Why Blockchain Must Be Part Of Supply Chain’s Future

Kirsten Lubritz

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:

  1. 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.”
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

 

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Kirsten Lubritz

About Kirsten Lubritz

Kirsten Lubritz is a senior supply chain solution specialist at SAP. She focuses on the project management topic within the field of supply chain, specifically around transportation management, warehouse management, and track and trace. She has a MBA in Economics from Universität des Saarlandes and is based in Walldorf, Germany.

Transforming Your Business Through A Digital Supply Chain Of One

Richard Howells

A recent infographic published by IDC highlights the importance of digital transformation and the need for companies to enable a digital supply chain of one to stay competitive.

One finding from the infographic is quite striking: By 2019 “3rd Platform” technologies such as mobile, cloud, Big Data, and social will account for nearly 75% of IT spend – growing at twice the rate of the total market.

Much of the increase in IT spend will be attributed to “innovation accelerators” – a category that includes technologies such as analytics, blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, and robotics. Through 2020, innovation accelerators will grow at 17% CAGR.

Of course, given the competitive pressure to innovate, perhaps these numbers aren’t so surprising after all. Across industries, companies are launching profound digital transformation initiatives as they struggle against digitally savvy competitors who use new technologies to deliver better customer outcomes. Now, this drive to digitalize is showing up in the numbers.

Top drivers

But what exactly are these competitive pressures? One is customer demand for individualized products. Part of what it means to deliver better customer outcomes in the digital economy is to deliver exactly what customers want. In practice, this often means personalization – the ability to manufacture to the lot size of one. Personalization requires processes that are highly responsive to individual needs and desires. Audi, for example, has revamped the assembly line in favor of a modular assembly approach. This approach skirts the issue of assembly line downtime – like when only a few vehicles on the line need to get fitted with optional extras.

Another driver is increasingly complex products. In this world, few companies have neither the capabilities nor the business justifications to fill out the end-to-end value chain. This is why companies partner up – leading to expanding partner ecosystems. Auto manufacturers, to stick with an example, need to partner up with software companies to deliver the onboard tech that customers want today. And as things change, these manufacturers need flexible collaboration platforms to quickly bring in new partners as needed.

Companies are also looking to improve outcomes for customers after the sale. With IoT, for example, companies can track KPIs and monitor performance for the products they produce and sell. Cars, again, are a perfect use case. Take Tesla, for instance. The company continuously collects data on its cars (self-driving and otherwise), analyzes it for insight, and proactively pushes out improvements to the cars in its network. Ever hear companies talk about knowing what customers want before the customers know it themselves? This is what they’re talking about.

The digital innovation platform

To thrive in the digital economy, IDC believes that “product innovation, supply chain, and manufacturing must be connected through a digital innovation platform powered by key technologies such as cloud, analytics, IoT, machine learning, and blockchain.”

As discussed in a previous blog, companies can use such platforms to mix these technologies in creative ways. IoT sensor data can be transmitted and stored in the cloud. Machine learning can then be used to make processes smarter. Artificial intelligence can help automate processes – and blockchain can help ensure the processes remain traceable and secure.

Yet, there’s a long way to go. According to IDC, only nine percent of manufacturers use an innovation platform for extended collaboration, only nine percent have digitally transformed their supply chains, and a full 67% still consider themselves “Digital Explorers” or “Digital Players” – meaning they’re at the early stages of digital transformation.

Yes, you can get there from here

The good news is that companies can actually move forward. IDC recommends adopting cloud-based platforms and enhancing them with the intelligent technologies we’ve already discussed – such as AI, machine learning, and analytics. This can help accelerate product innovation, increase supply chain visibility, improve manufacturing, and drive revenue growth.

IDC also touts the advantages of a network of digital twins. A digital twin is a simply a live digital representation of a physical thing – say a forklift in one of your warehouses or a heating/cooling unit deployed at a customer site. A network of these digital twins can provide the insight needed to achieve a digital supply chain of one. It can also help you track performance, usage, and service demand for deployed units or sold items – allowing you to monetize connected products.

