The Unusual Suspect: Supply Chain's Role in Recent FDA Recalls
How the TMS should evolve to increase end-to-end transparency and centralize your supply chain's data
2018 brought its share of FDA recalls issued as desperate attempts to prevent further danger—danger technology should be able to pinpoint and prevent. Between the deadly E. coli outbreak from romaine lettuce to the massive salmonella outbreak linked to eggs, the FDA had their hands full investigating these large-scale public emergencies.
The Farmers Are Merely the Scapegoat
Let's state the obvious. The issue of food contamination is not a farmer problem, though they certainly have felt the brunt of the blame for the outbreaks. According to The Republic (Arizona), Bradley Sullivan (attorney specializing in Agricultural Contamination cases) said, "Everybody wants to know where it came from. I feel bad for Harrison Farms, because they are going to get blamed for the whole thing." But here's a question: how do you produce bad eggs or grow bad lettuce?
Is this really an agricultural problem or supply chain problem? As a society we have moved beyond using static information to make decisions related to the health and well being of humanity. Yet supply chains, which deliver critical items, are still being driven by a table-based, business rule infrastructure to make decisions without taking into account things like driver quality, previous loads carried, when the truck was last washed, or where the truck went after the pick up at the farms.
Is the problem more likely that the farmers grew bad produce or that the lettuce was floor loaded onto a trailer contaminated with bacteria? This wasn't a produce problem, this was a shipping problem caused by a lack of adequate transportation management.
The Real Cause Is Inadequate TMS Technology
To understand the problem we must understand why the antiquated supply chain industry is to blame. Since its inception, the job of a TMS was to assign a carrier from a pre-decided table and close out the order at the end of the lifecycle as the goods were shipped. No data captured. No visibility. No tracking. No Analytics.
Supply chain visibility is no longer a luxury. People's lives depend on TMS technology to deliver more than simply rate shopping multiple modes, consolidating loads or putting together a dashboard.
Dated technology companies claim to be introducing cutting-edge concepts like blockchain, AI and cloud servers. But it's one thing to mix these words into your marketing materials and another huge leap to actually execute. The functionality needed by tomorrow's supply chains cannot be performed in outdated technology infrastructures such as SQL databases—which is the chosen technology strategy of every 'leading' TMS technology recognized by analysts in their annual reports. Many of these technologies were architected before mobile phones were even sold.
If supply chains were truly leveraging cutting-edge technology, these deadly events could have been mitigated, if not prevented. The industry is demanding more from today's leading technology companies and the world's leading TMSs cannot support the complexity of real-time visibility in a completely digital and integrated supply chain.
While we can't definitively say the TMS killed anyone, we can say that the supply chain technology lacked the infrastructure required to protect people by locating, or even preventing, contamination. The role of the TMS must evolve as the center of a company's data infrastructure—leveraging AI and flowing information from vendor performance, purchasing decisions, shipping details, customer service, financial decisions, customer profitability, sales policies and more.