Nov 24, 2021 | 5 min read

Jamshed Dubash

Podcast #165 End to End Visibility


A pioneer's early vision to increase transparency and efficiencies across the entire supply chain


In this episode, Ken Forster talks to Jamshed Dubash, CEO of Vaspar Strategies, LLC, a consultancy firm specializing in sales and marketing, as well as go-to-market strategy planning for firms in the IoT/M2M/RFID arena.

Jamshed is a global executive with a passion for creating business opportunities in the pharmaceutical and lifecycles, retail and CPG manufacturing, transportation, and logistics marketing spaces by integrating IoT Edge sensors, big data, and advanced analytics to help companies increase operational efficiencies and reduce costs.


He has successfully managed large multinational projects at the tactical and strategic levels for Fortune 100 companies in the United States, Europe, and Asia. He started his IoT leadership journey at Procter and Gamble, where he led their RFID efforts at Gillette in the famous RFID pilots with Walmart. He held executive leadership roles at pioneering IoT and RFID companies, including Mojix, Senaya, DeepMagic, and, most recently, TraceLink.


Discussion Points Were:

  • What would you consider to be your ‘Digital Thread’?
  • What are some of the efforts and accomplishments that led to Gillette and RFID's ground-breaking automatic ID efforts?
  • What were some of the key use cases that you concentrated on at the time, and how well did passive RFID technology perform in those areas?
  • The Auto-ID Center's promise never materialized. A fundamental technological mismatch, or simply ahead of your time?
  • You held executive positions at companies like Mojix, Senaya, DeepMagic, and most recently TraceLink that built on your pioneering product visibility work across the supply chain. What would be your top three supply chain visibility takeaways from this time?
  • How close are we to realizing the original Auto-ID promise, and what are the key technologies?
  • Tell us a little bit about Vaspar's unique value proposition? What methods do you use to collaborate with your clients to accelerate their supply chain solutions?
  • What do you forecast for supply chain visibility over the next 5 years?


Good To Know: 

RFID is an acronym for “radio-frequency identification” and refers to a technology whereby digital data encoded in RFID tags or smart labels (defined below) are captured by a reader via radio waves. RFID is similar to barcoding in that data from a tag or label are captured by a device that stores the data in a database. RFID, however, has several advantages over systems that use barcode asset tracking software. The most notable is that RFID tag data can be read outside the line-of-sight, whereas barcodes must be aligned with an optical scanner. If you are considering implementing an RFID solution, take the next step and contact the RFID experts at AB&R® (American Barcode and RFID).


  • Inventory management
  • Asset tracking
  • Personnel tracking
  • Controlling access to restricted areas
  • ID Badging
  • Supply chain management
  • Counterfeit prevention (e.g. in the pharmaceutical industry)



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View Transcript



Ken: Good day, and welcome to episode 165 of the Momenta Digital Thread podcast series. Today, I'm pleased to have Jamshed Dubash, CEO of Vaspar Strategies; a consulting company focused on sales and marketing and go-to-market strategic planning for companies in the IoT/M2M and RFID space. Jamshed is a global executive with a passion for creating business opportunities in the pharmaceutical and lifecycles, retail and CPG manufacturing, transportation, and logistic marketing spaces by integrating IoT Edge sensors, big data, and advanced analytics to help companies increase operational efficiencies and reduce costs. He started his IoT leadership journey at Procter and Gamble, where he led their RFID efforts at Gillette in the famous RFID pilots with Walmart. He took executive leadership roles at pioneering IoT and RFID companies, including Mojix, Senaya, DeepMagic, and, most recently, TraceLink. Jamshed, welcome to our Digital Thread podcast.



Jamshed: Ken, thank you so much. So excited to be here. I can't say how impressed I am with all the work you and the Momenta team are doing in building this ecosystem that we have been involved with for almost two decades now. Thank you, and I look forward to this opportunity.



Ken: Thank you for the kind words, but given that I just read a bio that almost took me out of breath, I should be thanking you for all of the pioneering work that you've done. It's beautiful in terms of going back to what I consider to be one of those kinds of seminal technology events. The RFID work was done at the Auto-ID Consortium way back when. We're going to talk about moving fast forward- how all of the results of that journey have come out. So first, though, I always like to discuss one's digital thread. In other words, the one or more thematic threads that define their digital industry journey. What's your digital thread?



