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What Will The 4 Hot Topics In Procurement Be In 2030?

Look at your latest supplier contract. Does it specifically mention Zoom catch-ups? If not, why not? Sally Guyer from World Commerce & Contracting talks with Procurious about getting the most from suppliers and technology.

Have a look at your latest supplier contract. Does it specifically mention communication like regular Zoom catch-ups or phone calls? If not, you’re missing a trick.

Procurious Founder Tania Seary recently spoke with Sally Guyer, Global CEO of World Commerce & Contracting on getting the most out of supplier relationships and predictions about the future of procurement. 



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It’s been a wild year, but disruption isn’t unique to 2020. 

“I think it’s really interesting because there have been numerous supply chain upheavals inflicted by disaster in the last decade,” Sally says.

“You’ve got things like the volcanic eruption in Iceland, Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the Thailand floods, numerous hurricanes, not to mention the global financial crisis which also needs to sit on that list; yet we don’t seem to have learned very much,” Sally explains. 

“Most companies still found themselves totally unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic.”

After this crisis is over, companies will fall into two categories: those that don’t do anything and hope that a disruption like this never happens again, and those that map their supply networks.

Supply networks

You should know how your suppliers (and your suppliers’ suppliers) fit together, which is why mapping out your network is so useful.

Companies who already made the effort to document their network acted quickly when the pandemic spread. Other companies were floundering and reactive. 

“We know from our research that many organisations typically don’t see beyond the first tier of suppliers, or possibly tier two,” Sally says.

“If we ever doubted the importance of visibility, the pandemic has provided a dramatic example of why it’s absolutely essential to have insight into sources of supply.”

Sally is seeing leading organisations require suppliers to participate in supply chain mapping efforts as part of their contract.

And it serves an important part of rebuilding.

“[We’re] moving away from the linear and much more to a recognition that supply networks’ supply ecosystems are a huge number of organisations all interacting with one another where there needs to be fluidity amongst them all. 

“And that’s essential to accelerate and support recovery.”

Sustainable cashmere

Companies are also investing more heavily in technology to help them gain end-to-end visibility.

Blockchain technology is particularly noteworthy.

Sally gives the example of tracing Mongolian cashmere production. The country is famous for its luxurious fibres – producing nearly a fifth of the world’s raw cashmere

And even though cashmere is considered natural and sustainable, soaring consumer demand is fueling overgrazing and damaging the land. 

So Toronto-based Convergence.tech and the UN teamed up to create an app for Mongolian farmers, backed by blockchain technology. 

Now the UN is able to interact with over 70 different herders and eight cooperatives through a simple app.

Farmers use the Android app to register and tag their cashmere. Then their location is pinned on a map to allow for end-to-end tracking. The UN works with the farmers and other producers along the supply chain to improve sustainability.

“Farmers are willing to have their goods marked in return for training on better practises, and then open markets pay fair prices for truly sustainable and high-quality cashmere,” Sally explains.

“Everybody benefits. Everybody wins.”

Better contracts, better relationships

Another way technology is transforming the supplier/client relationship is through communication.

Sally advises all clients to include communication obligations in supplier contracts.  

“It comes down to simple things like if we want to do video conferencing does your organisation support Zoom or not, because if I do and you don’t then [that’s an issue],” Sally says.

It’s not rocket science. All good relationships hinge on good communication, says Sally.

“Fundamentally, partnerships are founded on robust and clear communication, and you know I always talk about professional relationships in the same context as I talk about personal relationships,” Sally says.

“If you don’t have clear communication with your friends, with your partner, with whomever is around you, then you are not going to have a very successful relationship.”

While you can’t provide for every eventuality in your contracts, you need a robust framework to support the relationship which means communication needs to be at the top of the agenda.

Predicting the future

The year is 2030. What are the hot topics in procurement? Here are Sally’s predictions:

1) Sustainability

“We’re still a long way from creating our sustainable planet and it has to be something that we all continue to champion,” Sally says.

“We need to be promoting best practises to reach the next level where we’re actually starting to give back. Not just to seek neutrality but actually give back.”

2) Social inclusion

“I can’t imagine that social inclusion wouldn’t be important in 2030,” Sally says. “Perhaps a scorecard of corporate performance on social inclusion and social value.”

3) Technology

“Numbers suggest we’re only using 30% of the data that we are producing,” Sally says. 

“And if organisations are genuinely on a journey of continuous improvement then they need to be using data and the likes of artificial intelligence natural language processing if they’re going to continue to advance.”

4) Integration

“We need to organise for integration,” Sally adds. “We need to break down the internal barriers that exist.

“We all operate in silos. We’ve got organisations who have a buy side and sell side and they have no idea what’s going on on either side of the organisation. So those companies are starting to look at how they create an integrated trading relationships function.”

Sally Guyer can be seen in our exclusive series The Future of Supply Chain Now.

Who’s Using Blockchain in 2020, And How?

Far from being a solution looking for a problem, Blockchain is revolutionising jewellery, tea and coffee, beverage, food and automotive businesses.


While there is still some question as to whether blockchain technology can live up to the hype it has generated, it is making inroads into the supply chain environment.

The diamond and gold, tea and coffee, beverage, food, and automotive industries all have participants with blockchain applications under test, operating as pilots, or implemented as digital solutions to improve supply chain operations.

In most cases, these companies are using blockchain as an aid to supply chain visibility and product tracing, but some have applied it as a tool to streamline transactions and speed up the flow of information, goods, and materials.

In addition to private enterprise, blockchain’s interest among commercial organisations, authorities, and governmental bodies is also intensifying, increasing the technology’s credibility as a useful supply chain tool, although not the cure-all or panacea that early hyperbole may seem to have suggested.

The days of blockchain technology being considered exclusively synonymous with BitCoin and other cryptocurrencies have long been behind us.

Indeed, in the last couple of years, it has been hyped by many as the next big thing in revolutionary digital developments. Meanwhile, other, less-convinced observers have suggested that blockchain is a solution looking for a problem.

So how well is blockchain living up to commercial and organisational expectations?

Let’s look at some of its real-world uses in 2020 across the public and private sectors to see which prominent players have embraced blockchain, to what end, and what kind of inroads it’s making into the supply chain environment.

Blockchain in the Jewellery Supply Chain

Technology oriented participants in the jewellery industry, or more specifically, those in the diamond and gold businesses, began to adopt blockchain-based traceability solutions a couple of years ago. Today, at least two or three platforms are well established, and being exploited by several companies.

De Beers 

As diamonds, and to a lesser extent, perhaps gold, are resources with origins that can sometimes be controversial, companies like De Beers have seized upon blockchain to provide evidence that their gems come from sources that don’t involve insurgency funding or forced labour.

De Beers’ Tracr can provide provenance data for diamonds and track them from the mine to the retail outlet. The system has been enjoying success throughout its early phases.

As a result, plans are now in place to spin it off into an industry-wide association accessible to any organisation needing to track diamonds through the supply chain. At least two jewellery retailers are already taking part in a pilot of the platform.

