Healthcare Consolidated Inc.: The 1mg Story

Devika Rao

Prashant Tandon’s healthcare data startup is an all-in-one platform empowering consumers to overcome the opacity of the healthcare sector. In 2007, when Tandon was at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, several fellow students were working on startup ideas. The desire to be an entrepreneur and create value was born then, he says. Back in India, he chose the healthcare sector for his startup, having gained some experience in the field while working for McKinsey’s healthcare practice after finishing business school.

In 2009, Tandon embarked on his first startup,, along with friend Sameer Maheshwari, whom he had persuaded to give up his Silicon Valley job and join him in India. The software enabled doctors to manage patients better, but the duo abandoned it within a year, as doctors were wary of sharing patient information with the platform. Their next venture, HealthKart, was a B2C venture for nutrition and wellness products. HealthKart attracted a range of venture capital investors, including Sequoia Capital, Intel Capital, Kae Capital, Omidyar Network, and MakeMyTrip founder Deep Kalra.

Within two years, HealthKart became profitable. At this stage, Tandon, who had always been troubled by the opacity of the healthcare sector, saw a fresh business opportunity in empowering consumers to make informed decisions about medicine buying. This led him to set up a separate company, HealthKart Plus, in 2012. Tandon headed the new venture, while Maheshwari continued to look after HealthKart. HealthKart Plus was subsequently rebranded as 1mg. The same investors who backed HealthKart also invested in 1mg, initially at $6 million, and $15 million in a subsequent round.

Trust is currency

At its simplest level, 1mg is an online drugstore, which delivers medicines in 605 Indian cities and towns according to prescriptions uploaded on its app. Tandon attributes the growth of 1mg to the intuitive and user-friendly interface of the website and the mobile app. Customers appreciate being able to see less expensive substitutes for the prescribed drugs and side effects of each brand. With an array of brands available in the country at widely differing prices, but delivering the same therapeutic effects, 1mg empowers consumers by enabling them to make well-informed, cost-effective decisions.

“Outside of the metros, patients don’t get access to a lot of drugs,” says Tandon. “There are also huge authenticity concerns.” Previously, there was no comprehensive database of medicines available either. “We worked with distributors to get information on the latest drugs, their prices, and side effects,” he adds. “We ended up creating what is probably India’s first database of medicines.”

To further empower customers, Tandon put the database in the public domain, ready to download for anyone who wanted it. A well-meaning customer shared this as a WhatsApp post in January 2013, and the database promptly went viral, with 300,000 downloads in three days. “It made us the most popular health app by far,” says Tandon. The transparency did wonders for business too, as people began to trust 1mg. “In healthcare, the biggest currency is trust,” he adds. Tandon’s 1mg app has been downloaded over 10 million times. No wonder Tandon believes that 1mg is the Wikipedia for medicines in India.

Adding new services

Keen to become a one-stop shop for all healthcare needs, 1mg has been adding services to its platform, such as laboratory diagnostics and e-consultations. The company has already made four acquisitions to further expand its portfolio and services – it bought Homeobuy, which sells homeopathic and Ayurvedic medicines, in June 2015. In July 2016, Medd, a marketplace for booking diagnostic and imaging tests was acquired. MediAngels, which caters to a wide network of super-specialty hospitals, was acquired in December 2016, and Dawailelo was acquired in August 2017 for its impressive network across India.

Tech for the consumer

The data that 1mg has collected provides a unique perspective on drug consumption patterns. “The quality and level of the data we have is rich, deep, and nuanced,” says Tandon. “We want to take this data to a stage where we can use it to make helpful interventions. We want to get into preventive and proactive management of healthcare.” The database can be used to predict what consumers of medicines are looking for and, in time, as it expands, can even provide the government insights into disease outbreaks.

While 1mg’s data is already displaying its transformative power, Tandon believes that artificial intelligence (AI) – or machine learning (ML) – will also play a significant role in enhancing the healthcare experience in the future. Already, 1mg uses machine learning in a simple form for triaging – or deciding which customer needs attention first. While earlier queries during e-consultations were sorted manually and redirected to specific specialists based on their nature, automation now does the job, saving time for both patients and doctors. As the data gets more robust, Tandon hopes AI can give the consumer a more nuanced, focused experience.

“We are trying to create a platform, where, based on our learning of a profile, we are able to send very relevant content,” says Tandon. Personalized customer experiences based on a customer’s stage of life or disease is on the anvil. However, it’s early days for AI at 1mg, he admits.

“Improving customer experience will always be an ongoing journey. We’ve just launched a Dropbox for consumers to store prescriptions. We’ve created a pill reminder. We’re making readability for people who need assistance, whether it is voice-based or larger text.”

To tap rural areas, the 1mg app has been made available in six languages so far. A voice-based interface is also under consideration.

Partnering for growth

Tandon is keen on partnerships to fuel growth. He would like to team up with insurance companies, for instance, for outpatient insurance, or with communications service providers to enable consumer access. He is also in talks with the government to assist the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aushadhi Yojna, under which the Department of Pharmaceuticals sets up fair price chemist shops across the country. “We believe healthcare will not work in isolation and we, as a platform, don’t want to stay as a closed system,” he says. “We want to partner with the rest of the healthcare ecosystem. It will give us much more access to information and data about the consumer as well.”

Tandon maintains the healthcare playing field is so vast that competition is welcome. “It’s great to have some competition as it helps develop the market,” he says. “All of us in the online health space put together are probably about 0.3-0.4% of the market. Right now the fight is not with other online players. The game is much bigger. Healthcare is recognized as a global area of interest, and I expect this space to get even more interesting.”

Find out how technology is heading off healthcare disaster; see Heroes in the Race to Save Antibiotics.