Jamshed: Yeah. I love the question, Ken. You talked about all the different companies I was involved with. Looking back at my career, I think there are probably three threads that stick out to me. The first and early part of my period was all about semiconductors. It was manufacturing, and it was- bunny suiting all over it, in the fab and involved in all of those things. That's fascinating work there. In my first exposure to consumer type technology, we did the first PDA with HP and ARM, a small company you might have heard of. That was my first theme. The second one that built on top of that is what we were just talking about, which is RFID. And you talk about the Auto-ID center, and you can see Global and GS1- these are big entities that were trying to do big things and are trying to do big things. That whole RFID journey was with Gillette, and Procter and Gamble, and then Mojix, as you mentioned. I'd say that's the second theme. And then the third is IoT. And I think each of these has built on top of each other. IoT, of course, is much broader than just RFID. And in that sense, I spent time with Senaya with real-time visibility type solutions and DeepMagic, which was unattended retail. These are the IoT-type solutions. And all of this comes together, I think, into where I am today and what I'm focused on. Those would be the three themes, in my opinion.



Ken: Wow. Three powerful ones, and you're right. I think they build on each other in terms of- you call it almost a full-stack, if you will, of the technologies and best capabilities you provide. You and I first met when you were running the groundbreaking automatic ID efforts between Gillette and RFID. Those efforts were part of the MIT Auto-ID center at the time, which included the membership of most major retailers and consumer packaged goods suppliers. I was part of it on behalf of Philip Morris Industries way back when. Tell us a bit about the effort and your accomplishments leading particularly to this pilot.



Jamshed: Yeah. These are the good old days. I think some of us used to call it the gin and tonic journey that we were on. We traveled all over the place, we had lots of great gin and tonics, and we talked about how we would change the world. But I think the vision was beautiful, and it was a little ahead of its time. The Auto-ID Center was, I believe- our friend, our familiar friend, Sanjay Sarma, who's- I think still very actively involved in the industry, was the guiding light, if you will, around this whole initiative. It fit Gillette. Gillette had the perfect product portfolio, if you will. Oral-B, Gillette, and Braun were sort of the major product categories. These were all very high-value products. Many of them had very long shelf lives. They had a small form factor, high resale values, lots of things that made for exemplary RFID implementation if you will. Gillette was all in on this effort. And what better way to get closer to the world's largest retailer than to work with them on what they were mandating. And obviously, the retailer here was Walmart and their mandate back then. There was much learning, many things we did right, many things we did wrong. And we've built from there. But those foundational use cases and things we talked about back then, I think, are still very relevant, even today.



Ken: Yeah. Talking about things that you did right- those use cases. You guys produced groundbreaking business cases that measured the impact of RFID on supply chain challenges. I remember, Out of Stock particularly was one of the big ones. But as you mentioned a moment ago, theft detection for Philip Morris- counterfeit detection was a pretty interesting one as well. What were some of the critical use cases that you focused upon at the time? And how well did the technology- which was passive RFID, work toward those at the time?



Jamshed: Yeah. I think, you know, you're touching on the key ones. The Out of Stock availability- one's a more positive way of looking at it. A counterfeit- big challenge, certainly for Philip Morris, the big one for Gillette, back then. It still is, right? Gillette razor blades are among the top five most stolen items and counterfeited items if you go on eBay and Google and try to buy these products. So those use cases, I think, were key drivers. The way we looked at it back then, I think we did an excellent job looking at what we were calling within the four walls. These were use cases relevant to Gillette, the movement of product from one facility to the other, so work-in-progress type use cases, manufacturing use cases, things well within Gillette's control, if you will. And then, in today's terminology, this is the nodal use case. The second category of use cases that we focused on was outside of the four walls. This second one is more about the network, into this supply chain way of thinking of things. That's how we would ship to Walmart and ensure on-time and complete delivery. OTIF, which is now the metric for many different industries, is what we did back then. It's to verify that if I'm shipping 50 pallets, that you are getting those 50 pallets. And if on those 50 pallets, there were each 10 cases, that you got all 10 of those cases. Those were some of the key use cases, but it was really within the four walls and outside the four walls- that's the focus.



