To deliver the greatest impacts — creating new business models, markets and value propositions — IoT must be combined with other emerging technologies including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, fog computing and, of course, blockchain.
Though cryptocurrencies and blockchain-based technologies are heralded as the framework to build a more financially inclusive society, this goal has not been realized to date. It can actually be argued that blockchain technology is a tool for those who are economically privileged, in part due to the technical understanding most blockchain-based technology currently requires.
The integrity of the data is paramount and innovative tagging methodologies are required. Any technology solutions we use also have to be able to work in remote environments and be feasible for all kinds of mining operations, particularly artisanal and small-scale mines. Using blockchain won’t solve every issue, but it can be a powerful tool to overcome many minerals supply chain challenges because it provides trust, immutability, and transparency.
First, solve the problem. Then write the code.
In most cases, today’s supply chains operate at-scale without blockchain technology. Even so, the technology has excited the IT and supply-chain worlds. It has also inspired many articles and prompted established IT players and start-ups to initiate promising pilot projects, including:
Walmart tested an application that traces pork in China and produce in the US, to authenticate transactions and the accuracy and efficiency of record keeping.
Maersk and IBM are working on cross-border, cross-party transactions that use blockchain technology to help improve process efficiency.
BHP is introducing a blockchain solution that replaces spreadsheets for tracking samples internally and externally from a range of providers.
Provenance, a UK start-up, just raised $800,000 to adapt blockchain technology to trace food. It previously piloted tracing tuna in the Southeast Asian supply chain.
Yet to date, the authors are not aware of any at-scale applications to the supply chain, raising an essential question: Can blockchain technology add value to supply chains?
Let’s start with a reality check: As most practitioners know, many of today’s supply chains have good data, which they are able to transfer across supply chain tiers at close to real time speed. To assess blockchain technology’s value at stake for the supply chain world, we looked at three areas where it could add value:
Replacing slow, manual processes. Although supply chains can currently handle large, complex data sets, many of their processes, especially those in the lower supply tiers, are slow and rely entirely on paper—such as is still common in the shipping industry.
Blockchain pilots run to date have not proven the technology’s unique value to the supply-chain sector.
For supply chains where participants are not known or trusted, blockchain technology can add trust, transparency, and traceability. Almost by definition, these supply chains are complex, multi-tiered, involve many parties, and they operate in a regulated environment that demands a higher level of traceability.
However, for supply chains with known and trusted players, a centralized database approach is generally more than adequate. This does not mean that all these supply chains currently follow a true end-to-end approach, and in fact, many of them use siloed databases that contain data with only limited traceability. Thus, many of these supply chains do not need blockchain technology to solve such issues, as they can leverage existing technologies that are better suited to their high-volume transactions, either on their own or with partners.