Decoding the Distinction: Tracking vs Tracing

In the intricate world of supply chain management, understanding the subtle difference between “tracking” and “tracing” can have a significant impact on operational efficiency, transparency and compliance.

There is no one-size-fits-all traceability solution, it is critical that every company rigorously investigate and define their needs when developing a traceability strategy.

Although these 2 terms are often used interchangeably, they represent two distinct processes that play a critical role in providing transparency to the consumer.

Below you will find a detailed explanation of the differences between Tracking and Tracing and the pros and cons of each.

Exploring Tracking: Navigating the Path Ahead

At its core, tracking embodies the proactive process of shepherding a product downstream through the intricate maze of the supply chain. Think of it as meticulously leaving a trail of digital breadcrumbs, each containing vital information about the product’s journey.

The Pros of Material Forward Tracking

Material forward tracking revolutionizes supply chain transparency by focusing on real-time data aggregation from material suppliers. The benefits of this approach are abundantly clear:

1. High Data Quality and Granularity: Material forward tracking provides a wealth of high-quality, granular data, empowering decision-makers with insights into each production phase.

2. Collaborative System: This approach fosters collaboration among stakeholders, resulting in a comprehensive view of the entire supply chain ecosystem.

3. Robust Data Reliability: Real-time data acquisition enhances the reliability of information, thereby bolstering both decision-making and supply chain narrative credibility.

4. Real-time Overproduction Evidence: Tracking empowers managers to identify instances of overproduction in real time, optimizing resource allocation and minimizing wastage.

The Cons of Material Forward Tracking

However, this robust approach does come with some limitations:

1. Increased Energy Consumption: The real-time data demands of tracking might lead to increased energy consumption, raising sustainability concerns.

2. Lengthy Implementation Time: Establishing a comprehensive tracking system necessitates time for technology integration, personnel training, and process synchronization.

3. Limited Scalability: Scaling up the tracking system might stretch resources, potentially compromising data quality.

4. Stringent Legislative Compliance: While tracking offers substantial data evidence, aligning with intricate legislative requirements can prove to be a daunting task.

Unveiling Tracing: Rewinding the Journey

In contrast, tracing can be likened to the process of reverse engineering the supply chain narrative. It retraces the information left during the tracking process, shedding light on the origins and history of each product.

The Pros of Material/Product Backward Tracing

Material or product backward tracing has its unique merits:

1. Scalable Methodology: Tracing offers a scalable approach that accommodates growth without unnecessary complexities.

2. Cost-effectiveness: Tracing typically demands fewer resources than tracking, making it an ideal choice for businesses with budget constraints.

3. Streamlined Data Quality: When focused on material tracing, data quality often surpasses that of product tracing due to the targeted nature of information.

4. Simplicity in Implementation: Tracing’s straightforward implementation makes it accessible to a wider range of businesses.

The Cons of Material/Product Backward Tracing

However, material/product backward tracing is not without its shortcomings:

1. Indirect Supplier Engagement: Tracing might not engage suppliers as directly as tracking does, potentially leading to data gaps and reduced accuracy.

2. Data Reliability and Accuracy: While valuable, tracing’s insights might lack the real-time accuracy of tracking.

Then there is a third model called Mapping

Mapping the Product Backward: A Simpler Approach

A third avenue, product backward mapping, presents a simpler alternative to the comprehensive methodologies of tracking and tracing. Instead of delving into intricate execution details, it focuses on establishing relationships among supply chain participants.

The Pros of Product Backward Mapping

Product backward mapping carries its own set of advantages:

1. Cost-effective Solution: This approach’s simplicity and ease of implementation make it a cost-effective choice for businesses of varying sizes.

2. Swift Implementation: The straightforward nature of product backward mapping ensures a quick implementation, providing basic supply chain insights promptly.

The Cons of Product Backward Mapping

However, this approach does come with its own set of limitations:

1. Limited Data Granularity: Product backward mapping sacrifices data granularity for simplicity, potentially restricting in-depth insights.

2. Reliance on Estimates and Secondary Data: This approach heavily relies on estimations and secondary data, introducing a level of uncertainty and reducing data reliability.

3. Weak Legislative Data Proof: While offering a snapshot of relationships, product backward mapping might not suffice to meet stringent legislative requirements.

In Conclusion

As the supply chain landscape evolves, understanding the distinction between tracking, tracing, and product backward mapping becomes paramount.

Each approach brings its unique advantages and challenges to the table. The choice hinges on a business’s goals, resources, and legislative obligations.

By embracing the subtleties of these processes, supply chain managers can navigate the complexities of their operations with enhanced efficiency, transparency, and compliance.

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