Data is flowing everywhere all around us. But is it supporting quality of life for us and our pets, or a threat?
Benefit or threat?
Data flows whenever there are inputs to a system, resulting in outputs. For many, modern data flows positively benefit us in the lifestyle choices we make. We may choose to use social media, like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for commonplace communication, fitness trackers as wearable technology to help keep ourselves and our dogs in shape, and the Amazon Dash button to order our pet’s dinner at the press of a button.
For others, however, the vast amounts of data out there are seen as a threat that ‘Big Brother’ is watching us and our personal data is not safe. Last year’s Facebook scandal1) certainly did little to allay those fears, and has lent extra significance to the current focus on the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that came into effect earlier this year.
The examples of ‘traditional’ and ‘topical’ data flows in Table 1 illustrate the diversity of data moving around.
Although many have heard the phrase big data, few understand it and its benefits. Gartner (2012) usefully defines it as ‘high volume, high velocity and high variety information assets that require new forms of processing to enable enhanced decision making, insight discovery and process optimisation.’
The 2017 Data & Analytics Report by MIT Sloan Management Review highlights that increasing numbers of businesses are gaining competitive advantage from the use of big data.
One way in which they can do so is through disruptive innovation, whereby typically a smaller company can disrupt the market and unsettle bigger players with new or innovative technologies, faster product development and market introduction, using tools like big data and the Internet of Things (IoT). Competitors then have to scramble and ‘waste’ resources deciding how to respond. And if they choose not to respond, the disruptive innovator can quickly gain significant market share.
Specifically, in the food – and pet food – industries, disruptive innovation can include new technology that reduces food safety risks and improves traceability more efficiently and quicker than conventional approaches. Examples from the food industry, with potential applications in pet food, are shown in Table 2.
The buzz on blockchain
Blockchain is a technology based on cloud based databases delivering secure storage of data in a way that does not allow the records in the database to be changed. Data flow (input and output) is allowed on a permission basis. This enables stakeholders such as food ingredient suppliers and food manufacturers to input food safety and food quality data into the cloud, in a way that is secure and does not allow change without leaving an audit trail of who and why the change was made.
Similarly, it allows output of data on quality and safety for stakeholders who require to see this.
In addition to allowing stakeholders access to quality and food safety data, it also allows full traceability through the supply chain. Traceability is important where quality problems exist and especially where there is a food safety problem, for example dioxin contamination, that could affect many different pet food producers. Another future key role for blockchain will be in combating food fraud (economic adulteration of food), like the case of melamine contamination of wheat gluten in the pet food industry in 2007 – 2008.
By nature, global food supply chains are fragmented, as the example of supply of gel blend for use in wet pet food shows in Diagram 1.
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