Ken: The promise of the Auto-ID Center ultimately did not reach critical mass, as you said. Many things are done, right, some things perhaps in hindsight, not done so well. But was this a fundamental mismatch of technology? Or are we just simply all ahead of our time?



Jamshed: This is one of those topics close to my heart because we did many good things. We did a lot of things right and some things we didn't do right. And I don't think I thoroughly answered your previous question about how RFID performed, but let's see if we can sort of combine things in here. We were, I think, ahead of our time because there was a lot of industry education that needed to be done. The good news was that people recognized it- people in a position of authority and change. And I think Sanjay did a great job by taking this whole concept that came out of MIT. The term 'Internet of Things' was put together, I think, in 99, or 2000, by Sanjay and a few other folks at MIT, and moved it out of the labs and out of Auto-ID center into this larger entity, GS1, and called this initiative EPC Global. I think this was a very smart thing to do. This wasn't something that a set of labs across some number of six or so universities globally would be able to do on their own. We were ahead of our time.


There was a lot of- like I said, that gin and tonic club where we'd go to presentations all over the globe and talk about how this was important and how it would change the world, and that was important to do. But I think the foundational piece of this was- that vision was just really, I think, quite well-thought through. And I think this is the basis of where we can now get some of the business benefits we are seeing. The foundation for three things, right? It was that unique ID upon everything. A common communication language, that was the second thing. And then making sure all this data could be collected and reacted to. That was, I think, the core of all of it, and it all came together. I think the use cases identified were interesting, but as you said, we were ahead of our time, and I think the technology was not mature enough. So maybe it was oversold. But this was so foundational and a breakthrough piece of technology that it has now really enabled things two decades later that we were talking about back then.



Ken: I fully agree. Thank you for reminding us about the origin of the word Internet of Things. There was a gentleman, many of you will know by Kevin Ashton, who at the time, along with Sanjay, actually co-founded the Auto-ID Center at MIT. And Kevin is the one that is credited with coming up with this term Internet of Things, and it was descriptive of a lot of the core technologies and this kind of common element of RFID. So I've always looked at the Internet of Things; I always talk about it as a culmination of telemetry and machine-to-machine, industrial automation, RFID.

You bring all these forward, and every one of those waves contributed some elements to it and, ultimately, what we think of as the Internet of Things now, and whatever we'll call it in the future. Many call it the singularity or ubiquitous things if you will. But all of these are a culmination. The other thing that triggered for me, as you said- it happened to raise the tide in terms of teaching our executives about the potential of this technology and how it might impact or disrupt their businesses. And I remember particularly sitting with some of the CXOs, at the Philip Morris companies at the time, and presenting the whole story of RFID, all the way down to a booklet we put together which had an RFID tag in it. And we even set up a demo store of the future, a convenience store in the future that explored not only the supply chain side of it, but the consumer side of it too, and how all this came together. It's so much fun to see elements of this in the retail experiences we have now. I think you and I were both lucky enough to have been, in some sense, at a genesis point for much of what we call the IoT now.



Jamshed: Absolutely. And I like the tiny bits of information you mentioned, the two very relevant names- Kevin and Sanjay. But there was a third guy. So there's Dr. David Brock, who was also a key part of that whole foundation. And so, the two of them were the core that came out of MIT. I know that Kevin was from P&G and the value he brought to the table. But talking just a little bit more about success and how big Auto-ID- and again, Auto-ID, I think is probably a misused term in some sense. RAIN RFID, as it's now called, is used. The most relevant use cases- if I remember the work we did at the Auto-ID Center in the early 2000 timeframe with yourself and companies like Walmart, Procter and Gamble, and Gillette- the USPS was involved in, I think, medical use cases.


