Welcoming a new era of barcodes: Insights from Niall Murphy, Co-founder & CEO of EVRYTHNG

Welcoming a new era of barcodes: Insights from Niall Murphy, Co-founder & CEO of EVRYTHNG

By Marija Jovic

GS1 is a not-for-profit organization that develops and maintains global standards for various types of business communication – the most ubiquitous of which being barcodes. GS1 barcodes are scanned over six billion times every day, and used by 1.5 million companies worldwide. However, with the up-rise of IoT and smart packaging technologies, barcodes fail to conform with this massive digital transformation. As a major step forward, GS1 has announced that a new type of global communication system dubbed Digital Link has been developed in partnership with a number of companies and organizations.

EVRYTHNG, an IoT company connecting consumer products to the Web and co-chair of the GS1 Standards Development Work Group, is the first to commercially support this new system. According to their press release,

“EVRYTHNG has agreed with GS1 to provide any organization using GS1 product identifiers a royalty-free license to EVRYTHNG’s patented technology which adds dynamic intelligence on top of the new standard.”

PreScouter had the pleasure and honor to chat with Niall Murphy, CEO of EVRYTHNG, about EVRYTHNG’s vision for this “new era of digitized consumer products”, how it is possible to make packaging products “smart” and how one can use that technology to add value.

It seems that it all starts with the first step – creating an Active Digital Identity for each product. We have seen examples where products can be traced using barcodes, QR codes, RFID chips, etc. What is your way to convert physical objects to digital ones and then track them in real-time?

There are many different physical technologies to ‘connect’ products, including barcodes, QR codes and NFC tags. All with the capability to be scanned by a smartphone to gather product information.

Increasingly, printed electronics are allowing more and more sensory information to be captured such as, temperature or the liquid level in a bottle. Typically, cost is the biggest driving factor when choosing a physical technology. Also, the type and amount of information needing to be collected. While printing a unique QR code to identify a specific product item is extremely low cost, an NFC tag or technology with more sophisticated sensory capabilities might add an additional 50 cents to the total cost of a product.

Regardless of which physical technology is selected, an Active Digital Identity™ (ADI) provides a place on the Web for information collected during a product’s life cycle to be stored and made readily available for a wide range of applications. ADIs generate real-time data and capture everything that happens to, or about, each individual product throughout its life cycle, from manufacturing to recycling. Think of it like a LinkedIn profile. Just as LinkedIn manages information about a human being and makes it available to anyone with permission, an ADI makes information about a product item available on the Web through standard Web APIs. This means applications can work with it easily, in fact the product doesn’t even need to be connected itself to make information about it available and/or to drive applications.

The fact is the Web is the most efficient and ubiquitous information management infrastructure on the planet. ADIs are created in real-time as physical products are produced, generated using a simple API on the Web. By connecting products to the Web, information about those products can connect with any application. Each product is given a unique, crypto-secure Web address. Thereafter applications — with permission — can access the ADI using standard Web APIs.

The next step is making the digital ecosystem using an IoT platform. In the past few years, IoT has been marked as one of the most disruptive technologies. Based on your opinion, how fast is this being integrated in everyday life? What is driving the demand?

There are some four-trillion consumer products made and sold globally every year. That’s a lot of physical things! An incredible number of ships and trucks moving stuff around. A measurable impact on the environment. An enormous ecosystem of business, retail and support. And in short, a lot of consumer engagement on a daily basis.

Until recently, consumer product brands had surprisingly limited visibility into the product lifecycle. This information gap creates costly supply-chain inefficiencies and a lot of waste. This is where the internet of things (IoT) comes into play. With IoT, every individual consumer product can now be digitized to share information about its journey, from manufacturing to recycling. Access to this intelligence is what drives demand for IoT among consumer product manufacturers.

You work with several industries bringing smart solutions. Which industry seems to be leading the way and why?

To date, smart home applications have been the most visible representation of IoT to consumers but in reality, it is in the consumer product supply chain where IoT is having the greatest impact — driving efficiencies and quality management to ensure the products you expect are the ones you get.