The bottom line is that the supply chain is now front and center for companies competing in the digital economy. With a digital supply chain of one supported by emerging technologies for greater visibility, predictability, and agility, your company can deliver the personalized products and experiences that customers value. Good luck out there.

Customers want individualized products with shorter delivery and new payment options. View this infographic to understand how a digital supply chain to serve the segment of one can deliver customer centricity by enabling predictive business and smart automation for total supply chain visibility. 

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Richard Howells

About Richard Howells

Richard Howells is a Vice President at SAP responsible for the positioning, messaging, AR , PR and go-to market activities for the SAP Supply Chain solutions.

Demystifying Digital Twins: Your Top 5 Questions Answered

Thomas Ohnemus

Stagnation. Successful businesses won’t tolerate it. Instead of standing still and conducting business as usual, today’s top companies constantly strive to improve their products, services, and processes.

To keep forging ahead, organizations are turning to technologies like digital twins, which help companies reimagine existing manufacturing processes and revolutionize product design through live engineering.

And while digital twins have been touted as a top strategic technology trend by Gartner and other prominent firms, many businesses have yet to embrace this game-changing innovation.

That’s because they don’t know how to get started, don’t understand how digital twins work, or don’t realize how this new technology could benefit their enterprises.

Does your organization need help demystifying digital twins? Here are answers to five of the top questions surrounding this exciting new technology:

1. What is a digital twin?

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a real-life physical product. It could be a car, a chair, a desk, a lamp. It could even be a person. Anything that exists in the physical world can be replicated as a digital twin.

Digital twins provide insight on how your products are operating in real time. They also present businesses with an opportunity to enhance their items from a remote location.

2. How can you create a digital twin?

The first step in creating a digital twin is representing all the components of an existing physical product in a virtual proxy. Given the complex nature of the product you’re replicating, there could be thousands of disparate parts that represent the style and structure of the product.

Creating a digital twin of a car, for instance, would require emulating the shape of the vehicle, the tires, the seats, the mirrors. But things get really interesting under the hood, where the inner workings of the engine must all be accounted for: the cylinder block, the pistons, the crankshaft, the valves, the spark plugs, and so on.

Once you’ve identified and described in a structured way all the different components of the physical product you’re emulating with a digital twin, it’s time to design a 3D model. An accurate and comprehensive 3D model will enable you to visualize how your physical product is performing and changing in the moment.

A 3D model of a car, for example, can show you how a vehicle is braking or accelerating, allowing you to identify whether you need to make improvements.

In case of brand-new products, the digital definition gets started first, while the physical product comes to life through the manufacturing process, and in the operation phase, the physical product feeds the digital twin with real live data.

3. How do digital twins work?

Digital twins are powered by Internet of Things (IoT) sensor data. By attaching an IoT-enabled sensor to a physical product, you can measure the data emanating from an asset in real time. Collecting this data in a digital twin is crucial to enabling quick decision making and maintaining the health of your products.

If the temperature of a car engine is approaching dangerous levels, your digital twin could alert the manufacturer, as well as the driver, of this alarming condition. Analyzing this IoT sensor data in a digital twin will not only allow you to rectify the situation immediately, but it will also enable you to test specific alterations before carrying out actual repairs on the physical product.

Without an exact replica of your physical product, it’s difficult to pinpoint the precise location of the problem in the first place – let alone address it.

4. Do digital twins present any challenges?

The single greatest challenge with a digital twin is that one size does not fit all. In other words, you need a digital twin for every single product you manufacture. That’s because every product operates differently, especially if there’s a human involved in its operation.

Again, take cars.

Thousands of vehicles are produced using an identical manufacturing process. But because no two drivers are completely alike – some drive slow and cautiously, others drive fast and recklessly – each car will perform differently. It’s important to understand how each individual driver operates their vehicle – as these details shed light on why an engine is repeatedly overheating or why tires are losing their tread faster than normal.

5. How can you use digital twins to enable live engineering?

As products are used, patterns emerge from the data. Engineers can study these insights in digital twins to create additional value for users by making improvements to future product designs.

Based on data they’ve collected from aggressive drivers, product engineers can design car engines that don’t overheat as quickly or easily. They can analyze how far drivers are pushing their engines and make enhancements so newer engines can withstand those extreme conditions.