Berkshire Hathaway

 A platform similar to Tracr is in use with American conglomerate Berkshire-Hathaway. This multinational enterprise counts jewellery retail chains and precious-metals companies among its vast portfolio of holdings.

TrustChain Jewelry is a blockchain initiative focused on the gold and gemstones used in rings. Its objective is to give confidence to the 70% of consumers concerned about the ethical background behind their jewellery purchases.

Some smaller enterprises in the jewellery industry, too, are either taking advantage of blockchain technology already or planning to do so as a way to improve supply chain transparency.

The sector appears to be one that does not need to look for a problem that blockchain can solve. It already has one in the form of conflict gems, and reputable industry participants believe blockchain can help them disassociate themselves from the controversy by proving ethical sourcing and refining.

T is for Transparency, and Tea

Lest you perceive that blockchain solutions are exclusively for high-value products such as diamonds and jewels, one industry that produces a far-less-costly, but highly treasured commodity, is also using the technology to improve supply-chain transparency.

Not too many of us are prepared to go for more than a few hours without the restorative effects of a cup of tea or coffee. But are we sure we’re drinking the real McCoy and not something with somewhat less beneficial effects being passed off as the most delicate Darjeeling?

Combating Counterfeiting

It appears that the tea industry, in particular, has a problem with counterfeiting. Unscrupulous merchants pass off inferior tea as that made from much higher-quality leaves originating in the world’s celebrated growing regions — and the more significant and well-known the brand, the more vulnerable it is to counterfeiting.

Even more nefarious practices exist in the tea trade, such as cutting real tea with other organic, or sometimes inorganic products to increase yield from a plantation’s crop.

It is against that backdrop that tea producers and even India’s government are hoping that blockchain will help deny counterfeiters access to consumer markets—and boost profits for producers and merchants that deal only with the best quality tea.

It’s Teatime for Blockchain

Unilever owns tea plantations in Africa and is using blockchain to improve sustainability and combat counterfeiting. It’s not that tracking and tracing tea through the supply chain is a new departure for the company: Unilever has been doing that for some time. However, blockchain technology is improving the speed and efficiency of the activity.

The blockchain solution, called Trado, is the result of a partnership between Unilever, Sainsbury’s, and the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL).

Initially convened as an experiment, the participants, including farmers who received a financial incentive to feed data into the system, have deemed it a success, claiming that it has increased visibility in the tea supply chain and brought down the costs of financing sustainability incentives.

In a similar experiment, the Indian government’s Coffee Board of India is using blockchain to monitor coffee supply, and has already received some 30,000 registrations from farmers wishing to participate. The Tea Board of India is now planning to introduce a similar system as an end-to-end traceability solution.

Examples of Blockchain in Food Supply Chains

The examples we’ve looked at so far illustrate the uses of blockchain to promote sustainability in the supply chain and assure consumers that they are buying ethically sourced products. However, this fledgling technology also has the potential to save shoppers from harm to their health or safety, and perhaps even save lives.

 Walmart’s Blockchain Projects

Blockchain’s potential has been recognised and seized upon by consumer-goods giant Walmart, which has already undertaken several projects and proofs of concept in supply chain traceability. They include:

  • Tracing the origins of mangoes sold in Walmart’s US outlets
  • Tracking supplies of pork for sale in the company’s stores in China
  • A drone communication solution based on a blockchain platform
  • A new project in partnership with KPMG, IBM, and Merck to create a blockchain solution for tracing products in pharmaceutical supply chains

Among the objectives of these projects, is to enable fast responses on the rare occasions that quality issues arise in consumer-packaged-goods, requiring batches to be identified quickly and quarantined.

Walmart leaders believe blockchain technology can prevent, or at least minimise, the impacts of food contamination issues such as the e-coli contaminated lettuce and melamine-adulterated milk crises that rocked the US and China, respectively, several years ago.

With all movements of produce recorded immutably in a distributed ledger, tracing quality-compromised food or commodities back to the source can be achieved in hours, rather than the days, or even weeks, otherwise required for such an exercise.

Big Names are Backing Blockchain

Other opportunities presented by the use of Walmart’s blockchain solutions include the ability for consumers to scan products in-store and receive instant information about them, including their sources and the logistics processes involved in their journeys from origin to retail outlet.

Walmart has stamped its name in the blockchain early-movers hall of fame, not only with the projects already mentioned, but also as part of a partnership with several other food companies including Nestle, Dole, and Unilever, and technology behemoth IBM. The result of the collaboration is the Food Trust Blockchain, a distributed ledger solution capable of recording data associated with more than a million individual products.

Other Food Industry Blockchain Initiatives

Further examples of blockchain’s use in the food supply chain, with solutions either already operational or at the proof of concept stage, include the following:

  • An initiative by standards body GS1, in collaboration with IBM Food Trust, SAP, ripe.io, and FoodLogiQ, to solve interoperability challenges in food-industry blockchains.
  • The entry of Kvarøy Arctic, a large salmon producer, into Food Trust, as a way to facilitate the capture of provenance data for arctic salmon and the feed upon which they are raised.
  • The Norwegian Sea Food Association’s implementation of a blockchain for its members, enabling records about catches to be maintained relating to catch time and location, storage temperature, customs clearance, and details of fish feed used

Blockchain for Beer and Beverage

 Brewing companies, both large and small, are tapping into the potential of blockchain, with benefits ranging from the visibility of ingredients and processes for interested consumers, to the empowerment of subsistence farmers in third-world and developing countries.

Farmers Can Bank on Blockchain Benefits

Anheuser-Busch Inbev is the largest brewer globally. With the help of blockchain software, this giant of a company is helping subsistence farmers in Africa become more commercially capable, and connecting them directly to its supply chain without the need for expensive intermediaries.

Working with a blockchain startup called BanQu, AB Inbev is using a distributed ledger solution to build a relationship of trust with some 2,000 farmers in Zambia that supply raw materials for its beers.

The blockchain serves two primary purposes. The first is the one most commonly acknowledged as a supply chain benefit—transparency.

The second has a direct impact on the welfare of these impoverished farmers. The immutable records generated by the blockchain allows them to prove creditworthiness, open bank accounts, and develop their farms into commercially viable businesses.

Blockchain Passes the Alpha Acid Test

Other projects in the beer industry highlight the value and suitability of blockchain for SME’s supply chains. For instance, in the United States, a regional brewer in the San Francisco Bay area, Alpha Acid, has teamed up with tech giant Oracle to develop a blockchain-technology platform that’s accelerating and automating supply chain transactions.

The venture has provided Alpha Acid with an end-to-end dashboard view of its supply chain. It allows digital sign-offs for each stage in the beer-production process, from hop harvesting, through malting, brewing, and maturation.

This level of visibility is invaluable in brewing supply chains. The consistency of beer products depends on always following a precise formula, using ingredients that are inherently volatile in their chemistry, such as yeast, hops, and malt.

Alpha Acid’s blockchain solution receives sensor data from the brewery’s fermentation vessels and the company’s yeast, hop, and malt suppliers.

