Several industries are already embracing the benefits of blockchain. The finance industry uses it to monitor the exchange of stocks and bitcoin. The public sector uses it to eliminate voter fraud and confirm digital identities.
But what is blockchain? And how can supply chain organizations begin using it to their advantage?
Breaking down blockchain
The seeds of blockchain were sown more than 25 years ago – more as a concept than anything else.
Since then, the technology has blossomed and evolved into an actual tool, composed of a chain of data containers used to track and store transactions.
In blockchain, a new transaction creates a new block in a particular chain. Because this information is updated in real time and stored in decentralized databases, participants retain complete access to their transactions on their very own IT premises. Additionally, any changes must be confirmed by all other blockchain members, which makes unauthorized uses practically impossible.
The benefits of this are obvious: Companies and individuals can forge new business relationships without actually knowing one another – as all transactions are clearly visible and easy to monitor.
While many supply chain organizations have remained in the piloting stage of blockchain adoption, the time has come for them to finally begin embracing this transformative technology.
How blockchain could revolutionize supply chain
A recent article on Business Insider suggests that blockchain could revolutionize supply chain, and it’s easy to see why.
For one, blockchain can help supply chain organizations to improve visibility and traceability. In the event of a recall, for instance, products can easily be identified and pulled from store shelves, helping companies to save costs and avoid future liability issues.
Blockchain can also help to build trust among buyers, generating new business and improving customer satisfaction. One pharmaceutical company is leveraging the technology to assure patients and physicians that certain medications are authentic.
Gain – and share – a picture of your whole supply chain
Moving a product from supplier to customer requires people, resources, knowledge, processes, and financial transactions. It’s complicated to display the full picture of a large supply chain system to everyone involved. Information is distributed to various people at various times, and this data is typically stored in multiple locations. Moreover, participants usually have only partial access to the overall information. Blockchains could resolve these transparency and traceability issues.
By using blockchains, any information relevant to that particular supply chain will be captured along the way, and it will be made accessible to all parties involved:
- Pallets, trailers, and containers can be tracked as they move between supply chain nodes using RFID for asset allocation.
- Purchase orders, change orders, receipts, shipment notifications, or other trade-related documents can serve as blockchain items to increase fraud protection.
- Certifications or certain properties of physical products can be stored as blockchain items to ensure the products comply with quality standards.
- Information about manufacturing processes, including assembly, delivery, and maintenance, can be shared with suppliers and vendors.
5 blockchain benefits your supply chain enterprise simply can’t ignore
As I see it, there are five key benefits that blockchain can provide to your supply chain organization:
- Transparency: As documents are separated from the physical flow of the product and taken out of the hands of supply chain parties into a “neutral” zone, the supply chain reveals its true origin and touchpoints. This increases trust and helps eliminate the bias found in today’s supply chains. According to a 2014 Deloitte University Press publication, “supply chain transparency is critical for managing rising levels of risk in an environment where corporate supply chain practices are attracting increasing legal, regulatory, and consumer scrutiny.”
- Scalability: Normally, a rising number of supply chain participants would increase the complexity of supply chain management. That’s no longer the case. With blockchain technology, you can add any number of participants and touchpoints, and managing the supply chain will be as simple as ever.
- Growth: Companies in supply chain that adopt blockchain at an early stage can generate significant competitive advantages over other players. By gaining greater insight and visibility into your operations, your organization will be better prepared to deal with unforeseen challenges and provide superior consumer experiences.
- Security: Using blockchain as a shared ledger with clear rules could potentially eliminate audits required to document adherence to internal and external quality standards. Digitizing your assets with blockchain could also help your organization protect itself from theft.
- Innovation: Opportunities abound to create new specialized uses for technology as a result of the decentralized architecture of blockchain. There’s no limit to what your organization can enhance, whether it’s your production processes or delivery capabilities.
Don’t delay: Embrace blockchain today
Blockchain is a revolutionary technology that can transform many existing traditional processes into more secure, transparent, and collaborative systems. With the myriad ways it can benefit your enterprise, it’s high time to begin making blockchain a part of your supply chain organization’s future today.
To learn more about blockchain, read the latest Forbes Insights Briefing Report: Transforming Transaction Processing for the Digital Economy or visit us at SAP.com to see how we’re innovating in supply chain.