I recall this exercise where we documented a hundred, 150 use cases. These are all put out as white papers at MIT. And the fascinating part, at least in my mind, is if you now look at last year, how many RFID tags were sold, and that number is somewhere around 20 billion or 21 billion- something in that range, right? About 75% of those tags were sold into the clothing and retail industry. And apparel was not one of those 150 use cases that we had talked about 20 years ago. It comes down to the market driving and deciding where the best value is. And I think that, to me, has been a big revelation. But in most of these journeys that we're on, it's really important to move, not to try and figure everything out up front. The market will decide where the best place is and where the best growth is. I've been fascinated by learning and being part of that journey with you.



Ken: Oh yeah. And in fact, you went on to play executive leadership roles at companies that we talked about earlier, pioneering product visibility work across the supply chain- Mojix, Senaya, DeepMagic, and most recently, TraceLink, a company that many of us know well. If you had to boil down this time into three key insights around supply chain visibility, what would those be?



Jamshed: Three key insights. The first one that I would articulate is that- I mentioned another person I worked with recently. We lost him last year, just a wonderful, wonderful genuine person. He was Roddy Martin, whom I have a world of respect for. I didn't know him that well; we only met when I joined TraceLink. He was a brilliant thinker and someone who just understood supply chain insight. He always talked about starting from outside in, and it sounded like such a simple concept. I didn't quite know why he was pushing that as such an important foundational piece. But the more I talked to him, and the more he looked specifically at the pharma industry, the dots started to connect. And we talked earlier about counterfeit and theft and Out of Stock and in-use cases in retail, right? We were discussing that just a few minutes ago. What's fascinating to me is that I've bounced around these different industries. The foundational use cases are the same. It doesn't change. What I learned from Roddy is that especially in pharma- but again, touches every other industry, is you got to start outside in, as in making sure that when you're talking about pharma, you're talking about the consumer, the patient. You have to start there, understand the patient's needs, and then work your way back to not just distribution or dispensation distribution and working backward, manufacturer and source. You have to work in that direction rather than from the source to the consumer. I'd say that's insight number one.


And look at any other industry. If you look at food, for instance- at the end of the day, consumers cannot get safe and appropriately managed and temperature-controlled food, the consumer that's impacted. It's the same thing on automotive, the same thing on CPG retail. Any industry starts with the consumers and then works its way back in terms of the business benefits. So that, to me, is probably number one. Number two, in terms of insight on supply chain visibility, I would say that you want to look at both network and nodal levels. I think this is now becoming very prevalent. We've seen all the challenges with COVID and the supply chain; that's been discussed ad nauseam, I won't get into all that. But having this visibility across the node, from all points in time- the real-time visibility is where I'm getting at is important. And this leads me to my third point, and it's to enable this real-time visibility. It's all about the network. It's all about partnerships. It's all about sharing of data. And as much as everybody sees data as the new oil and new gold- pick your analogy. The more we can share that data, the more value there is to the end consumer. And that's you and I, and our families and our kids and our parents. The more those partnerships and that network effect can be done working together, I think those are the three biggest insights that come to my mind. Again, work outside in, look at the whole network in terms of your four walls and real-time visibility within and through the network. And then, really, it's about partnerships.



Ken: Great, great insights. Again, I feel like I've got two stories for every answer you provide. I remember your CEO at P&G at the time talking about the moments of truth. And you may remember the- I think he called it the second moment of truth in retail? The first moment of truth, I'm sorry. And in some sense, that inspired the whole industry to think shelf back or from consumer decision back in there. And it certainly ties in well with your outside element. One other thing-



Jamshed: That's a great oh, sorry. I didn't mean to-.



Ken: No, please go ahead.



Jamshed: I love that moment of truth statement. And you talked about multiple moments of truth.



Ken: I did. Yes.



Jamshed: When you see the product, and you see it on the shelf, does it look good, and is it appealing to you. And if that moment of truth is not good, then you're never going to get to the consumer buying it and using it. That's got to be the next moment of truth where you use it, and you like what you're using. But yeah, P&G is very, very forward-thinking in terms of being outside in. And I think that's the same message that Roddy was trying to bring to the pharma industry.