With all this information on record, any issues with a finished batch of beer can quickly be traced, enabling it to be isolated for problem resolution. Before the availability of blockchain, a much broader product recall would have been necessary, as it would not have been possible to quickly identify the affected batch.

Blockchain in the Automotive Supply Chain

Vehicle manufacturers have long been among the most avid adopters of digital supply chain technology, so penetration of blockchain into the sector should come as no surprise. Ford, BMW, Renault, General Motors, and, most recently, Tesla, all have solutions either in their sights or already in use.

Ford and BMW Among the Early Movers

For Ford, the blockchain is a potential answer to assuring the ethical procurement of cobalt — a mineral increasingly used for the batteries in electric-powered cars. Like several of the companies already mentioned in this article, Ford has teamed up with IBM to develop a blockchain for end-to-end supply-chain transparency.

Currently running as a pilot, the platform traces the provenance of cobalt and records all supply-chain events—from the bagging of the mineral at the mine, through refining and shipping, to delivery at car manufacturing facilities.

BMW, meanwhile, has piloted its PartChain platform, initially using it to track the supply chain movements of vehicle headlights, including all raw materials and components, and intends to broaden the scope to include suppliers of several other car parts.

Tesla is Trying it Too

As for Tesla, a blockchain partnership with port and shipping companies is all about improving supply chain speed and effectiveness. The progressive carmaker, known for its focus on clean fuels and electric power, has tested a blockchain application for imports to its factory in Shanghai, China.

Working alongside COSCO Shipping and Shanghai International Port Group, Tesla successfully used the technology to streamline the inbound supply chain to its production plant, achieving the following benefits, according to a report by Business Blockchain HQ:

  • Accelerated cargo pickup processes
  • Shortened release times for cargo offloaded at Shanghai port
  • Faster delivery times to the factory
  • Improved efficiency in the supply chain

All these gains arose because the blockchain solution enables faster transactions, helping materials move through the supply chain faster than would be possible using conventional handoffs.

Blockchain Gaining Real Traction in the Supply Chain

From high-value products such as jewellery and motor vehicles, through to everyday commodities like tea and packaged consumer foodstuffs, enterprises are finding that shared ledger systems can solve some of the issues they face, at least those relating to visibility and information flows.

Blockchain is proving itself a versatile solution, as applicable in the small-business environment as it is among the corporate giants. The examples we’ve looked at in this article are just a few of many projects, pilots, trials, and tests that companies across the world are undergoing.

Blockchain might not be a silver bullet to end all supply chain ills, but, like many other emerging digital technologies, it appears to be a welcome tool to aid supply chain management in most, if not all, industrial sectors.

We’ll be sure to keep an eye on its progress here at Logistics Bureau, and will continue to update and inform you about the growth and development of blockchain in the supply chain.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn and has been reproduced with kind permission. Rob O’Byrne is our special guest in our exclusive IBM Sterling Supply Chain series The Future Of Supply Chain Now.

Attention Generation Next: Your Clock Starts Now. Are You Ready?

COVID-19 has created a significant opportunity for generation next to lead, grow and advance. Here are five steps to break through.


Are you satisfied with your current position, or are you eager to break out and change the game?

Do same-old, status quo procurement and supply chain strategies work for you, or are you ready to rewrite the playbook for the modern era?

Procurement’s impressive performance during COVID-19, and the critical role the function plays in the ongoing recovery, has created significant opportunity for generation next. 

Are you going to take advantage?

The doors are wide open. And the rewards are substantial. Think promotions, increased comp, resources, access to emerging tech, leadership opportunities, validation and trust from the c-suite, and much more.  

But the doors won’t stay open forever. Now is the time to hustle and own your opportunity. If you’re not entirely sure where to begin, consider these five key steps to break through in today’s market.

1. Want more attention? Make your mark where it matters.

The fastest way to get noticed: push forward the strategic, board-level objectives of your organisation. 

What tops your CEO’s agenda right now? If you don’t know, request an immediate alignment meeting with your CPO or team lead. Our research found that the c-suite’s top three focus areas today are mitigating supply chain risk, containing costs, and driving business continuity. 

These three areas are your golden ticket. Get creative and be bold with your recommendations. Leadership is looking for fresh and modern ideas, not a repeat of yesterday’s strategy. Don’t hesitate to share, even if your recommendations represent a new approach for your team.

Start by thinking outside the box: Is there a use case for AI, blockchain or predictive analytics? What about partnering with a peer or competitor to solve the problem? If you can drive the results the company needs faster and more effectively than in the past, the recognition will follow.

2. Market your success like crazy.

It’s always a team game, but if you don’t advocate for yourself, who will?

Keep track of your wins and benchmark performance over time to demonstrate improvement. And report with data, not anecdotes. 

Be sure to communicate like an executive when sharing your success up the ladder. The TL;DR (too long, didn’t read) phenomenon is a very real trap. Lead with the headline, back it up with data and close with how you plan to take it up to another level. 

Remember, you, and you alone, are responsible for your career growth.

3. Champion digitisation and emerging tech.

COVID-19 rapidly accelerated the enterprise digitisation journey and eliminated all the old excuses associated with delayed tech transformation projects.

Every executive is looking to increase resilience, productivity and performance. Digitisation and emerging tech – like AI and machine learning – delivers on all fronts. Those who proactively adapt and modernise are best positioned to lead today and in the future. 

If your department is not equipped with the right technology, take a stand and champion the digitisation effort. Executives will take notice. Our research shows that 93% of organisations are investing to enable procurement’s success. There are three primary areas that companies are focusing on to propel procurement forward:

  • Data and analytics
  • Development of existing talent
  • Technology

Two of the three are directly tied to digital transformation. For many companies, September marks the start of the 2021 budgeting season. If you see an opportunity, the time to make a move is now. Make the business case abundantly clear by connecting your requests to what matters most for the organisation right now: cash, resiliency, and business continuity.

4. Learn, develop and then learn some more

Fifty-seven percent of organisations are investing in talent development to propel procurement forward, according to our survey research. That number needs to be higher… and you need to make sure you get your fair share of the investment.

COVID-19 fundamentally changed supply chain and procurement management as we know it. According to our Supply Chain Confidence Index, 97% of organisations experienced a COVID-19 disruption, and 73% are planning seismic supply chain strategy shifts post-pandemic. The status quo simply won’t cut it. You need to grow your skills, expertise and network.

Your job: Put forward your personal business case for investment. Identify the skills that you and your team need to survive and thrive tomorrow. And take ownership of your own development.

There are ample opportunities to improve and develop. Our recent survey uncovered five primary talent gaps facing the function today.

  1. Analytics
  2. Market intelligence
  3. Technology knowledge
  4. Relationships building
  5. Emotional intelligence

Mastering these five areas will push you forward in a big way. Breaking them down, there are three key themes. The first is analytics –  leaders that can analyze data, uncover trends and use insights to make fast and informed decisions will remain in high-demand. This should be area number one for professional development and training. The second centers around tech digitisation and modernisation, which we touched on earlier. The last bucket represents the soft skills necessary to be a great leader – emotional intelligence, relationships, and human connection.