You may be closer to using digital twins than you think

Your company’s digital transformation won’t be complete until you’ve embraced digital twins. Fortunately, you may already have the pieces in place to leverage the technology. You just may not refer to it by that name. But if your business possesses a digital description of your products, you’re well on your way to realizing value from digital twin technology.

So what are you waiting for? Get started today. Begin small – and in no time, you’ll realize the big impact that digital twins can have on your business.

To learn more about SAP’s strategy for the Digital Twin and Digital Supply chain of ONE, visit us at our booth at the upcoming Hannover Messe, in the Hannover Exhibition Center, Hall 7, Stand A02

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Thomas Ohnemus

About Thomas Ohnemus

Thomas Ohnemus is the Vice President, Solution Marketing, Customer Value Office, at SAP. He is responsible for driving the go-to-market strategy, messaging, and demand generation. Thomas has over 25 years’ experience in business software solutions and his PLM expertise has awarded him key management positions in consulting, product management, service, and global marketing. He holds a master’s degree in engineering, and lives in Germany.

The Blockchain Solution

By Gil Perez, Tom Raftery, Hans Thalbauer, Dan Wellers, and Fawn Fitter

In 2013, several UK supermarket chains discovered that products they were selling as beef were actually made at least partly—and in some cases, entirely—from horsemeat. The resulting uproar led to a series of product recalls, prompted stricter food testing, and spurred the European food industry to take a closer look at how unlabeled or mislabeled ingredients were finding their way into the food chain.

By 2020, a scandal like this will be eminently preventable.

The separation between bovine and equine will become immutable with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, which will track the provenance and identity of every animal from stall to store, adding the data to a blockchain that anyone can check but no one can alter.

Food processing companies will be able to use that blockchain to confirm and label the contents of their products accordingly—down to the specific farms and animals represented in every individual package. That level of detail may be too much information for shoppers, but they will at least be able to trust that their meatballs come from the appropriate species.

The Spine of Digitalization

Keeping food safer and more traceable is just the beginning, however. Improvements in the supply chain, which have been incremental for decades despite billions of dollars of technology investments, are about to go exponential. Emerging technologies are converging to transform the supply chain from tactical to strategic, from an easily replicable commodity to a new source of competitive differentiation.

You may already be thinking about how to take advantage of blockchain technology, which makes data and transactions immutable, transparent, and verifiable (see “What Is Blockchain and How Does It Work?”). That will be a powerful tool to boost supply chain speed and efficiency—always a worthy goal, but hardly a disruptive one.

However, if you think of blockchain as the spine of digitalization and technologies such as AI, the IoT, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, and drones as the limbs, you have a powerful supply chain body that can leapfrog ahead of its competition.

What Is Blockchain and How Does It Work?

Here’s why blockchain technology is critical to transforming the supply chain.

Blockchain is essentially a sequential, distributed ledger of transactions that is constantly updated on a global network of computers. The ownership and history of a transaction is embedded in the blockchain at the transaction’s earliest stages and verified at every subsequent stage.

A blockchain network uses vast amounts of computing power to encrypt the ledger as it’s being written. This makes it possible for every computer in the network to verify the transactions safely and transparently. The more organizations that participate in the ledger, the more complex and secure the encryption becomes, making it increasingly tamperproof.

Why does blockchain matter for the supply chain?

  • It enables the safe exchange of value without a central verifying partner, which makes transactions faster and less expensive.
  • It dramatically simplifies recordkeeping by establishing a single, authoritative view of the truth across all parties.
  • It builds a secure, immutable history and chain of custody as different parties handle the items being shipped, and it updates the relevant documentation.
  • By doing these things, blockchain allows companies to create smart contracts based on programmable business logic, which can execute themselves autonomously and thereby save time and money by reducing friction and intermediaries.

Hints of the Future

In the mid-1990s, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, we had no idea that the internet would become so large and pervasive, nor that we’d find a way to carry it all in our pockets on small slabs of glass.

But we could tell that it had vast potential.