Ken: Actually, that was the other thing I would mention, another call-out at Roddy. It's interesting when Supply Chain Magazine calls Roddy "The Great Connector." And many of you know, he was a brilliant principal at AMR research, which is now part of Gartner. But when many of us were doing our nascent work in the supply chain, I remember referring to his 80-page slide decks. You know what I'm talking about, all the different patterns and such. He was an inspiration to a lot of us during those early career points. Let me ask. How much closer are we to the original Auto-ID promise? What key technologies are getting us there versus at least passive RFID at the time?



Jamshed: I think the original vision was, just like I said, very forward-thinking. I think the stuff that the team that MIT put together, and Sanjay particularly was driving. Every day, I think we get closer to this idea of everything having a unique identity is- it's grown in leaps and bounds in so many different ways in so many different industries. As I said, I'm spending most of my time in the last few years, four years after the testing experience, invariably now, it's mostly focused on pharma and life sciences, for all the reasons we just mentioned. But I think that industry, which is very old and stodgy and has many rules- and for good reasons, right? The things that are being made are impacting our lives. But even that industry is, I think, really moving in terms of enabling this unique identity. And this most recent challenge with vaccines has exacerbated it and moved these things much faster.

I think it's happening much quicker. There are many different technologies on the wireless side; there are some breakthrough things besides RFID. The VLP RAM stuff has been bubbling for several years, and I think it is getting some traction. Again, private versus public, too much detail for this conversation, but the one that I'm quite intrigued by- and it's again early days, and maybe I get too excited with the next shiny object. Still, it's the new BLE technologies that can be done- the battery-free BLE. I think that's a game-changer because you can now have these very inexpensive tags that don't have a battery source, i.e., they can last for a long, long time. But they also have different sensors on them.

You're enabling many additional use cases over and above what passive RFID was trying to do. And then the beauty is that you don't need fixed infrastructure as you do with RFID.


And I want to clarify that you can have both mobile and fixed infrastructure with RFID, but then the point I'm making about the low power or the battery-free BLE is that every phone is essentially a reader. I think that's been one of the key challenges to why RFID didn't take off as broadly as it was envisioned. Many interesting technologies are coming into play that is here now and maturing over time. But I think this vision of that unique ID and everything, a common language- again, it may not be one language, but the way that you can collect all that information, and canonicalize it, which makes the data then usable. I think all that is now happening. It's taken two decades, and the technologies have evolved beyond just RFID, and I think that's a wonderful thing.



Ken: Fully agreed. It's funny. We've dusted off some of those old Auto-ID business cases, which all of you can find on the web, to justify investments in more recent companies. NanoThings is an example of a company that's doing passive tags while using LoRaWAN. And for tracking, Vodafone has rolled out a similar effort in Europe with Bayer. And so you're right, medical cold-chain, etc., have been fundamental drivers for a lot of this. Let's kind of fast forward. Tell us a bit about Vaspar Strategies. How do you work with your clients to accelerate their supply chain solutions?



Jamshed: Yeah. I've been very fortunate this recent three or four years when you get as old as I do, recent is three, four years. The pharma industry has been energizing for me. I mean, I've been in the supply chain for many years. And like I said, you know we've been involved in multiple different industries. But I think the value you provide in pharma and the impact it has, I believe, is so meaningful to me. Because I see my mom getting her insulin doses, and I have no idea if those have been at the right temperature and if the efficacy is correct or not. I've been learning a lot about this industry. Most of my customers at this point- my clients are in the pharma space. And I've been working in the areas that I can add value. It goes back to the question you asked earlier about one of those digital threads you called it. So these are companies that have IoT-type solutions. Senaya, as you know, was just a company that I started, and we were building what Gartner now calls RTTVP, the Real-Time Transport Visibility Platforms. So we were, again, a little ahead of our time when we were doing that. And I think that's become a significant player now where people are trying to understand what happens in real-time. And so I'm trying to focus on the cold chain pieces there. I'm working with some companies that are doing devices and sensors, and platforms. In that space, an exciting company is Tive that I'm doing some work with. There are a few others. The other place I'm spending much time in the pharma space- again, on cold-chain is around cold-chain packaging, seeing how you can add additional visibility to these packaging devices. You can make sure that when the product comes to my home for my mother, it is really in temperature and has done the right things. These are interesting, exciting clients these days. There's much recognition by the pharma industry that there needs to be much more visibility, and handoffs need to be managed much better. I see some great potential here, and the great news is that I feel like I'm adding value to the space. That's important.



