Samuel Israel. Supply Chain, Meet Blockchain
Blockchain technology means traceability and, for almost any industry, that could mean enhanced security and more transparency
A refrigerated container filled with avocados in Kenya travels 6,500 kilometers to reach its destination in Holland. Along this extended supply chain, the container undergoes some 200 checks and inspections. The 30 or so people involved in this process barely communicate with one another. Reports are produced manually, for the most part, often with pen and paper.
We most commonly associate blockchain with Bitcoin and other so-called crypt-currencies, which are often viewed with skepticism for their price volatility and highly speculative nature. So, you might be surprised to learn that the blockchain –a digital register that stores information in blocks that are ordered chronologically in a chain, using complex mathematical algorithms to securely encrypt them– could become an essential tool for the logistics industry.
The primary benefits of applying blockchain technology to the logistics industry are:
- The ability to compile, register and authenticate every interaction along the supply chain;
- The security and transparency of the data contained in the blockchain.
Leading the way in applying blockchain to its supply chain is Maersk, the giant Danish container shipping company. Other companies are now jumping in. IBM, together with CapGemini, has created a prototype of a “smart container” that uses sensors to transmit information along the supply route. The objective is to establish an interactive network that does away with information silos, enabling end-to-end visibility and transparency.
The blockchain is revolutionizing the way we interact and do business. Here are some of the advantages of using blockchain technology for any company or industry that depends on traceability:
By applying blockchain technology, one creates a ledger of data that, instead of being stored at an accountant’s office, is distributed among hundreds or thousands of computers across the globe.
Transactions can be registered and verified in this digital, open-source database. And anyone in the network can obtain an up-to-date version of the ledger at any time.
In this giant distributed ledger, all the individual registers, or blocks, of information are linked, authenticated and encrypted to protect the privacy of the transactions. Hackers would have to simultaneously attack each one of these secure and interlinked blocks in the chain, a virtual impossibility
That Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies rely on the blockchain to organize and register financial transactions, thereby avoiding the intermediation of banks and other financial institutions, underscores the extreme security of this technology and its value to other potential applications.
Other Industry Benefits
Any activity that depends upon the traceability of a product, from the raw material stage to the final consumer, is a potential application for blockchain technology. In addition to the logistics industry, many other businesses will no doubt benefit from blockchain. Here are a few examples:
- Healthcare Industry: creating a complete register of healthcare products that is accessible in seconds, instead of days, would allow for the immediate recall of substances that posed a potential health risk to consumers.
- Environmental Protection: to prevent illegal fishing and to discourage unfair labor practices onboard fishing vessels, the World Wildlife Foundation has implemented a pilot program to monitor and register the journey of individual tunafish from “sea to table.”
- Fair Trade Retail: the precise monitoring of goods such as cotton, coffee and organic produce from farm to market will give conscious consumers more information about labor and environmental conditions during production.
Applications derived from blockhain technology will bring transparency and enhanced security to many industries. Blockchain adoption will result in a world that is more open, collaborative and verifiable, and one in which consumers will have a greater level of confidence in the products they are buying.
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