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Fresh Summit workshop will demystify new technology

The torrent of technology already on or entering today's market can be overwhelming if you aren't trained in a related field. How is a produce or floral company supposed to decide what tech is right for their business?Andy-KennedyAndy Kennedy

Andy Kennedy, cofounder of the food supply chain traceability and transparency solution provider FoodLogiQ, and incoming chair of PMA's Science & Technology Committee, and Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain efficiencies for PMA, previewed science and technology programming planned for PMA's Fresh Summit Convention & Expo, Oct. 19-21 in New Orleans.

Several new technologies will be demystified during the Oct. 19 workshop titled "Emerging Supply Chain Technologies: Game Changers or Toy of the Month?" Representatives from Allen Lund Co., Centricity Global, Limoneira and Tanimura & Antle will share their real-world experiences with technologies including Uber Freight, blockchain, solar energy storage and Global Data Synchronization Network.

"Better information sharing is the theme of several of the technologies that we will look at," noted Kennedy.

EdTreacyEd Treacy"We will hear from people who've done this -- we'll learn what worked, what didn't and what benefits they got, and get to ask them hard questions," said Treacy, who will emcee the workshop.

Blockchain promotes transparency
Blockchain, the technology behind the virtual currency Bitcoin, is a decentralized, open-source database for sharing data related to any transaction. That data could include everything from a shipment's field lot and related details about that lot, such as pesticide applications, to the shipment's purchase order, trucking and related shipping data, to invoicing and payment. Data is added in sequential blocks to the database, hence the name blockchain. Members of a blockchain can authenticate and validate the blocks of data that pertain to their role in the transaction.

"Instead of having disparate systems -- for example for purchasing, audit and shipment temperature monitoring -- [blockchain] is a virtual ledger than can handle multiple types of data," said Kennedy. "This gives a full view of a transaction that converges into a transparency narrative."

Treacy agreed, noting he is seeing two major trends in technology investment: saving labor and improving transparency.

"This is the age of transparency, people want to know everything," said Treacy. "Consumers with smartphones want to know everything -- that pushes the data requirement back through the supply chain. Plus, you get great insights if you can look at the entire supply chain. You can save a lot of money and get rid of bottlenecks by having the insights you need."

Focus on solving pain points
Blockchain is just one of many technologies being held up as must-have industry tech solutions. So how is a company to decide what tech is right for them?

"I often get asked, ÔHow do I decide, where do I spend time, what should I look at?'. There's so much out there, you can be overwhelmed," said Treacy. "I advise people to figure out where their pain points are and what problems they want to solve. Don't talk to a salesperson because he says he's got the best widget out there, unless his widget can solve one of your pain points. Understand what you need and focus there."

"Use the same approach to making technology decisions that you would use if building a new building or adding employees: force-rank and weigh technologies by their ROI and your budget," added Kennedy.

Treacy offered two cautions. First, understand that one change will mandate the need for other changes. Second, and more important, the best tech won't help a poorly run operation.

"The more you invest in technology and automation, the more you need to have a well-managed, well-run operation," cautioned Treacy. "Your fault tolerance goes down the more you automate."

Where to turn for help
For help, Kennedy advised tapping into events such as Fresh Summit. "Events like this are a great opportunity to get information from peers, and have open dialogue and discussion," he said.

Treacy agreed, adding, "Look to colleagues, vendors and your associations as partners. Start with the Fresh Summit Science & Technology community of interest, and from there get to know PMA subject matter experts. Participate in events online and in person, and check outÊour website's Topics pages."

Fresh Summit's Science & Technology programming is designed to bring like-minded industry members together for education, discussion and community. This year's programming will include several workshops, as well as a Science & Technology Reception Saturday evening, Oct. 20. For more information and to register, visit www.FreshSummit.com.

PMA also hosts technology-themed events in person and via webinar throughout the year; the Technology topics page of PMA.com offers resources 24/7/365.