Today, with the combination of emerging technologies that promise to turbocharge digital transformation, we’re just beginning to see how we might turn the supply chain into a source of competitive advantage (see “What’s the Magic Combination?”).

What’s the Magic Combination?

Those who focus on blockchain in isolation will miss out on a much bigger supply chain opportunity.

Many experts believe emerging technologies will work with blockchain to digitalize the supply chain and create new business models:

  • Blockchain will provide the foundation of automated trust for all parties in the supply chain.
  • The IoT will link objects—from tiny devices to large machines—and generate data about status, locations, and transactions that will be recorded on the blockchain.
  • 3D printing will extend the supply chain to the customer’s doorstep with hyperlocal manufacturing of parts and products with IoT sensors built into the items and/or their packaging. Every manufactured object will be smart, connected, and able to communicate so that it can be tracked and traced as needed.
  • Big Data management tools will process all the information streaming in around the clock from IoT sensors.
  • AI and machine learning will analyze this enormous amount of data to reveal patterns and enable true predictability in every area of the supply chain.

Combining these technologies with powerful analytics tools to predict trends will make lack of visibility into the supply chain a thing of the past. Organizations will be able to examine a single machine across its entire lifecycle and identify areas where they can improve performance and increase return on investment. They’ll be able to follow and monitor every component of a product, from design through delivery and service. They’ll be able to trigger and track automated actions between and among partners and customers to provide customized transactions in real time based on real data.

After decades of talk about markets of one, companies will finally have the power to create them—at scale and profitably.

Amazon, for example, is becoming as much a logistics company as a retailer. Its ordering and delivery systems are so streamlined that its customers can launch and complete a same-day transaction with a push of a single IP-enabled button or a word to its ever-attentive AI device, Alexa. And this level of experimentation and innovation is bubbling up across industries.

Consider manufacturing, where the IoT is transforming automation inside already highly automated factories. Machine-to-machine communication is enabling robots to set up, provision, and unload equipment quickly and accurately with minimal human intervention. Meanwhile, sensors across the factory floor are already capable of gathering such information as how often each machine needs maintenance or how much raw material to order given current production trends.

Once they harvest enough data, businesses will be able to feed it through machine learning algorithms to identify trends that forecast future outcomes. At that point, the supply chain will start to become both automated and predictive. We’ll begin to see business models that include proactively scheduling maintenance, replacing parts just before they’re likely to break, and automatically ordering materials and initiating customer shipments.

Italian train operator Trenitalia, for example, has put IoT sensors on its locomotives and passenger cars and is using analytics and in-memory computing to gauge the health of its trains in real time, according to an article in Computer Weekly. “It is now possible to affordably collect huge amounts of data from hundreds of sensors in a single train, analyse that data in real time and detect problems before they actually happen,” Trenitalia’s CIO Danilo Gismondi told Computer Weekly.

Blockchain allows all the critical steps of the supply chain to go electronic and become irrefutably verifiable by all the critical parties within minutes: the seller and buyer, banks, logistics carriers, and import and export officials.

The project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2018, will change Trenitalia’s business model, allowing it to schedule more trips and make each one more profitable. The railway company will be able to better plan parts inventories and determine which lines are consistently performing poorly and need upgrades. The new system will save €100 million a year, according to ARC Advisory Group.

New business models continue to evolve as 3D printers become more sophisticated and affordable, making it possible to move the end of the supply chain closer to the customer. Companies can design parts and products in materials ranging from carbon fiber to chocolate and then print those items in their warehouse, at a conveniently located third-party vendor, or even on the client’s premises.

In addition to minimizing their shipping expenses and reducing fulfillment time, companies will be able to offer more personalized or customized items affordably in small quantities. For example, clothing retailer Ministry of Supply recently installed a 3D printer at its Boston store that enables it to make an article of clothing to a customer’s specifications in under 90 minutes, according to an article in Forbes.

This kind of highly distributed manufacturing has potential across many industries. It could even create a market for secure manufacturing for highly regulated sectors, allowing a manufacturer to transmit encrypted templates to printers in tightly protected locations, for example.

