Traceability versus Transparency: What’s the difference and which one should my brand be focused on?

Traceability versus transparency - Martine Jarlgaard tracking with Provenance

Are you launching a new transparent brand in 2020? Perhaps you’re aiming to announce a fully-traceable supply chain for a new product? Maybe you see these as the same thing…? We get that a lot.

“Traceability” and “Transparency” are used interchangeably by most of the brands we talk to – but which one you actually need comes down to your business objectives. 

As a shopper, both of these words answer the main question: where does this come from? However, there’s an increasingly wide range of questions coming at brands that align with one or the other more. Let’s discuss.

Traceability with the Provenance.org platform

Traceability provides assurance around the facts

A great place to start is by mapping your supply chain end to end – but that, in itself, is not traceability. For traceability, a business needs to look into the granular data around that supply chain and the movement of specific goods. 

We typically refer to this as “batch-level tracking.” This requires information for every commercial transaction in the whole supply chain for that particular product or batch. (Note: “tracking” refers to going forwards in the chain; “tracing” is about going backwards. Again, this comes down to what your goal is.)

The advantage of traceability is that it results in a real-time look at who has the product or batch at any particular point in its journey.  This is what you need if you’re concerned about recalls or want to ensure authenticity. 

Traceability can be a comprehensive project to take on, but it’s very thorough if that’s what you need it to be. While the technology is there to do this (see our pilot back in 2016 in the fishing industry), the amount of processes, rules, system requirements and connectivity across silos to simply gather the detailed level of data needed to fully-trace through the supply chain can be an arduous challenge.

How we use blockchain for this: As it enables numerous data systems to connect and communicate in the same language, blockchain allows data to flow seamlessly from producer through to the end customer. Such interoperability and transparency is rarely seen in supply chains, despite being essential to ending many of the injustices we’re faced with today.

Recommended for: Verifying the quality or authenticity of a specific product or set. See how we did this with sustainable fishing.

Transparency with the Provenance.org platform

Transparency is about disclosing those facts

We’ve built a platform for transparency because we know this underpins everything else. From supply-chain mapping and operational data to sustainability initiatives and impact reporting – the opening up of this information publicly, and therefore making yourself accountable is what matters to external stakeholders (and increasingly conscious citizens) care about.

This visibility comes at two levels: private and public. While we offer consulting to help businesses navigate their supply chain networks and understand their impact, we believe this information needs to be in the hands of the end customer. Therefore, our aim is to set out a transparency journey whereby we peel back the layers to reveal what people care about the most and where the most positive impact can happen.

Internal transparency around the specific information in supply chains, such as supplier names, facility locations and compliance requirements is critical to even start traceability.  

How we use blockchain for this: Businesses can state key facts about their business through our framework of Proof Points or invite supplier connections to verify statements or relationships. This information, once verified, is put on the blockchain. Once this is done, it can’t be erased or changed and is available for the public to audit as an open ledger.

Recommended for: Opening up on key values, such as ‘organic’ or ‘cruelty-free’. See how this worked for Cult Beauty

To sum up:

Traceability traditionally focuses on information like time, place, quantity, ownership and price of every commercial transaction. Transparency goes a step further in many ways in terms of the type of information that is captured, such as the social and environmental impact information at each stage of the supply chain, and opens that up for people to see. In short…

Traceability = Know

Transparency = Show

If you’re looking to apply transparency or traceability (or both!) into your roadmap, or just want to chat with us about where to start – get in touch.