According to Gartner, a leading research and advisory company, blockchain has the potential to become a viable solution for major supply chain issues as the complexity of the supply chain sector continues to grow. These issues include counterfeit products, visibility/traceability, and efficiency play. Several companies worldwide are already testing blockchain pilot programs for supply chain in various industries.
Adoption at scale may be at least a decade away. However, Gartner advises that chief supply chain officers begin considering potential applications of blockchain technology and holding formal discussions with their colleagues sooner rather than later.
Blockchain in Retail
Following the implementation of a blockchain-based tracking system, Carrefour, a large French retailer, saw sales increase. The blockchain tracking system that the company implemented allows retail customers to track twenty of the company’s products, such as meat, milk, and fruit, through the supply chain, starting at the farm all the way to Carrefour stores. Because of its initial success, Carrefour is planning to add 100 additional products to the system later this year, including non-food items.
U.S.-based retailers are also exploring blockchain applications. Walmart has made headlines with its blockchain use cases, and Target is currently developing a blockchain-powered supply chain management solution called ConsenSource.
Since mid-2018, Target has been working on a blockchain proof-of-concept that tracks the certification of Target’s paper manufacturing suppliers. In a blog post, Joel Crabb, Target vice president of architecture, wrote that the company has been “working directly with forest managers and certification boards” to identify what data is available and can be shared on a distributed ledger.
The blog also states, “Many companies— including Target— see the most potential for enterprise blockchain initiatives as open source. Open-source projects require all participating parties to define the governance model collectively from the outset, so companies can then focus their time working on blockchain-based solutions that will lead to greater speed, transparency and cost savings.”
Specific details on the proof-of-concept are still under wraps. In its last annual report to shareholders, Target did say that it is working on supply chain improvements. However, it doesn’t directly mention blockchain or distributed ledger technology.
Retail giants are not alone in their exploration of blockchain pilot programs. Panalpina, one of the world’s largest transport and logistics companies, has started cautiously testing a variety of possible applications of blockchain technology. The Swiss company has launched two blockchain pilot programs in supply chain, one investigating blockchain applications in high-tech industrial goods while the other deals with office supplies.
The company’s goal is to optimize supply chains by digitizing trade documents, storing them in the cloud, and deploying blockchain technology. This method should improve processes while reducing long term costs. Panalpina’s system, built on blockchain, will track goods imported from Asia to Europe. In order to test the system, it is set up to run in parallel with existing processes. This will allow real shipments to continue without disruption of current processes.
“These early-stage projects are 85 percent about digitization and 15 percent about blockchain– we are starting to see clear benefits in cost savings through simplified and speedier processes, and lower document courier costs. But the real advantage of blockchain lies in the ‘single source of truth.’ Improved data sharing between trade partners creates more transparency, with clear ownership and responsibility for each documented step in the supply chain,” says Cedric Rutishauser, senior venture development manager at the Panalpina Digital Hub.
More than Supply Chain
Supply chain is not the only field that can benefit from distributed ledger technology. Blockchain also has the potential to alter and disrupt a wide range of other sectors. Learn more about the future of this transformative technology with IEEE’s Enterprise Blockchain for Healthcare, IoT, Energy, and Supply Chain course program. Ideal for managers, professional engineers, and business leaders, this advanced course program is designed to provide blockchain use cases across key industries and sectors.
Pollock, Darryn. (10 Jun 2019). Retail Giant Target Unmasks Its Blockchain Framework Aimed At Supply Chain. Forbes.
Baydakova, Anna; Allison, Ian. (10 Jun 2019). Retail Giant Target Is Quietly Working on a Blockchain for Supply Chains. Coindesk.
Crabb, Joel. (22 Apr 2019). Exploring the Benefits of Blockchain. Target Tech Blog.
Alexandre, Ana. (11 Jun 2019). Logistics Firm Panalpina Launches Blockchain Pilots in Its Supply Chain. Coin Telegraph.
Panetta, Kasey. (9 Jul 2019). Why Blockchain Matters to Supply Chain Executives. Gartner.