Be the leader you want to follow 

As you grow, get promoted and gain more influence, prioritize being a great leader. Make it one of the most important things you do every day.

Your leadership approach can either crack the foundation of your team or launch everyone forward. In fact, Gallup says managers account for at least 70% of the variance in team engagement.

But remember, future success requires practice today. According to research from HBR, there are six key areas every aspiring leader should practice right now:

  • Creating an exciting and challenging vision
  • Translating the vision into a clear strategy and roadmap 
  • Team management: recruiting, developing and rewarding great people to execute on your strategy 
  • Focusing on measurable results
  • Fostering an environment of team innovation and learning 
  • Leading yourself — “know yourself, improve yourself, and manage the appropriate balance in your own life.”

If you wait to start practicing these skills until after you get the promotion, it may be too late. As HBR’s Ron Ashkenas and Brook Manville write: “No matter where you are in your career, you can find opportunities to practice these six skills. You’ll have varying degrees of success, which is normal. But by reflecting on your successes and failures at every step, and getting feedback from colleagues and mentors, you’ll keep making positive adjustments and find more opportunities to learn.”

The Clock is Ticking: It’s your time to lead.

For current and aspiring procurement leaders, there’s never been a better opportunity. More than 60% of procurement professionals have seen executive trust increase in the past three months. Similarly, more procurement leaders report having a seat at the executive table today than they did in May.

You have everything we need to step up, lead and earn more recognition and trust. The doors are open: are you going to walk or run through?Interested in learning more about procurement leadership? Get more insights, advice and best practices from our latest report: Procurement’s Time to Lead.

5 Outdated Myths About Blockchain

Is there a compelling reason to use blockchain in the supply chain? We separate fact from fiction.


The supply chain profession is no stranger to blockchain. 

In fact, a survey this year of supply chain professionals showed 80% are familiar with blockchain – a whopping 21% increase on last year.

And almost half of respondents plan to invest in blockchain over the next two years.

Yet for all the ways blockchain is modernising the supply chain, some still view the technology with a healthy dose of scepticism. There’s still a great deal of room to establish what role blockchain plays. Its place in the supply chain toolkit still isn’t fully defined.  

And that leads to ongoing misconceptions.

It’s time to bust some of the myths surrounding one of the most coveted 4.0 technologies.

Fixing weaknesses

Widespread disruption highlighted issues that already existed in the supply chain.

One of the most apparent issues is paper documentation for important processes and transactions. 

Important documents like Bills of Lading and Certificates of Origin are still largely paper-based.

Yet, these documents are often late to the destination port, or even lost – costing businesses $200 billion each year (World Bank).

So why do we still use paper? Because we don’t trust each other, according to the University College London Centre for Blockchain Technologies (CBT).

“Despite…strikingly obvious inefficiencies of paper documentation for international trade, it is still considered to be the industry standard, largely due to lack of trust between different members of the international supply chain,” the CBT notes.

Luckily, blockchain technology could solve this and other trust issues that make it hard to do business internationally.

Blockchain allows companies to track products throughout the supply chain using digital, unchangeable records.

[Need a quick blockchain intro first? We’ve got you covered ]

“A panacea for our ailments”

It’s the logical solution, especially in today’s economy, says Professor Olinga Ta’eed from Birmingham City University.

“Covid-19 has highlighted a crisis of trust in countries, people, organisations, products, and processes,” he says.

“Blockchain has features that do not require trust to operate effectively. Decisions are automated and not dependent on personal relationships, politics, or bias.

“It is thus a panacea for our current ailments, both immediate, but also structurally in a future society.”

Enter blockchain

That might seem counterintuitive. After all, how can a system that doesn’t require trust actually improve trust?

The beauty of blockchain is everyone across the supply chain can access the same information at the same time. They can be confident the information is verified and unchangeable. Just what we all need in this brave new world.

Using blockchain technology lets you track in real time:

·  Where goods are

·  Their physical condition

·  Changes made during the transaction lifecycle

·  Who or what is causing a delay

·  The quality and authenticity 

·  Discrepancies in transaction documents

·  Contractual terms and conditions

That equal access to information fosters trust between business partners. And you can build a lot of great things from a base of trust.

Trust is something we sorely need. So, what’s keeping companies from adopting blockchain more widely?

There is still a lot of misinformation circulating about the technology.

That’s why it’s time to stamp out five of the most common blockchain myths:

Myth 1) Blockchain is bitcoin

One of the biggest scepticisms about blockchain is rooted in its links with bitcoin.

Bitcoin and blockchain are NOT the same thing. Bitcoin is a form of ‘cryptocurrency’. It was invented in 2009 as a way to store value without relying on a central authority (like the government).

But it couldn’t work on its own; it needed new technology to make it work, so blockchain was invented.

That’s how the two are related. Blockchain is the engine that makes the bitcoin car run, but just as you can use an engine in lots of things besides a car, blockchain has more applications than just bitcoin.

Companies are taking advantage of the proven strength of blockchain in solving new challenges beyond financial.

In fact, one of the most celebrated uses of blockchain technology is in supply chain management.

Take the retail giant Walmart, which uses blockchain technology through the IBM Food Trust to track produce from farm to shelf.

The retailer can now trace the provenance of produce in seconds, instead of days. And Walmart certainly isn’t the only one interested in traceability.

Gartner predicts that by 2025, 20% of the world’s top grocers will use blockchain to track food safety.

Pharmaceuticals is also a key area for blockchain technology.

The United States Food and Drug Administration recently finished a pilot programme tracing the full supply chain of prescription drugs using blockchain. The results? It now takes two seconds to track a drug instead of 16 weeks.

And quick thinking during the pandemic led to creation of IBM Rapid Supplier Connect.

It uses IBM’s blockchain network to help government agencies and healthcare organisations source reputable equipment from new, non-traditional suppliers.

As Jason Kelley, General Manager of IBM Blockchain Services, put it: “Finding, vetting and then securing new suppliers takes time, more time than the public authorities and private sector can afford.”

The system allows new vendors to be onboarded in as little as 30 minutes.

“[We] help members of these essential supply chains continue to find the vendors, materials and tools they need so that time and attention can be focused on addressing the current and ongoing requirements as a result of this pandemic,” Kelley says.

Myth 2) Blockchain is only useful for projects that are massive in size and scale

Blockchain makes obvious sense for global retailers with thousands of suppliers.

But what about for smaller companies?

Yes, and it’s a lot easier than you might think to get set up on a blockchain network.

The bulk of supply chains rely on point-to-point communications. Blockchain makes it simple to collaborate using many-to-many communications – giving you a single version of the truth.

That’s something that companies of all sizes need.

And it’s even more practical now that there are blockchains built specifically for enterprise use.

