What is supply chain traceability for?

The information to trust everything is fine

traces data visualisation traceability Shellock

What is supply chain traceability?

Where and what exactly have my goods been through? Supply chain traceability answers this question.


In simple words, traceability is the capability to trace events chronologically in a verifiable manner. We can think of it as the biography of a given item before it reaches the hands of the user. Traceability can start as early as the first raw materials are obtained, providing interesting information regarding where was it obtained and the followed procedures. Afterwards, for each transport and manipulation we can keep adding further updates to an item traceability record. Information can detail the actions and processes each Then or entity did, the methodologies or treatments done and the certifications, inspections or events conducted to the goods. The updates are added chronologically. Finally, the end user can check the information. Traceability provides transparently the history of the product.


After the item or product it used, nowadays we can go one step further and add information regarding the disposal of that item, completing the end-to-end lifecycle traceability.


Still, why is it getting more and more popular? Let’s picture that in a given process there is a problem: a number of delivered items to the consumer have a fault. By the time this issue is discovered there will be already some units in the hands of the final user. It is not know whether the problem was at the factory or during transportation. We cannot go back in time and fix the issue, but traceability is the next best available solution.


Users and consumers disposing of traceability information of a product, are more likely to trust their providers. Traceability enables us to have the certainty we are using a quality product that fulfills our expectations. Among other uses discussed in other articles, having information regarding the origin of the goods, procedures and the workforce definitely enhances sustainable products credibility and contributes achieving UN’s SDGs.

Using traceability in the supply chain

The primary raw goods can come from farms, forests, quarries or different sources. These require transportation to a manufacturing or processing site. Then after some more transactions the finished product is lastly available at a distribution center or retailer. Different parties, each one contributes with their own services to the completion of the product. And in between all the different processing and distribution stages we rely on different modes of transports.


Moreover, traceability in the supply chain means having the capability to track and trace the goods or products as they move along the supply chain. For different types of goods and scenarios there are available different technologies as discussed in this article.


Examples of traced events are transactions, locations or any type of processes done to the materials or goods. Traceability enables knowing the details of when, where, whom and the how of the products elaboration and transportation. From the time a process starts until its completion, traceability collects and registers the different events. The formal definition of traceability according to the ISO 9000-2005, is ”the ability to determine the history, use or location of a specific entity”. We can think of it as the bio of a product.

Cargo and information flow traceability in the supply chain
Cargo and information flow traceability in the supply chain

Supply chain traceability enables a number of initiatives

The collection of all updates from the different procedures, inspections and modes of transportations and the access to it might be challenging. All involved parties should contribute by sharing the updates or traces. If all the data is scattered in different platforms, accessing to each trace and it’s effective use can get quite challenging. This is the reason for striving towards gathering those traces in a single silo. This is something we make feasible. In supply chains, the good practices of each party directly affects the other participants, especially those downstream. The shift in mindset, in which each one tries to work together as smooth as possible by making information as accessible as possible, originated the concept of collaborative logistics.


Traceability in supply chains enables rapidly accessing to the required information. Especially useful for quality checks and verifying compliance. Newer digital solutions are game changers. Having structured information regarding the conditions of transportation, quickly enables to discern if the conditions were satisfactory, or there was any parameter surpassing the required parameters,such as time in transit, temperature, manipulations or shocks. The end user or consumer has the certainty of having a safe and quality product.


If there is any unforeseen event in the supply chain it will be possible to promptly react to correct it. If it is too late to fix a disruption like goods damaged beyond repair, it will be possible to reroute the delivery and quickly arrange a new one, saving time and money. Due to its health and safety implications, some national or international regulations mandate using traceability in many industries or specific types of products such as pharma, aircraft parts, foods and especially those foods with a protected designation of origin. Instead of receivers coping with useless goods, returning them and ordering new ones, the effort, waste of time and resources can be prevented. Such practices make the overall supply chain more efficient and improves its resiliency.