Ken: You've been several decades in the supply chain visibility space. Now, let me ask it, put your prognosticator hat on for a moment. What would you predict for the next five years relative to supply chain visibility?



Jamshed: Yeah. Maybe I'm not such a good prognosticator. I think the important piece is to make sure that the supply chain visibility becomes real-time. I think that's the most critical piece. There seems to be traction in the food and perishable industry today. So when are strawberries are picked and when meats are shipped, and when seafood is shipped- these are obvious. But those again, I think, tend to have sort of a visual response also. You can look at food, and you can smell it. You can tell if it's going bad. That's the space where there seems to be the real-time visibility piece is moving.


Again, I think pharma and life sciences with clinical trials, personalized medicine, biologics, and vaccines over the next five years. Something like 50% of all vaccines today is wasted. Again, these are general numbers. Across the board, something like 25 billion in annual losses in the pharma because of poorly temperature monitored products. I'm not pushing pharma because I'm interested in that space. I believe that there's a significant impact here and big potential here. And this is where I see a lot of exciting things happening. I'm intrigued by the smart packaging concepts that are happening within pharma. Because we're moving more and more toward these personalized medicines, I think Big Pharma recognizes that there's opportunity there. I think there's good potential for this real-time visibility to happen in a meaningful way in that space.



Ken: In closing, I always like to ask a question, in terms of one's inspiration, how do you find- what do you use to inspire yourself personally, I guess, is the proper way to say it.



Jamshed: Oh goodness. So many things, Ken. I'm a softie at heart; my kids inspire me. And just seeing how digital their lives have become, and how they're handling all of that and where they're taking their careers, and just seeing what they're doing is phenomenally inspiring. I think I like LinkedIn as a resource. I'm not a big social media guy. I follow some folks on there, and I figure I'd get some good inspiration there. Conversations with people like you and Sanjay and people who are in a position to make a difference, like you guys are, but then it's also- I get inspired by friends and colleagues who- there's this guy called Christian Sarkar, whom I've known from high school and this guy is brilliant. He could be making tons of money doing consulting and doing all sorts of stuff, but he is passionate about sustainability and changing the world. That's what he does, and he's making much money, but he's focused on doing the right thing. And you remember Mrinmoy? Do you remember Mrinmoy from our Senaya days?



Ken: Oh, I do. Yes. Yeah.



Jamshed: Yeah. He's another one who just really inspires me. Just brilliant and down to earth and just wants to do the right thing. So it comes from many places. And I see that there are lots of potentials, much good. And by the way, I'm sure you have, but if you haven't, or some of you have not heard, Sir David Attenborough's speech, it's about seven minutes long, at the COP26 a few days ago- it is so inspirational, Ken. It's a wonderful speech. I would suggest that your listeners listen to that if they haven't.



Ken: Perfect. We'll provide a link to that together with the transcription when we publish this. Jamshed, thank you for sharing this time and these insights with us today.



Jamshed:  It is entirely my pleasure, Ken. It was fun, thank you.



Ken: This has been Jamshed Dubash, CEO of Vaspar Strategies and a pioneer in supply chain visibility. Thank you for listening, and please join us next week for the next episode of our Digital Thread podcast series. Thank you, and have- 

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Connect With Jamshed Dubash via LinkedIn 

Jamshed's Inspiration Comes From... Jamshed's main sources of inspiration are his family and children. Sanjay Sharma, Ken Forster, Christian Sarkar, and Mrinmoy Chakraborty are among his friends and colleagues who inspire him.

His latest influence is Sir David Attenborough, a British naturalist and documentary filmmaker. Listen to David Attenborough's speech to world leaders at COP26 in Glasgow on November 2nd, 2021.

About Vaspar Strategies: Founded in Boston, Vaspar Strategies is a consulting company focused on sales and marketing and go-to-market strategy planning for companies in the IoT/M2M/RFID space.