Like IBM’s blockchain network Trust Your Supplier, created in partnership with consultancy Chainyard. This private network delivers the ultimate in supply chain transparency, as buyers and sellers can all access the same end-to-end data in real time.

It eliminates time-consuming admin, like trying to verify supplier identities and track documentation.

Through Trust Your Supplier, businesses of all sizes can validate and onboard suppliers in a secure and efficient way.

Myth 3) It takes a long time to get suppliers set up

Many companies like the idea of blockchain, but they worry about the time and effort of getting suppliers set up.

The reality is it can actually be quite fast.

For example, IBM lets you onboard suppliers in hours versus days or weeks to a permissioned blockchain relationship.

And as we all know too well after recent disruption, speed is everything.

Once set up, companies see quick returns on investment through visible deliveries, reconciled invoices, and better return management.

And not to worry – no advanced computer programming degree needed. Your enterprise blockchain supplier can walk you through the entire process of getting on the network.

Myth 4) You have to abandon systems you already have

Another common belief is you need to throw out all your existing supply chain management systems if you use blockchain technology.

Not necessarily. As IBM puts it, “We believe that traditional methods like EDI, when complemented and extended by emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain, will be the fastest path to realizing a new era of B2B transaction efficiency gains.”

It’s possible through technology like IBM Sterling Transaction Intelligence Multi-Enterprise Edition. It helps companies leverage EDI investments by bringing important documents into a shared blockchain, giving different parties the same visibility. 

So it’s totally possible to see a fast return on investment without scrapping your current processes.

That said, you may want to consider if your legacy systems are really serving your needs, advises Jack Shaw, a technology futurist and leadership speaker.

“I think most business professionals are far too concerned with trying to use their existing tools, technologies, and processes to solve their immediate, short-term problems to think about how blockchain…could actually help them do their jobs much better both now and in the long-term,” he says.

“This is really a strategic shortcoming as they should be thinking about how the current pandemic necessity could be the mother of innovation, leveraging emerging technologies for strategic benefit.”

Myth 5) There is only one blockchain network

There isn’t one central blockchain network that everyone uses.

There are actually several different types of technology that go by the name ‘blockchain’, and there are public and private blockchain networks.

In public blockchain networks, like the ones used by bitcoin, the data is open for anyone to access. The transactions are still unchangeable, but they are visible for scrutiny.

On the other hand, there are private blockchain networks, like the ones used by IBM enterprise clients. You can place restrictions on who is allowed to participate, and anyone who wants to join needs your permission.

That gives you tighter control on who can see what, while still maintaining transparent records.

Is it time for blockchain?

For all its benefits, blockchain will not magically solve all supply chain issues overnight.

But the ability to strengthen, connect, and improve the resilience of supply chains will be key to recovering from the pandemic, according to Mariam Obaid AlMuhairi of the Dubai Future Foundation.

“If there were any lingering doubts over the value of blockchain platforms to improve the transparency of businesses that depend on the seamless integration of disparate networks, COVID-19 has all but wiped them away,” she said in an article for the World Economic Forum.

“We should look at this healthcare crisis as a vital learning curve that can show us how to build transparent, inter-operable and connective networks.”

For more Industry 4.0 talk, join the conversation in our Supply Chain Pros group

5 Reasons Why Santa is the Ultimate Procurement Professional

Think you’re at the peak of the procurement and supply chain profession? Think again – Santa is the ultimate procurement professional (festively speaking…).

santa
Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

We’re fast approaching the end of 2019. It’s a time to reflect on the past year and consider what we have all achieved. We can look at all our successes, the lessons we have learned and everything that we will do in 2020. Perhaps there’s even a plan for how to take the next big step to that coveted leadership role in the profession.

But at this time of year, we all need to remember that our efforts pale in comparison to one individual. As we start thinking about the office party season, holidays and general festivities, this individual is only just revving up into top gear. Their whole year is driving towards this moment, but they are as prepared as they ever are.

And, while displaying all the skills we seek as a top procurement professional, they’ll deliver on all the wishes and promises that have been made. We are, of course, talking about…Santa. Father Christmas. Pére Noël. Svaty Mikolas. Kris Kringle.

Of course, there are other brilliant procurement professionals out there. But, at least in a festive setting, there’s none like Santa Claus for getting the job done. Here are my 5 reasons why:

1. Santa always has the right specification

Working tirelessly with his external (children, parents) and internal (elves, Mrs. Claus) stakeholders, he makes sure the specification is right. It can’t be a coincidence that children get exactly what they ask for, year after year. It all comes down to knowing your customers and then passing on the full specification to your manufacturing department/elves.

2. His Logistics operation is second to none

The global population is currently 7.7 billion people. Of this, an estimated 1.9 billion are children. Let’s assume then that the average household contains 4 people – this means Santa will visit 1.9 billion homes.

If there are 2 presents per child, this is a whopping 3.8 billion presents, delivered at a rate of 158.3 million per hour, 2.6 million present per minute. All of this with a team of 9 reindeer and one sleigh. Without the best logistics division and the latest technology, there’s no way all the presents are delivered to the correct child!

3. Belief, Influence, Leadership

Santa wields influence that most procurement leaders can only dream of. A following of magical, semi-magical and mortal people and creatures all follow him willingly. They work for the entire year to prepare for one day, then start again for the following year almost immediately.

Forming part of this leadership is belief. As we all know well (or at least we should) Santa’s sleigh and reindeer don’t fly without the belief in him and the Christmas spirit. And given he’s not missing deliveries to your house, it’s safe to assume this belief is still going strong!

4. Santa can always get the right price

Short of being some form of crazy, benevolent trillionaire (with superlative investments), Santa needs to be a dynamite negotiator or run the best RFQs. How else could he source all the toys or raw materials without bankrupting himself each year?

And like the best procurement professional, he doesn’t pass any cost increases on to his customers but works out the best deals to keep costs down so his end customers (the parents, of course!) don’t have to foot the bill.

5. He’s got the Nice-Naughty List on blockchain

How else do you create a fully traceable, immutable record of who has been naughty and nice in any given year? Santa needs to be able to trust the information he has on all behaviours, without the possibility that it has been compromised. Plus, it’s also handy for making sure that all the sourcing he does is ethical and sustainable…

So, if you have ambitions for a higher office in 2020, you’d do worse than looking at Santa as a good example to follow. And if all else fails, at least you’ll have a sunnier outlook on life! Ho, ho, ho!

Going Global While Being Ethical? Smart Contract Management Can Help

The risks associated with ethical sourcing have never been higher. How can you go global without compromising your ethics?

ethical sourcing
Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash

For enterprises with complex, global supply chains, the risks and challenges associated with ethical sourcing have never been higher. Over the past decade, supply disruption has gone from being an exceptional event to at least an annual – if not quarterly or monthly – occurrence. Most organisations are simply not prepared, even though they may have checked the box with fairly narrow supplier risk management assessments. 

One reason for the increased risk? Contract visibility. The ability for companies to instantly locate, retrieve, analyse and track contracts across the enterprise, continues to be suboptimal at many large companies. When these contracts are sitting as unstructured data in a repository that’s difficult to search — or even worse in someone’s desk — bad things happen.