Meanwhile, organizations are investigating ways of using blockchain technology to authenticate, track and trace, automate, and otherwise manage transactions and interactions, both internally and within their vendor and customer networks. The ability to collect data, record it on the blockchain for immediate verification, and make that trustworthy data available for any application delivers indisputable value in any business context. The supply chain will be no exception.

Blockchain Is the Change Driver

The supply chain is configured as we know it today because it’s impossible to create a contract that accounts for every possible contingency. Consider cross-border financial transfers, which are so complex and must meet so many regulations that they require a tremendous number of intermediaries to plug the gaps: lawyers, accountants, customer service reps, warehouse operators, bankers, and more. By reducing that complexity, blockchain technology makes intermediaries less necessary—a transformation that is revolutionary even when measured only in cost savings.

“If you’re selling 100 items a minute, 24 hours a day, reducing the cost of the supply chain by just $1 per item saves you more than $52.5 million a year,” notes Dirk Lonser, SAP go-to-market leader at DXC Technology, an IT services company. “By replacing manual processes and multiple peer-to-peer connections through fax or e-mail with a single medium where everyone can exchange verified information instantaneously, blockchain will boost profit margins exponentially without raising prices or even increasing individual productivity.”

But the potential for blockchain extends far beyond cost cutting and streamlining, says Irfan Khan, CEO of supply chain management consulting and systems integration firm Bristlecone, a Mahindra Group company. It will give companies ways to differentiate.

“Blockchain will let enterprises more accurately trace faulty parts or products from end users back to factories for recalls,” Khan says. “It will streamline supplier onboarding, contracting, and management by creating an integrated platform that the company’s entire network can access in real time. It will give vendors secure, transparent visibility into inventory 24×7. And at a time when counterfeiting is a real concern in multiple industries, it will make it easy for both retailers and customers to check product authenticity.”

Blockchain allows all the critical steps of the supply chain to go electronic and become irrefutably verifiable by all the critical parties within minutes: the seller and buyer, banks, logistics carriers, and import and export officials. Although the key parts of the process remain the same as in today’s analog supply chain, performing them electronically with blockchain technology shortens each stage from hours or days to seconds while eliminating reams of wasteful paperwork. With goods moving that quickly, companies have ample room for designing new business models around manufacturing, service, and delivery.

Challenges on the Path to Adoption

For all this to work, however, the data on the blockchain must be correct from the beginning. The pills, produce, or parts on the delivery truck need to be the same as the items listed on the manifest at the loading dock. Every use case assumes that the data is accurate—and that will only happen when everything that’s manufactured is smart, connected, and able to self-verify automatically with the help of machine learning tuned to detect errors and potential fraud.

Companies are already seeing the possibilities of applying this bundle of emerging technologies to the supply chain. IDC projects that by 2021, at least 25% of Forbes Global 2000 (G2000) companies will use blockchain services as a foundation for digital trust at scale; 30% of top global manufacturers and retailers will do so by 2020. IDC also predicts that by 2020, up to 10% of pilot and production blockchain-distributed ledgers will incorporate data from IoT sensors.

Despite IDC’s optimism, though, the biggest barrier to adoption is the early stage level of enterprise use cases, particularly around blockchain. Currently, the sole significant enterprise blockchain production system is the virtual currency Bitcoin, which has unfortunately been tainted by its associations with speculation, dubious financial transactions, and the so-called dark web.

The technology is still in a sufficiently early stage that there’s significant uncertainty about its ability to handle the massive amounts of data a global enterprise supply chain generates daily. Never mind that it’s completely unregulated, with no global standard. There’s also a critical global shortage of experts who can explain emerging technologies like blockchain, the IoT, and machine learning to nontechnology industries and educate organizations in how the technologies can improve their supply chain processes. Finally, there is concern about how blockchain’s complex algorithms gobble computing power—and electricity (see “Blockchain Blackouts”).

Blockchain Blackouts

Blockchain is a power glutton. Can technology mediate the issue?

A major concern today is the enormous carbon footprint of the networks creating and solving the algorithmic problems that keep blockchains secure. Although virtual currency enthusiasts claim the problem is overstated, Michael Reed, head of blockchain technology for Intel, has been widely quoted as saying that the energy demands of blockchains are a significant drain on the world’s electricity resources.

