Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Labelling as Service 2

Decoupling the information supply chain from the product/service supply chain allows you to reengineer each one independently from the other. This seems to make good sense. However, there are some commercial and legal concerns, including information quality/reliability, liability and copyright.

Information supply is a recently emerging problem in the food supply chain – including restaurants/hotels/canteens as well as supermarkets. Consumers are becoming much more demanding, and want to know whether a product contains nuts or genetically modified food. There are several companies in the UK currently facing this kind of problem.

See previous post: Labelling as Service 1

One pattern is to separate the provision of information about a product/service from the provision of the product/service itself. Example: catalogue information. You get information about films from a catalogue server, not from the film server. We may also include information about the supply of the product (such as its price or delivery).

The early studies of video on demand assumed a separation of information from product into different technical channels, for reasons of bandwidth. One proposed solution was that the film itself would be transmitted by satellite or cable (one-way, high bandwidth), while control information would use the telephone line (two-way, low bandwidth). (Network engineers also have security in mind when they separate control from content.)

But the separation of the information supply chain from the product supply chain raises all sorts of commercial and legal concerns.

Information quality/reliability

Is the product/service provider best placed to provide accurate and timely information? Does the consumer trust the product/service provider, or do they prefer getting information from an independent third party? For example, where do you go to get reliable performance data for Oracle databases - from Oracle or from someone else? Where do you go to for reliable chemical analysis of the sugar content of CocaCola?

Liability

Who is liable if the information is wrong? (For example, imagine someone with a nut allergy dies as a result of incorrect product information.)

Copyright

Not long ago Wal-Mart and other retailers attempted to use DCMA to prevent third-party websites providing information about their sale prices. Wal-Mart backed down for a while, but this one is not going to go away. (See Bruce Schneier, Crypto-Gram, December 2002)

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