For example, one technology consulting firm missed $1.5 million in revenue recognition when a manually-tracked contract expired, but work was still performed against it. Discounts and rebates are overlooked, and unwanted renewals happen on autopilot. Poor contract management can also lead to reputation and brand damage when companies unknowingly use unethical suppliers.

So what can we do? Gaining visibility into commercial engagements can help.

Blockchain-based contract management is changing the game

As organisations become more and more concerned about supply chain risk, the need for better visibility is more critical than ever before. Enterprise contract management software provides that visibility by tracking what a firm’s worldwide obligations, entitlements and business relationships truly are.

This software gives organisations a firm grasp on their supply chain, key suppliers, the composition of the products they’re purchasing and the locales in which they’re operating.

Technologies like AI, Machine Learning and Blockchain are proving key for enterprises to mitigate risk in the future. This contract management space is a hot sector and continues to experience rapid growth. According to MGI, the market itself is worth $20 billion. This is reflective of large enterprises’ desire to digitally transform their commercial foundation. This helps them save money, reduce risk and improve compliance.

For example, customers like Mercedes-Benz Cars have already taken advantage of this technology. They have done so by utilising smart contracts on the Icertis Blockchain Framework to create an immutable distributed ledger of transactions.

This helps to ensure global sourcing and contracting practices adhere to Mercedes-Benz Cars’ strict requirements for sustainable, ethical and secure sourcing.

The future of ethical globalisation

I recently attended The Big Ideas Summit, a great event for procurement professionals that brings together the top figures in the industry to discuss the current business landscape and bring unique, innovative ideas to the table.

Right now, we’re in the early stages of technologies like blockchain and just starting to see major impacts. Three years from now we’ll have conclusive data on how blockchain has helped increase visibility into, and compliance among, supply chains.

Already, these blockchain and distributed ledger technologies are significantly changing the way organisations do business with vendors, partners, and customers, impacting the way companies approach, execute and enforce business contracts.

Although most organisations associate blockchain technology with the financial services industry, it has potential use within the manufacturing, government, healthcare and education sectors as well. This includes how those industries execute and enforce contracts.

For example,the Icertis Contract Management (ICM) platform is already used to manage 6.5 million contracts at companies like 3M, Airbus, Daimler, Microsoft, Sanofi and Wipro in more than 40 languages across 90 countries. The AI-powered platform allows customers to increase contract velocity and agility, proactively manage entitlements and obligations, as well as surface commercial insights and intelligence.

One day, blockchains that utilise distributed ledger technology may even allow for contracts that are self-verifying, self-executing and autonomous. Companies can exchange terms, events, and information throughout the lifecycle of a contract without relying on brokers or middlemen.

This streamlined approach to supply chain management will help reduce costs and solve the hardest contract management problems on the most easy to use platform, thereby improving the bottom line.

To learn more about Icertis’ contract management software, visit the Icertis website.

Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer

No-one can predict the future. But we could all use a truthsayer to help us protect ourselves in the here and now…

Photo by Mitya Ivanov on Unsplash

In most supply chains, communication is point-to-point and one direction. There is no single, shared record of events across multiple parties. This is no longer an efficient or effective way to do business and most organisations know this.

And where there is no single point of truth or shared records, trust in supply chains and from consumers can be eroded. What procurement and supply chains need is a solution that can deliver data, but also be unimpeachable.

But how to solve this issue and penetrate the dense forest of new ideas and myriad technologies all offering to be some form of truthsayer?

A Truthsayer in our Midst?

New technology is, however, transforming that linear disconnected approach, and providing momentum to the movement for mature supply chains to operate in a “network of networks”.

By placing a supply chain on the blockchain, it makes the process more traceable, transparent and fully digital. With blockchain, organisations can shine a light on the provenance of their goods, but also earn the trust of consumers by proving the safety and traceability of the goods. And in a fast-paced environment, those organisations who don’t engage with blockchain face the reality of being left behind.

From farm to plate, the food supply chain can now be tracked in an open, transparent, fully traceable and entirely digital way. But what has started out in the food supply chain has all the applicability we need to cover all supply chains. Everywhere.

How then do we get involved? And how also do we sell this concept to a probably sceptical organisation (and budget holder…)?

Join our Webinar

Help is at hand in the form of Procurious and IBM’s latest webinar, ‘Blockchain – Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer’.

Sign up now to join our panel of experts at 14:30pm (BST) on Tuesday the 15th of October:

  • Tania Seary, Founder, Procurious
  • Shari Diaz, Innovation Strategy and Operations Program Director, IBM Watson Supply Chain
  • Professor Olinga Ta’eed, Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance

In the webinar, you’ll hear from a panel of experts on a range of topics including:

  • The importance understanding products’ provenance in your supply chain;
  • The link between successful blockchain adoption and rising consumer confidence;
  • Success stories from across the globe in blockchain implementation; and
  • How to start the conversation in your organisation to get the ball rolling.

FAQs

Is the Blockchain webinar available to anyone?

Absolutely! Anyone & everyone can register for the webinar and it won’t cost you a penny to do so. Simply sign up here.

How do I listen to the Critical Factors webinar?

Simply sign up here and you’ll be able to listen to the on-demand. 

Help – I can’t make it to the live-stream of the webinar!

No problem! If you can’t make the live-stream you can catch up whenever it suits you. We’ll be making it available on Procurious soon after the event (and will be sure to send you a link) so you can listen at your leisure!

Can I ask the speakers a question during the Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer webinar?

If you’d like to ask one of our speakers a question please submit it via the Discussion Board on Procurious and we’ll do our very best to ensure it gets answered for you.

Don’t Miss Out!

This webinar promises to provide a fascinating insight for all procurement professionals into the wealth of possibilities that Blockchain has to offer procurement.

Make sure you don’t miss out by signing up today!

Blockchain – A New Flavour of Traceability

Why did the chicken cross the road? More importantly, was there traceability of its journey and how many miles did it cover? Maybe blockchain can help us answer this age-old question…

Courtesy of Portlandia

Do you find yourself thinking more and more about the journey your food has taken to get to your plate? It’s not just because you’re a supply chain professional. It’s because, as a community, we are increasingly interested in the origin and safety of the food we consume.

Farm to Plate – Tracked and Traced

Consumers have an increasing interest in and focus on sustainability, food miles and the concept of ‘farm to plate’. The pressure is on the supply chain to maintain quality while providing both transparency and a fully auditable trail.

Production lines can be stopped and deadlines missed. But if fresh produce doesn’t get to where it needs to be on time, there isn’t any end product.

Delayed, incomplete, incorrect or damaged shipments create a monumental volume of administration. Productivity tanks, costs mount and trust erodes as the parties enter into a “we said, they said” situation, with each party trying to avoid being the ones to blame. This has led to a situation that as the food supply chain has grown, the level of trust has diminished.

However, one of the hottest new technologies, blockchain, has proved to be an invaluable tool in helping provide transparency and maintain trust.