Indeed, Wired magazine has estimated that by July 2019, the Bitcoin network alone will require more energy than the entire United States currently uses and that by February 2020 it will use as much electricity as the entire world does today.

Still, computing power is becoming more energy efficient by the day and sticking with paperwork will become too slow, so experts—Intel’s Reed among them—consider this a solvable problem.

“We don’t know yet what the market will adopt. In a decade, it might be status quo or best practice, or it could be the next Betamax, a great technology for which there was no demand,” Lonser says. “Even highly regulated industries that need greater transparency in the entire supply chain are moving fairly slowly.”

Blockchain will require acceptance by a critical mass of companies, governments, and other organizations before it displaces paper documentation. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue: multiple companies need to adopt these technologies at the same time so they can build a blockchain to exchange information, yet getting multiple companies to do anything simultaneously is a challenge. Some early initiatives are already underway, though:

  • A London-based startup called Everledger is using blockchain and IoT technology to track the provenance, ownership, and lifecycles of valuable assets. The company began by tracking diamonds from mine to jewelry using roughly 200 different characteristics, with a goal of stopping both the demand for and the supply of “conflict diamonds”—diamonds mined in war zones and sold to finance insurgencies. It has since expanded to cover wine, artwork, and other high-value items to prevent fraud and verify authenticity.
  • In September 2017, SAP announced the creation of its SAP Leonardo Blockchain Co-Innovation program, a group of 27 enterprise customers interested in co-innovating around blockchain and creating business buy-in. The diverse group of participants includes management and technology services companies Capgemini and Deloitte, cosmetics company Natura Cosméticos S.A., and Moog Inc., a manufacturer of precision motion control systems.
  • Two of Europe’s largest shipping ports—Rotterdam and Antwerp—are working on blockchain projects to streamline interaction with port customers. The Antwerp terminal authority says eliminating paperwork could cut the costs of container transport by as much as 50%.
  • The Chinese online shopping behemoth Alibaba is experimenting with blockchain to verify the authenticity of food products and catch counterfeits before they endanger people’s health and lives.
  • Technology and transportation executives have teamed up to create the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), a forum for developing blockchain standards and education for the freight industry.

It’s likely that the first blockchain-based enterprise supply chain use case will emerge in the next year among companies that see it as an opportunity to bolster their legal compliance and improve business processes. Once that happens, expect others to follow.

Customers Will Expect Change

It’s only a matter of time before the supply chain becomes a competitive driver. The question for today’s enterprises is how to prepare for the shift. Customers are going to expect constant, granular visibility into their transactions and faster, more customized service every step of the way. Organizations will need to be ready to meet those expectations.

If organizations have manual business processes that could never be automated before, now is the time to see if it’s possible. Organizations that have made initial investments in emerging technologies are looking at how their pilot projects are paying off and where they might extend to the supply chain. They are starting to think creatively about how to combine technologies to offer a product, service, or business model not possible before.

A manufacturer will load a self-driving truck with a 3D printer capable of creating a customer’s ordered item en route to delivering it. A vendor will capture the market for a socially responsible product by allowing its customers to track the product’s production and verify that none of its subcontractors use slave labor. And a supermarket chain will win over customers by persuading them that their choice of supermarket is also a choice between being certain of what’s in their food and simply hoping that what’s on the label matches what’s inside.

At that point, a smart supply chain won’t just be a competitive edge. It will become a competitive necessity. D!


About the Authors

Gil Perez is Senior Vice President, Internet of Things and Digital Supply Chain, at SAP.

Tom Raftery is Global Vice President, Futurist, and Internet of Things Evangelist, at SAP.

Hans Thalbauer is Senior Vice President, Internet of Things and Digital Supply Chain, at SAP.

Dan Wellers is Global Lead, Digital Futures, at SAP.

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology.

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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CEO Priorities And Challenges In The Digital World

Dr. Chakib Bouhdary

Digital transformation is here, and it is moving fast. Companies are starting to realize the enormous power of digital technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of things (IoT) and blockchain. These technologies will drive massive opportunities—and threats—for every company, and they will impact all aspects of business, including the business model. In fact, business velocity has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.

