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HP launches cloud service for food safety, traceability

Together with barcode maker GS1 Canada, HP announced a data information service for the food supply chain that promises to trim costly and dangerous recalls down to size.

HP claims to have re-invented the management of food safety through a new cloud computing endeavor with GS1 Canada. According to HP, tracking spoilt or contaminated food with its new information management system will short-circuit the process of supply chain management and enable suppliers to more efficiently excise contaminated or recalled food products.

Running on HP's "vertical cloud ecosystem", the GS1 Canada Product Recall service will offer users a way to track recalled food products in Canada from farm to table.

Mick Keyes, senior architect at HP, said that the system was essentially an information aggregator for participants in the North American food supply chain. He said that non-profit GS1 Canada, an industry consortium that supplies a standardized barcode, would offer the technology as a subscription service. HP did not disclose pricing details and the service, announced today, has few current adherents, but the GS1 Canada barcode standards are used throughout the world and widely trusted, said Keyes.

"Each entity will add information into the cloud -- our technology will aggregate this data," said Keyes. He added that, under traditional "one step up, one step down" methods of supply chain management, locating and removing dangerous foodstuffs could sometimes take months and that HP's new service could shorten that to days or hours.

Normally, products pass from the maker or the grower to a distributor and then to consumers. At each step of the way, information is transmitted between these entities, said Keyes, but they don't share the sum of that knowledge between them.

HP's technology makes the pertinent information -- where a package came from, where it's going, when it left, how much there was -- available to all participants at once, rather than each one having to communicate up or down the chain to figure out what happened to a shipment of goods.

In 2006, for example, a batch of tainted spinach from California killed three people in September. The original source of the greens contaminated with E.coli wasn't traced to its root until March the next year. Keyes said HP's new services could have traced it back within days, saving money as well as rectifying public health concerns. He said that supply chain management isn't broken, but the advent of cloud computing technologies has made sophisticated business informatics systems affordable in ways they weren't before.

"We knew the whole 'one step up, one step down' system was fine, but it didn't address traceability" specifically, said Keyes. He said the service was not aimed at replacing in-house tracking systems or logistics but rather at collecting data from those systems and making it available in new ways.

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Rebecca Lawson, director of worldwide service management with HP's Technology Solutions Group, speaking together with Keyes, said the initiative was a "really crisp example" of how cloud-based informatics systems like the GS1 Canada Product Recall differed from more traditional business process management approaches.

"It can be really hard to get to the bottom of a problem" like a product recall, Lawson said, due to the number of steps in the chain, so setting up and hosting the Product Recall service, based on information gathered from GS1 Canada's barcodes to put it all in one place, was sensible and would likely prove itself useful in different ways. She added that since HP had already made the hardware investment, participating companies wouldn't have to.

"We're articulating low-key strategies" to get companies into the cloud, she said. Lawson said that HP knew that most companies were already invested in logistics and IT in-house, and the GS1 Canada Product Recall service, offered on a subscription basis, would allow them to experiment without requiring capital. While Keyes said that reception to the service had been enthusiastic, Lawson noted that it was tempered with caution.

"We're very much aware [that] some companies will want to keep data in-house," she said.

Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer for Contact him at and check our our Troposphere blog.

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