Network of Networks

In most supply chains, communication is point-to-point and one direction. There is no single, shared record of events across multiple parties. Damages or changes – malicious or accidental – may surface in the moment, or potentially only when they are raised by consumers.

According to research published by Gartner in 2017, there is a movement for mature supply chains to operate in a “network of networks”. The network of networks acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy, as mature supply chains in these networks achieve higher levels of maturity, including improving ecosystem visibility.

By placing a supply chain on the blockchain, it makes the process more traceable, transparent and fully digital. Each node on the blockchain could represent an entity that has handled the food on the way to the store, making it much easier and faster to identify the source of food safety issues with much greater precision.

The attributes of blockchain technology are ideally suited to networks of partners, big and small. By providing a shared, single version of the truth through a shared, digital ledger, blockchain increases trust and creates efficiencies by eliminating the “we said, they said” problem and creating a shared understanding of all possible disruptions that could impact OTIF delivery.

With blockchain, transaction records are immutable, or tamperproof, and agreed upon by all parties. Immutability creates an audit trail. Privacy is maintained by setting the appropriate levels of data visibility for different parties. And business rules are shared and enforced by the system through smart contracts.

Trust and Traceability

A prime example of the effectiveness of blockchain in the food supply chain is Walmart. The retail giant has been working with IBM on a food safety solution, using IBM’s ‘Food Trust‘ solution, which was specifically designed for this purpose.

Before working with IBM to move some of its food supply chain to blockchain, it typically took Walmart approximately 7 days to trace the source of food. With the blockchain, it’s been reduced to 2.2 seconds. This time may be the difference between a consumer eating unsafe food and it never reaching the shelves in the first place.

IBM has also played a major role in the development of blockchain tracking for another retailer, Carrefour. The organisation uses blockchain ledger technology to track produce including meat, milk and fruit from source to shelf. The technology has enabled tracking on the consumer side too, with shoppers able to scan QR codes on products, allowing them to read product information on provenance and process.

Carrefour has credited the technology with increasing consumer trust in the brand, resulting in an increase in sales. It’s an example that many other retailers may look to follow soon.

Supplier ‘Passports’

IBM very recently announced a new blockchain network, ‘Trust Your Supplier’. The network, not solely limited to the food supply chain, has been designed to improve supplier qualification by creating a form of passport for suppliers. This will help to reduce time and resources for validation, with everything verified by third parties, such as Dun & Bradstreet, to square the circle.

The network, and network of networks, look set to revolutionise how organisations and consumers look at supply chains. The food supply chain is merely the first where the technology is making strides, though the fashion industry has also made moves to implement with significant success.

As consumers buy less fresh produce to reduce food waste, they are willing to spend a bit more to ensure quality. With blockchain, organisations can shine a light on the provenance of their goods, but also earn the trust of consumers by proving the safety and traceability of the goods. And in a fast-paced environment, those organisations who don’t engage with blockchain face the reality of being left behind.

We might never know why the chicken crossed the road. But with blockchain tracking the supply chain, we’ll be able to understand where it came from, how far away and track it’s route all the way to your plate (sorry Colin!).

Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer

From farm to plate, the food supply chain can now be tracked in an open, transparent, fully traceable and entirely digital way. We may never know the why, but the how and where are within our grasp!

In our latest webinar, Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer, we’ll be exploring the full applicability of this great technological innovation, understanding how Walmart and Carrefour have turned this to their advantage and revealing why it’s a must have for supply chains of the future! Click here to sign up now.

Progress or Perish: How to Push our Profession to the Next Level

Traditional procurement roles will perish if significant progress isn’t made. But how can the profession progress enough to deliver true value?

By @lindsayhenwood on Unsplash

By Ben Tulloch, Managing Director at Accenture

Ask any business executive in Australia how procurement has made their life easier, and they’re more likely to tell you that it’s been a roadblock.

Despite the profession’s brilliant minds, appetite for improvement, and advanced solutions from AI to blockchain and beyond, only 20 per cent of procurement tech projects down under prove successful. The issue, it seems, is something more deep-seated. The modern Australian enterprise is not geared for rapid evolution.

By the time Aussie companies have dedicated years of effort and distraction to available solutions, the market has advanced beyond recognition. What we really need is the ability to rapidly prototype and test ideas, implement them at scale and do it all again next month.

A lack of agile skills has left Australia lagging behind the EU and US. In fact, we’re probably at a 3/10 in terms of our capabilities and maturity, still using procurement tech and processes that harken to the 1970s. As we’re so late in implementing the basics, how can we even begin to place ourselves ahead of the curve?

Progress: The role of the traditional procurement manager will perish if it doesn’t change

There’s a fearmongered risk that jobs will be lost to advanced technologies. At some level, that’s correct: if a theatre nurse implemented AI to predict, trigger and record stock orders in the blockchain, they wipe out the P2P function of procurement. But this doesn’t spell disaster, it opens up new opportunities for growth.

If we can remove the administrative element of the job, procurement professionals can progress from a traditional role and take a more strategic view, rather than just buying stuff. They can leave a legacy and make a tangible difference – socially, environmentally and economically. For example, readily available blockchain solutions have the ability to eradicate modern slavery by providing ultimate transparency across supply chains.

But the skills needed to run a digital control tower or AI stock predictor are different. We’re going to need system integrators, program managers, design thinkers, full-stack engineers, mathematicians and AI experts. How do you rapidly shift engrained national mindsets – quickly and cheaply? A culture of co-design, ecosystem partners and using the success of tangible use cases to build trust are key.

‘Design Thinking’ is the Next Step

One of Accenture’s government clients had small armies of people trying (and failing) to keep up with updating pricing lists. Place an order, and it was most likely attached to the wrong stock number. As a result, buyers lost trust in suppliers and vice versa.

Now imagine if those master pricing lists were housed on the blockchain – transparent, secure and updated in real time? That technology exists, it’s cheap and takes only weeks to implement. But this isn’t a tech problem, it’s a change problem.

In the startup ecosystem, design thinking is in their DNA. Even three months is considered a long time, and products evolve continuously to keep up with market changes. These newer generations of Australian innovators would laugh our outdated tech and processes out the room, instead turning to a slick new app or platform that can be pushed to market within weeks.

But if procurement brought a startup solution to the CMO of a large Australian enterprise, it would likely be met with, “they’re not on our preferred supplier list.”

The Business Case for Innovation

The return on investment for agile solutions is not only profound, it’s immediate. We’ve been working with a major airline in Australia on using AI to predict, prioritise and elevate invoices for large suppliers, and manage changes in very complex supply chain relationships. In doing so, they’ve removed all paper processes, increased transparency, and seen a significant ROI in only three months.

Another major telco client has been tackling customer service with an omnichannel conversational platform that can replicate complex human conversation, comprehend voice, text and multiple trains of thoughts – not just spit out an answer to a direct question. Within months, the bot has compressed contract changes from 3.5 days to 8 minutes. This relatively inexpensive solution has potential solutions for the entire procurement profession.