To move quickly, companies need to be clear on what they want to achieve through digital transformation and understand the possible roadblocks. Based on my meetings with customer executives across regions and industries, I have learned that CEOs often have the same three priorities and face the same three challenges:

1. Customer experience – No longer defined by omnichannel and personalized marketing.

Not surprisingly, 92 percent of digital leaders focus on customer experience. However, this is no longer just about omnichannel and personalized marketing – it is about the total customer experience. Businesses are realizing that they need to reimagine their value proposition and orchestrate changes across the value chain – from the first point of interaction to manufacturing, to shipment, to service – and be able to deliver the total customer experience. In some cases, it will even be necessary to change the core product or service itself.

2. Step change in productivity – Transform productivity and cost structure through digital technologies.

Businesses have been using technology to achieve growth for decades, but by combining emerging technologies, they can now achieve a significant productivity boost and reduce costs. For this to happen, companies must first identify the scenarios that will drive significant change in productivity, prioritize them based on value, and then determine the right technologies and solutions. Both Mckinsey and Boston Consulting Group expect a 15 to 30 percent improvement in productivity through digital advancements – blowing the doors off business-as-usual and its incremental productivity growth of 1 to 2 percent.

3. Employee engagement – Fostering a culture of innovation should be at the core of any business.

Companies are looking to create an environment that encourages creativity and innovation. Leaders are attracting the needed talent and building the right skill sets. Additionally, they aim for ways to attract a diverse workforce, improve collaborations, and empower employees – because engaged employees are crucial in order to achieve the best results. This Gallup study reveals that approximately 85 percent of employees worldwide are performing below their potential due to engagement issues.

As CEOs work towards achieving these three desired outcomes, they face some critical challenges that they must address. I define the top three challenges as follows: run vs. innovate, corporate cholesterol, and digital transformation roadmap.

1. Run vs. innovate – To be successful you must prioritize the future.

The foremost challenge that CEOs are facing is how they can keep running current profitable businesses while investing in future innovations. Quite often these two conflict as most executives mistakenly prioritize the first and spend much less time on the latter. This must change. CEOs and their management teams need to spend more time thinking about what digital is for them, discuss new ideas, and reimagine the future. According to Gartner, approximately 50 percent of boards are pushing their CEOs to make progress on digital. Although this is a promising sign, digital must become a priority on every CEOs agenda.

2. Corporate cholesterol – Do not let company culture get in the way of change.

The older the company is, the more stuck it likely is with policies, procedures, layers of management, and risk averseness. When a company’s own processes get in the way of change, that is what I call “corporate cholesterol.” CEOs need to change the culture, encourage cross-team collaborations, and bring in more diverse thinking to reduce the cholesterol levels. In fact, both Mckinsey and Capgemini conclude that culture is the number-one obstacle to digital effectiveness.

3. Digital transformation roadmap – Digital transformation is a journey without a destination.

Many CEOs struggle with their digital roadmap. Questions like: Where do I start? Can a CDO or another executive run this innovation for me? What is my three- to five-year roadmap? often come up during the conversations. Most companies think that there is a set roadmap, or a silver bullet, for digital transformation, but that is not the case. Digital transformation is a journey without a destination, and each company must start small, acquire the necessary skills and knowledge, and continue to innovate.

It is time to face the digital reality and make it a priority. According to KPMG, 70 percent to 80 percent of CEOs believe that the next three years are more critical for their company than the last fifty. And there is good reason to worry, as 75 percent of S&P 500 companies from 2012 will be replaced by 2027 at the current disruption rate.

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Dr. Chakib Bouhdary

About Dr. Chakib Bouhdary

Dr. Chakib Bouhdary is the Digital Transformation Officer at SAP. Chakib spearheads thought leadership for the SAP digital strategy and advises on the SAP business model, having led its transformation in 2010. He also engages with strategic customers and prospects on digital strategy and chairs Executive Digital Exchange (EDX), which is a global community of digital innovation leaders. Follow Chakib on LinkedIn and Twitter