There are two terms seen a lot in juxtaposition to supply chain lately: coronavirus and blockchain. One is putting a lot of stress on the supply chain, while the other is ready to revolutionize it. Some new use cases and a new report put blockchain and the supply chain in perspective.
First, it is becoming evident that blockchain is becoming something of a “safe deposit box” for retail data, offering a digital method for storing and sharing data between multiple stakeholders. For example, if a merchandise manager needs to set inventory levels for a national chain, several participants can view the data – including the supplier, if they are on the permission list for that block. Large-scale networks, in particular, can leverage this feature, which leads into two other retail advantages: Blockchain data updates itself, and because its permissions are limited, they can’t be falsified by a third party.
That “single version of the truth” (similar to a bank balance) is the blockchain version of trust.
“Blockchain looks to create trust within a network in a different way,” according to Lexology, a U.K.-based tech site. “Rather than there just being a single master copy of the database, each participant in the network holds their own copy of the same database. That is why blockchain is referred to as being distributed or decentralized. As everyone in the blockchain network has an identical copy of the database, each participant knows with confidence that ‘what I see is what you see.’”
The Chain Integration Project (CHIP), a blockchain proof-of-concept initiative supported by leading manufacturers and retailers organized by Auburn University, showed that blockchain and RFID technologies, when combined, amplify value for retailers. Using serialized data exchange, blockchain and RFID can reduce or eliminate the need for human oversight in inventory management and other core aspects of supply chain monitoring.
Industrial spending on blockchain is expected to exceed $11.7 billon by 2022, and it’s no wonder: From retail to manufacturing to quality assurance, blockchain is being used to maximize the value of data and to streamline data processing and transmission. Despite the burgeoning bandwagon, the hype surrounding the blockchain rush is based on solid science. Due to the structure of blockchain technologies, there are extra layers of security that don’t exist in earlier digital technologies. Scientists are even discussing the use of blockchain as a standardized verification system for scientific discovery.
Blockchain technology enables retailers and their suppliers to cut through the noise of extraneous data and automate access to insights, making real-time supply chain and external data accessible and easy to authenticate. Simplification and security are top priorities for small businesses, especially when it comes to managing transactions and data warehousing.
A recent roundtable and public hearing on blockchain, which was held at the White House, included industry figures and entrepreneurs, who testified to the advantages of using the technology to increase small business efficiency. They also acknowledged the need for guidance on the evolution of relevant government regulations.
Small businesses have also been clamoring for CRM products and payment solutions that utilize blockchain technology, not just because of the enhanced speed (since authentication is created at each touchpoint), but also because blockchain-powered CRM processes have fresh, top-to-bottom data that offers a wealth of insights in a frictionless format.
Since blockchain technologies excel in security and data transfer, they are a perfect fit for global companies like Walmart, which have complex retail and manufacturing relationships as well as millions of transactions and authentication activities to manage.
Recently, IBM, Walmart and other leading brands collaborated on an ongoing initiative to make the public blockchain a safer space for enterprise-grade ERP and CRM activities. The project, called Baseline Protocol, will use a distributed blockchain-based system designed to be context-aware and tailored to the unique security and scalability needs of each brand. While still in its infancy, the project may disrupt blockchain’s lingering “wild west” reputation, allowing major enterprises – which are often hesitant to adopt non-proprietary technologies – to finally employ the technology as a consistent, data-driven solution.