And we are starting to see the impact of IoT in how we interact with products, too. For instance, instead of paying for a product at a point of sale why not scan it and pay for it directly with your mobile phone? Or why buy a product at all when you could rent it for the time you actually need it, a capability that requires products to be trackable and easily locatable. If you haven’t experienced IoT yet, you will soon.

You recently announced the GS1 Digital Link, which should enable GS1 users to use the same identification standards as they do in their other trading relationships, when using the IoT platform. Do you believe this will speed up the integration of IoT everywhere? What other advantages will this bring?

GS1 is the world’s standards organization for product codes, used by over two-million product manufacturers around the world. Every product has a barcode, which is a unique number identifying that type of product – a 250ml can of Coke or a specific style of Levi jeans. Now the ubiquitous barcode is being upgraded to give every unique product item a web address. This new standard is called GS1 Digital Link. EVRYTHNG was invited to co-chair the GS1 working group that developed the new standard.

The barcode is most frequently associated with point-of-sale. With the upgraded GS1 Digital Link barcode, smartphones can now interact with the same code on the product – be it a QR code or NFC tag. GS1 Digital Link used in combination with Active Digital Identities™ makes it possible for a single code on an individual product to support multiple applications. For instance, a single code on a product can now operate point of sale, consumer engagement, supply chain tracking, product authentication and many other applications.

GS1 codes are already scanned over 5 billion times every day, so the industry impact of this new standard is going to be huge with more than 2 billion iOS and Android smartphones already able to automatically interact with standard QR codes. The new GS1 Digital Link standard takes this one step further — connecting every product to every consumer.

EVRYTHNG has teamed with some of the world’s largest packaging and supply chain companies including, WestRock and Crown in the food, beverage and household goods sectors, and Avery Dennison RBIS in the footwear and apparel market to produce products #BornDigital, with digital identities embedded as they are made, making it easy for brands and retailers to rapidly deploy digitized products at mass scale.

People usually talk only about the advantages of digitization and IoT. What are the potential disadvantages? How could we minimize/overcome them?

Clearly a world where every product is generating data about where it is, what it’s doing and who’s using it, is a potentially a scary world if that data is misused or gets into the wrong hands. This is perhaps, the biggest risk and potential downside of a connected world.

It’s important people (you and me included) are able to maintain a reasonable level of control over the information being collected via the products we purchase; interactions are permissive; and both brands and technology innovators, like EVRYTHNG, are held accountable to manage data securely and responsibly.

The risks can be reduced by requiring consumers to consent to interaction. Fortunately data cannot be automatically collected. Data can and should be anonymized, and robust security methodologies applied. IoT is a subset of the broader security and privacy challenge of the internet as a whole, and it is incumbent on industry leaders to adopt best practices to protect the full digital ecosystem including, consumers.

As of May 2018, stronger rules on data protection (GDPR) became valid in Europe. How could this influence the data that is being generated and shared using your platform?

GDPR is a good thing and largely formalizes what has been good practice anyway – ensuring that the data gathered about end users is done so with permission and explicitly. It also means there is stronger accountability on brands to ensure consumers’ data is properly managed. This means that platforms like EVRYTHNG have a critical role to play in providing the capabilities necessary to meet legal requirements, and in ensuring data protection and privacy rules are enforced as data flows between end user, application and enterprise.

What are future plans for EVRYTHNG? How do you see the future of the digital innovation?

We see a very exciting future for everyone involved in this new digital ecosystem. With more than four trillion products manufactured globally each year, we anticipate a rapid escalation — we’re talking mass scale — of consumer products becoming digitally connected. Our goal is to be the number one provider of trusted digital identities for consumer products.

Our vision: Create a rich ecosystem of real-time product information to drive new, exciting and valuable applications, while delivering a huge amount of efficiency for the planet.

Our mission: Innovate the future — in addition to working with critical standards bodies — we have also invested in:

  • Artificial intelligence — applied to product data
  • Tools and technology — to connect product data across the supply chain
  • Blockchain Integration Hub — to integrate blockchain and other technologies

If you have any questions or would like to know if we can help your business with its innovation challenges, please contact us here or email us at solutions@prescouter.com.

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