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Special Feature: Software

Latest developments enhance mobility and traceability

By Melissa Wood
January 05, 2012

The loss of privacy in the Internet age is not such a bad thing, if you’re talking about fish. With the rise of both imported product and sustainability pledges made by retailers, a seafood product’s full history is becoming more important than ever to track down and verify.

Fortunately, seafood software developers are making it easier for suppliers to report where a fish came from and every step it took along the supply chain. In addition, the increasing availability of these programs on wireless, handheld devices is helping increase the efficiency and accuracy of both external and internal data management.

“At some point in time if you can’t prove where you’re getting the product from, the retailers won’t buy from you,” says Steve Weaver, systems analyst with Lan Infosystems in Plymouth, Mass., maker of NetYield software. “Country-of-Origin [Labeling] started that with the retailer requiring that information, and I think now the sustainability programs are going to have another level of compliance needed just to be a business partner with that retailer. An offline system for recording that information just isn’t good enough anymore.”

Lan Infosystems has taken the features already in place for NetYield, a weight-based inventory control and accounting software, and enhanced them to make it easier and faster to find out where a product came from.

“We’ve added some additional tools and made it easier to get that reporting out of the system and see what’s going on as the inventory’s moving and not have to replicate that information every time,” says Weaver.

He points out that a product’s history is not always a straightforward answer in the seafood industry. A whole fish may become a skin-on fillet, which may become a skin-off fillet or other value-added product. That fish may also have been commingled with fish from several boats that fished in different areas.

All of that information is important to know whether you’re verifying if a product came from a certified-sustainable fishery or you’re tracking down product for a recall.

“The ability to quickly identify and go back to its source is going to be critical during a recall,” says Weaver, who says that quick turnaround is especially important now as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is requiring just a couple hours for that information rather than the previous 24 hours. On the retail side, he says, stores that require sustainability certification will require their suppliers to verify that a product really came from a certified-sustainable source.

“In addition to being able to trace the product through the system it must be auditable so you can prove to [buyers] that what you’re reporting is accurate,” says Weaver. “That gives you the ability to say, ‘Yes, we did not break that chain. As it went through my internal process and procedures, it did not break that chain of custody.’”

Enhanced traceability is also one of the features WiseDynamics in Halifax, Nova Scotia, included in the overhaul of its WiseFish enterprise resource planning and accounting system. Managing Director Blair Shelton says the software’simprovements are an effort to be even more custom-designed to meet standards for the seafood industry. Among its features, the program can assign and track by lot at each stage of the product’s development, and has built-in quality control that allows users to take corrective actions at any part in the materials-handling process.

“You’ve got to link that data to somewhere,” says Shelton. “You need to pull up all of those transactions that happened with that product as it went through its life.”

Computer Associates in Smithfield, R.I., has tackled that issue by integrating a popular web tracking service with its Seasoft Software. Working with Trace Register’s developers, the company added a Trace Register button in its Seasoft Software. That feature allows users, who have so far included J.J. McDonell, Whole Foods and Boston Sword and Tuna, to directly access the Trace Register portal and upload additional information, such as purchase order numbers and lot information.

“When J.J. McDonell goes to sell that product to a restaurant that restaurant can get on the Trace Register system and see all the information that they put up there, and they can rest assured that they’re selling product from sustainable fisheries,” explains Marketing Director Tom Spillane.

Software companies are also increasing the mobility of their products so that they can be accessed wherever the user happens to be — whether that’s in the warehouse, on the road or in the kitchen.

“We’ve got a lot of customers who will place orders on their iPads,” says Spillane. For smartphones, Computer Associates has developed several apps that can be used to access information from the main program.

“The Mobile Sales Desk is basically a smartphone app that allows a sales rep to pull up their information on his phone relative to a customer he’s visiting, and their purchasing history and pricing,” explains Spillane.

Computer Associates has also rolled out its Warehouse Management system that uses affordable RF (radio frequency) mobile PCs and barcode scanners. Spillane describes it as essentially a handheld personal computer that allows users to take the manual paperwork out of their warehouse operation.

He says the push for greater mobility has come from its customer base as the price point for wireless technology, such as handheld barcode scanners, has come down and more people are using devices like smartphones and tablets in their everyday lives.

“A lot of older companies with older staff are not necessarily in tune with a lot of these new tools, but we’re seeing a shift to a new generation of people taking over businesses and making buying solutions who are embracing new technology,” says Spillane. “It’s all about making it easier for people to do their jobs using the tools that are available today.”

The Electronic Loading Sheet developed by NECS in Madison, Conn., looks just like a paper-loading sheet but is on a tablet. The specialized app, which is being beta tested by George’s Seafood in Norfolk, Va., is designed to make the warehouse packing and weighing operations more efficient and runs on both the Apple iPad 2 and Android tablets and communicates with Bluetooth barcode scanners and Bluetooth scales.

Chris Anatra, president of NECS, points out that one of the challenges of bringing new technology into the seafood industry is that it’s not always suited to what are oftentimes cold and wet working conditions

“George’s Seafood is running the beta version on Apple iPads, but these units weren’t designed for that environment with the cold and wet,” says Anatra.

Instead, he’s recommending that they switch to the new Panasonic Toughbook Android Tablet, which was scheduled for release by the end of 2011. That tablet is waterproof and can be used in temperatures down to minus -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Email Assistant Editor Melissa Wood at mwood@divcom.com
January 2012 - SeaFood Business

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