What’s the difference between traceability and transparency in the supply chain?

Traceability is showing your customer where their freight is. Transparency is showing them how it got there.

—Mitchell Houston
CI Engineer,
TA Services

You cannot have transparency without traceability, but you can have traceability without transparency. Being able to see where a shipment is does not help the situation when it is not on time or has an outstanding issue that needs to be resolved.


Traceability gives a false notion that since it’s being tracked it will arrive as expected, but as we all see from Amazon in our personal lives, this is indeed not true. Traceability gives us the opportunity to create transparency. It will allow us in advance to create the next action after identifying an issue of what needs to take place, meaning contacting a customer to notify them of their delay and creating a solution to fix the issue.

Transparency goes further to the internal trip wire (mechanisms) that will kick in to rectify the situation. Being transparent allows for development of relationships within the supply chain to create outstanding partnerships.

—Nicole Glenn
Founder and CEO,
Candor Expedite

Who put what, where? And when did they do it? Use a warehouse management system (WMS) to protect your inventory chain of custody and drive single point of contact accountability. That’s traceability. Give the enterprise easy access to the information to drill down to the “why.” That’s transparency.

—Eric Allais
President & CEO,
PathGuide Technologies

Traceability means decent tracking. GPS-enabled tracking doesn’t need a human scan to give an update.


Transparency in the supply chain is similar, but adds in reliable human contacts to give more information than a scan or GPS update can. Someone to talk to about what they are experiencing, and how it may affect our timetable.

—Brian C. Gaffney
Supply Chain Specialist,
Natural Fiber Welding

Transparency refers to visibility and accessibility to data at every stage of the supply chain, while traceability is often used to discuss the process of tracking the products and their inputs throughout the entire supply chain journey. Both are essential to supply chain management.

—Erik Severinghaus
Executive VP, Strategy & Business Development

The two terms are often interchanged, but they are not the same thing. Transparency focuses on mapping the entire supply chain—end-to-end. Traceability enables you to trace a particular product and its components from origin to end user and is paramount in industries where safety and quality are top concerns.

—Michael Wohlwend
Managing Principal
Alpine Supply Chain Solutions

Traceability is the ability to track an item and its associated activities as it progresses through the supply chain. Transparency is the ability to demonstrate this information to stakeholders, regulators, trading parties, and consumers.

—Kieren James-Lubin
President & CEO,

Transparency is a retailer’s responsibility to communicate and provide visibility to shoppers who are focused on sourcing ethics, such as sustainably caught seafood, hormone-free chicken, or cage-free eggs.


Traceability relates to food safety and recalls so retailers know exactly where an impacted item is, and can take swift appropriate action.

—Troy Prothero
VP, Product Management–Supply Chain Solutions,
Symphony RetailAI

Traceability is the ability to track the progress of products from the acquisition of basic raw material to assembly, storage, and distribution. Transparency is the management expectation that all movement through the supply chain remains visible.

—John Tillison
SVP, Sales & Marketing,
A. Duie Pyle

These two measures have different audiences and objectives. Transparency is about strategic supply chain structure and management, to provide visibility to stakeholders, confidence to investors, and trust for suppliers.


Traceability is more transactional—looking at how products progress through the supply chain to manage inventory, KPIs, and costs.

—Tavleen Kaur
Senior Manager (Supply Chain),
The Smart Cube

Traceability is your ability to track goods—from raw materials through final shipment—back to their origin. This includes both physical location and underlying supplier(s). Transparency is understanding your partners’ strengths and dependencies.

—Michael Sinkovitz
SVP Modal Solutions,
Coyote Logistics

Transparency is much broader, encompassing visibility both within your organization and across your business network of suppliers, contract manufacturers, logistics service providers, and other trading partners.

—Richard Howells
VP, Solution Management for Digital Supply Chain,

Traceability is tracking what happened. Transparency is seeing it while it’s happening. Whereas transparency focuses on mapping the whole supply chain, traceability looks at individual batches of purchase orders as they progress through the supply chain. The data used in traceability allows more targeted recalls, reducing scale and cost.

—Brian Belcher
COO & Co-founder,

Transparency is the full view of the supply chain network status. Traceability is the view of the supply chain details, including data from sourcing to delivery, which essentially maps the journey of raw materials to finished goods—an especially important tool for industries with safety and quality requirements, such as food products and pharmaceuticals.

—Gregory Tuthill
Chief Commercial Officer,
SeaCube Containers

Traceability relies on transparency. Transparency focuses on mapping the whole supply chain and captures high-level data; traceability looks at individual batches of components or purchase orders as they progress through the supply chain.


Key benefits of traceability include increased visibility, improved quality control systems, and reduced risk. Advantages of transparency include brand loyalty; trust between suppliers, companies and customers; and, of course, stronger partnerships.

—Alexandra Bogusevici
Sr. Product Manager,
Cin7, DEAR Products

An item is traceable if somebody—not everybody—can find out details about where it came from (e.g., plant, lot, material source). The supply chain for that item is transparent if data is shared about how the participants transact. The more data and the more sharing, the more transparent.

—Dustin Burke
Managing Director & Partner,
Boston Consulting Group

Shippers require granular details regarding essential tracking updates and data information (traceability) but must also address a larger set of objectives. This is where transparency comes in, to include processes, tools, and technology that help accelerate and automate their manual efforts and improve operations.

—Lindsey Shellman
Chief Commercial Officer,

Traceability refers to pinpointing where each piece of material originates within your supply chain whereas transparency is offering relevant information to share with different parties. With import tariffs, you must know where components come from and share that with customs versus the public knowing the originating region of your product.

—Nancy Korayim

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