.

Until it becomes a mandate specified through regulation, each processor needs to evaluate carefully whether blockchain technology is the right solution and how to best implement it. “To determine this we at U+ do extensive validation and market testing before writing any code in order to gain as many insights as possible about customer needs, and then be able to make the best-informed decision about the tech to implement,” adds Beránek. Food margins are already very low and the industry is struggling due to labor shortages caused by the global pandemic. Especially for the smaller players, this might not yet be the right timing for adding an emerging blockchain technology to their business.

Finally, I'd like to thank all those who took the time and effort to participate in this discussion. My hope is that if you're considering blockchain-enabled technology for your business, this article will at least help you pose the right questions to system suppliers. You can find more information at the participants' web sites listed below, and you can find much more information on the FE website simply by doing a search for "blockchain."


Resources:

“The FDA New Era of Smarter Food Safety Low- or No-Cost Tech-Enabled Traceability Challenge,” FDA Website; https://precision.fda.gov/challenges/13/results; accessed 12-01-2021.

TechTalk Podcast Episode 1: “Tech-enabled Traceability in the New Era of Smarter Food Safety;” includes transcript; FDA Website; accessed 12-01-2021