The best part is that the platform was in live testing by week three. That’s on a live contract with live scaling and live data, three weeks after the idea was suggested. That’s design thinking in action.

The Art of the Impossible

Showcasing the impossible is powerful. If I utter the word ‘blockchain’ to an old-school Australian organisation, they’re likely to palm it off as a futuristic dream. But show them a functional, cheap and efficient blockchain contract in action and they’ll get it. Demystify advanced technology for your workforce, and take the objection off the table.

Collaborate with industry partners to forge a path forward that benefits everyone – not just your company. Start with the problem, and isolate solutions. Sure, there are technical and personal risks involved in evolution. But there are risks with everything in business. Not every idea has to be rolled out permanently across your entire enterprise. But not taking steps towards the future is the biggest risk of all.

At this month’s Big Ideas Summit, procurement professionals will be coming together to understand, challenge and solve the profession’s biggest problems. I’ll be speaking to the power of design thinking in facing the future of procurement, and how an “Industry X.0” mindset can pave the way forward.

The bottom line is that if you do nothing, people will find their way around you. The best way forward is to recognise that you’re not alone – Australia lags behind with you – and then get on the front foot and be ready to progress.

Is Blockchain The Next Big Thing For Supply Chain?

What does blockchain mean for your supply chain?

By Oleksandr Nagaiets/ Shutterstock

Few people working in supply chain roles have a clear understanding of how this fledgeling solution called blockchain is, or could be, applied in their organisations. There is much hype and misinformation in the marketplace and much of it is due to the unproven nature in practice and unknown long-term costs of blockchain applications.

So what is blockchain?

Without getting too technical, the underlying principle of blockchain is to provide a secure environment where encrypted business transactions between buyer and seller can happen without the need for third parties such as banks and clearing agents to intervene. According to McKinsey,

blockchain is an internet-based technology that is prized for its ability to publicly validate, record, and distribute transactions in immutable, encrypted ledgers”.

Immutable, in this case, means that each link in the blockchain is completely secure and unbreakable. Blockchain’s format guarantees the data has not been counterfeited and that information can be read by any authorized party.

There are two main types of blockchain applications, one private and the other public. In the commercial environment, the networks are mostly private, this type of operation is sometimes referred to as “permissioned”.    Read more detail about how Blockchain works here.   

The world before blockchain

This diagram below is typical of a traditional sales transaction with many intermediaries.  Currently, these intermediaries process, verify and reconcile transactions before the ownership of the goods or services can pass from seller to buyer. How many people does it take to move a container of avocados from a Kenyan seller to a UK buyer?  At least thirty, but more importantly, there are over 200 individual transaction events and communications involved. 

What traditional buyer-to-seller transactions look like today  

What supply chains could look like tomorrow  

The world after blockchain

In a private blockchain network,  the procure-to-pay process is streamlined so that documents are matched triggering payment and creating a verifiable audit trail.   Nestlé is breaking new ground in supply chain transparency through a collaboration with OpenSC – an innovative blockchain platform that allows consumers to track their food right back to the farm.  The initial pilot program will trace milk from farms and producers in New Zealand to Nestlé factories and warehouses in the Middle East.

What does blockchain mean for your supply chain?

How can this fledgeling technology be beneficial? According to McKinsey, there are three main areas where blockchain can add value:

  1. Replacing slow, manual paper-based processes.
  2. Strengthening traceability which reduces quality and recall problems
  3. Potentially reducing supply-chain IT transaction costs  (maybe?).

The answer seems to lie in its potential to speed up administrative processes and to take costs out of the system while still guaranteeing the security of transactions.  Blockchain has the potential to disrupt or create competitive advantage, but the biggest barrier to its adoption is that so few have a good grasp on how it can be of use in their operations.

The potential benefits

  • faster and more accurate tracking of products and distribution assets, e.g. trucks, containers, as they move through the supply chain  
  • reduction of errors on orders, goods receipts, invoices and other trade-related documents due to less need for manual reconciliation 
  • a permanent audit trail of every product movement or financial transaction from its source to its ultimate destination.
  • trust is created between users through using a transparent ledger where transactions are immutable, secure and  auditable

What are the obstacles?

1.The cost

Implementing a blockchain solution may require expensive amendments and upgrades to existing systems which is both costly and time-consuming. Who pays and what is the return on investment?

2. Change management

There will be a need to convince all involved parties to join a particular blockchain and collaborate for mutual benefit. More openness will be needed, the old ways of protecting information won’t work. There is likely to be some mistrust initially especially around market share and sales data.

3. Rules and regulations

Legal advice is essential to understand what regulatory frameworks must be complied with. There are no accepted global standards for Blockchain that align with maritime law, international customs regulations and the various commercial codes such as Incoterms that govern the commercial transfer of ownership.  

4. Security

Is Blockchain really unbreakable?  Hackers would not only need to infiltrate a specific block to alter existing information but would have to access all of the preceding blocks going back through the entire history of that blockchain, across every ledger in the network, simultaneously. Even with encryption, cyber-attacks are a concern and cybersecurity costs money.

Transacting using “smart” contracts

Blockchain can be used to create “smart” contracts that execute the terms of any agreement when specified conditions are met. The “smart” part is a piece of computer code that predefines a set of rules under which the parties to that smart contract agree to interact with each other. Not recommended for beginners.

What industries will benefit most? 

Industries with the greatest potential are those that deal with extensive paperwork such as freight forwarding, marine shipping, and transport logistics. 

Tracking ofautomotive parts as they move between manufacturing facilities and countries is an attractive application as interfaces between motor manufacturers and their 3PL transport partners are complex and often not well-integrated. Toyota is venturing into developing blockchain solutions for its core parts supply chain operations.

Vulnerable and highly regulated supply chains such as food and healthcare

can benefit due to their need for transparency. Real estate has great potential due to the mass of records and documents involved such as transfers of land titles, property deeds, liens etc.  

Avoiding the hype

Gartner says that although blockchain holds great promise, often the technology is offered as a solution in search of a problem. They advise that “to ensure a successful blockchain project, make sure you actually need to use blockchain technology. Additionally, much of what is on the market as an enterprise “blockchain” solution lacks at least two of the five core components: Encryption, immutability, distribution, decentralization and tokenization.”  Gartner’s long term view is that blockchain will only move through its Trough of Disillusionment by 2022. 

Will it work in your supply chain?

The jury is still out on whether blockchain will really create a competitive advantage. Also, the cost of running a blockchain in time and resources is the unknown factor. For companies thought to have efficient supply chain operations with trusted partners and reliable databases, such a complex solution may not be needed. A supplier portal that is housed in the cloud may be more than adequate when coupled with an established ERP system.   

But wait, the blockchain action doesn’t stop here! Join us on October 15 with blockchain experts Shari Diaz, Innovation Strategy and Operations Program Director, IBM Watson Supply Chain and Professor Olinga Ta’eed, Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance in this webinar brought to you by IBM and Procurious. Click here to register for Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer.