Nowadays, when every person has a Facebook or LinkedIn profile that can serve as an online representation of that person’s identity, you can find out some information about basically anyone. The same isn’t true for objects. “I can Google a human being,” says Niall Murphy, cofounder and CEO of EVRYTHNG, “but I can’t Google a physical thing. Why not?”
That was the basis for Murphy’s company, which is essentially an Internet of Things platform for smart products; it’s not for big items such as cars and fridges, which have traditionally been the target of smart tech, but rather for the fast-moving consumer products that make up the majority of the world’s volume of goods. EVRYTHNG puts an identity to, well, everything that we use from day to day, via smart tags and labels on packaging, which can give both brands and consumers information about any individual item—whether a polo shirt, a Coke bottle, a laundry detergent, or a packet of smoked salmon. Its tech—which is the winner of the consumer products category of Fast Company’s 2o20 World Changing Ideas Awards—allows those items to tell buyers and brands where they came from and where they’re going. “We are providing the digital identity for physical objects,” Murphy says.
Working with 30 or so of the world’s biggest-name consumer brands, representing billions of consumer products, EVRYTHNG gives every physical product a “cloud half,” sort of a digital alter ego. And it produces and manages that cloud identity for each product with its platform, the Product Cloud. For brands, that means companies can track a product through its entire life cycle. That’s crucial, for big brands in particular, which often curate collections but outsource for manufacture and distribution. With the traceability across the supply chain of an item, company HQs can be aware in real time of each item’s nascence and its journey. That, says Murphy, is a big overhaul from previously, when “the state of the art was a fax machine and a telephone.”
Take Ralph Lauren, which is working with EVRYTHNG to digitize its entire inventory. QR codes on a polo shirt’s label, for example, give each garment its own “active digital identity,” like a LinkedIn profile for a shirt. The digitized tag can tackle such widespread issues in the industry as counterfeit goods. The same concept could be applied a bottle of champagne, say; EVRYTHNG also works with Moët and Hennessy to do just that.
The technology is equally of use to consumers. People can scan the QR code on their Ralph Lauren polo, or Unilever detergent, to reorder supplies or gain company rewards. They can tune into interactive experiences, allowing a Coke bottle, Puma sneaker, or Rebecca Minkoff purse to come to life. Norwegian seafood company Mowi, the world’s largest company in salmon and trout farming, works with the company to ensure that customers can find out the sustainability certification of the exact fish they’re buying, when it came out of the water, and how it arrived at the supermarket. That addresses the increasing customer demand for ethical transparency and allows companies to be ahead of the curve of any regulatory requirements that may be on the way.
By integrating with the labeling’s QR codes—or RFID tags, or Bluetooth tags, or printed labels—EVRYTHNG is continually “increasing the amount of richness you can gather from those sensors,” Murphy says. “We can push more and more of that information into the cloud.”
While it’s not the first company to tackle the management of information about supply chains, it hopes that collecting data on the entire life cycle proves to be the difference maker. It’s been at the forefront of this technology, helping to develop standards initiatives with some powerful partners. Its cofounder and CTO, Dominique Guinard, developed the Web of Things, essentially the spec of how to make physical things appear as web services, built in an MIT lab in 2007. It’s now the technology that underpins the company’s work. And EVRYTHNG worked with GS1, the world’s standards organization for bar codes, to develop a system that allows for a standardized, open format for tagging. That all means that smart tech can be applied to those everyday goods and that the technology is scalable.
“The ultimate vision here,” Murphy says, “is that we have an ability to manage the data about the entire journey of every product item in the world.”