Traceability: Unleashing Efficiency, Resilience, and Competitiveness in Supply Chains

Marian Temmen
3 min readFeb 10, 2024

In an era where sustainability, efficiency, and resilience are not just buzzwords but imperatives for survival and success, traceability stands out as a revolutionary force in supply chain management. It extends far beyond sustainability, enabling companies to not only meet regulatory demands but also significantly enhance operational efficiency, respond dynamically to market changes, and carve out a competitive edge.

The Competitive Edge of Traceability

The linear supply chains of the past, characterized by a straightforward flow of raw materials to disposal, are becoming a liability. Today’s volatile business environment demands more resilient networks capable of adapting to fast-changing consumer preferences, customization, and heightened expectations for sustainability. The digital traceability of raw materials and products throughout their lifecycle enables companies to balance efficiency, resilience, responsiveness, and sustainability, redefining operational excellence and setting new aspirational goals.

Operational Excellence Through Traceability

Traceability equips companies with the ability to monitor products and goods as they navigate the value chain, providing precise data on the origins of inputs, supplier practices, and conversion processes. This wealth of information enables predictive analytics, scenario planning, and dynamic optimization of operations, leading to improved customer service, minimized resource waste, agile demand response, and efficient order fulfillment. Moreover, it opens avenues for identifying strategic value chain opportunities, fostering innovation, mitigating disruptions, and certifying sustainable processes.

The Strategic Imperative of Traceability

The implications of traceability for businesses are profound. Companies with traceable supply chains are already outpacing competitors with limited visibility. Traceability technologies, evolving rapidly, are expected to create a bifurcation in performance: firms that invest in traceability will ascend to a higher-performance curve, while those without will lag on a lower-performing trajectory. Bain’s Global State of Traceability survey revealed that 68% of supply chain executives consider traceability “very or extremely important,” though many find its implementation complex, akin to digital transformation challenges.

Implementing Traceability: A Three-Pronged Approach

Successful companies adopt a holistic approach to implementing traceability, starting with exploring how it can underpin advanced supply chain performance. Parallel to technological exploration, building a community of leaders, enablers, and partners is crucial for shared learning and performance improvement across the value chain. Additionally, engaging with regulators and policymakers is essential for shaping supportive and sustainable industry standards.

Focus on Value

Determining where traceability can generate the most value is the first step in defining a strategic approach. Leaders must concentrate their investments to avoid overwhelming complexity and overinvestment. Key considerations include understanding industry context, identifying processes or inputs of interest to customers or regulators, and pinpointing capabilities that could offer competitive advantages.

Connecting Traceability to Business Objectives

The modern supply chain must be reliable, efficient, resilient, and sustainable. Traceability plays a pivotal role in managing the complexity of value chain management by providing unparalleled visibility across the entire network, including suppliers’ suppliers and customers’ customers. This capability is not just about fulfilling regulatory compliance; it’s about transforming operations and creating new business models through precompetitive collaboration, as illustrated by Ralph Lauren’s investment in a traceability platform to authenticate products in the secondary market.

Navigating Collaboration and Scaling Challenges

Traceability requires robust collaboration across the value chain, as no single company can achieve comprehensive traceability alone. Successful initiatives often involve precompetitive collaboration, shared standards, and incentives for information sharing. However, many projects struggle to move beyond pilot phases due to challenges in scaling and integrating traceability into broader business processes.

Conclusion: The Traceability Transformation

The path to leveraging traceability for enhanced supply chain performance is complex but rewarding. Companies that effectively implement traceability strategies can expect significant benefits, including higher revenue growth, lower costs, increased market share, and improved stakeholder returns. By aligning traceability initiatives with business objectives and fostering collaboration across the ecosystem, firms can not only navigate the complexities of today’s supply chains but also set new standards for efficiency, resilience, and competitiveness.



Marian Temmen

Strategic Sourcing and Procurement Leader | Business/Supply Chain Transformation | Change Advocate