Devika Rao

About Devika Rao

Devika Rao is an entrepreneur and writer based in Bangalore. She has over 15 years of work experience in research, marketing and communications.

How Artificial Intelligence Can Increase Your Business Productivity

Sayan Bose

By 2035, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the power to increase productivity by 40 percent or more, according to Accenture. For manufacturing companies, integrating AI into legacy information and communications systems will deliver significant cost, time and process-related savings quickly. AI improves the manufacturer’s bottom line through intelligent automation, labor and capital augmentation, and innovation diffusion. For example, by analyzing incidents in real time, AI can provide early warning of potential problems and propose alternative solutions. These benefits mean that AI has the potential to boost profitability an average of 38 percent by 2035.

Why AI is the future for discrete manufacturers

AI helps discrete manufacturers unlock trapped value in their core businesses. Machine-based neural networks can understand a billion pieces of data in seconds, placing the perfect solution at a decision maker’s fingertips. Your data is constantly being updated, which means your machine learning models will be updated, too. Your company will always have access to the latest information, including breaking insights, which can be applied to rapidly changing business environments. Three important AI benefits are:

  1. Make decisions faster and with more confidence. How do you know what to fix first at your manufacturing plant? AI can automate and prioritize routine decision-making processes so your maintenance team can decide what to fix first with confidence.
  1. Access immediate, actionable insights from Big Data. One of the most exciting opportunities with AI is its ability to identify and understand patterns in Big Data that humans currently cannot. AI can predict future opportunities and recommend concrete actions your manufacturing company can take today to capitalize on these opportunities.
  1. Protect sensitive data. AI helps to eliminate human error, which improves output quality and strengthens cybersecurity. Strong cybersecurity is important for protecting sensitive, proprietary data in manufacturing and ensuring your competitive edge.

How Trenitalia uses Big Data and AI for predictive maintenance and productivity

The Italian train operator Trenitalia used AI and IoT to streamline maintenance and increase productivity. The Italian company has a 400 million euro operating income and transports 60 million passengers per year. Unnecessary downtime for repairs hurt productivity and wasted valuable resources on maintenance costs. The company wanted to perform all required interventions (and only those interventions that were necessary) at the exact right time, ensuring availability of the right resources for maximum uptime. The goal was simple: no unplanned downtime and higher asset utilization.

“Every year we spend €330 million on parts and on repairing parts which are subject to continual wear and tear,” says Trenitalia’s Chief Finance Officer, Enrico Grigliatti. “Having advance warning when each part of the machinery deteriorates means better management of inventory and ad hoc maintenance. All the more so given that today 60% of trains’ control costs is cyclical, consisting of planned maintenance, but the remaining 40% is corrective, consisting of unforeseeable faults that cause expenditures to go through the roof and infuriates passengers. Big Data allows us to determine how and when to take action.”

Trenitalia owns and operates a fleet of around 2,000 electro-trains, 2,000 locomotives and 30,000 coaches and wagons. The company equipped 9,000 trains of their trains, locomotive, coaches, and wagons with 6 million sensors that gather information on the train’s operating performance.

Traditional maintenance policies adopted by Railway operators can be significantly sub-optimized and create both unnecessary costs and lower asset utilization. AI is changing this. Highly granular telemetry data provides a complete picture of current and projected asset conditions. A “predictive” software brain then extrapolates and analyzes this data, predicting the perfect moment to perform maintenance. Dynamic maintenance plans reflect the specific status of each and every component of the train. This predictive maintenance approach helps Trenitalia achieve maximum productivity through maintenance efficiency.

Next steps: Using AI to boost your company’s productivity

AI can reverse the cycle of low profitability through intelligent automation and innovation diffusion. To capitalize on these benefits, manufacturing companies need a partner that can simplify and streamline the AI and IoT integration process.

Learn how to innovate at scale by incorporating individual innovations back to the core business to drive tangible business value: Accelerating Digital Transformation in Industrial Machinery and Components. Explore how to bring Industry 4.0 insights into your business today: Industry 4.0: What’s Next?


Sayan Bose

About Sayan Bose

Sayan Bose is a Global Director within SAP Industry Business Unit - Industrial Machinery & Components (IM&C). Working in this global role, he is the key alliance for IM&C business in North & Latin America. Sayan has rich experience on Solution and Business Process Consulting, Project Management, SAP Application Consulting and SAP Solution Pre-sales for Manufacturing Industry. He is always looking for opportunities to partnering with manufacturing companies to run, grow, connect and transform in this digital world.

Take Back Your Customers With IoT Initiatives

Joerg Koesters

It’s clear: The retail industry is changing at a rapid pace. It has never been so important for retailers to grab hold of their customers and create new sales points, drive better engagement, and build brand loyalty. The implementation of IoT can provide that important connection point for retailers and customers, providing a new way for retailers to engage with and meet the needs of their customers.

Retail trends are worrisome: A jumpstart with IoT can change it all

By April of 2017, the U.S. had lost 30,000 positions in the retail industry, and CoStar Group reported that 10 percent, or 1 billion square feet of retail space, would shutter by the end of the year. In the UK, continued Brexit concerns plague the retail industry. In Australia, there’s a growing concern about Amazon moving into a retail market already struggling to stay alive. These key trends are worrisome for retailers.

The key here is that consumers are still buying. In some cases, consumer spending is up. The problem is, it’s much easier to buy what’s needed online and wait for it to arrive rather than head to a store. That’s what retailers need to change. They need to give consumers a better experience when they walk in the door to convince them to come more often, buy more, and increase their brand loyalty. IoT can help with that.

At the same time, most retailers today see the value of turning their attention to improving e-commerce operations. Implementing the right technology can ensure that shopping carts are not left empty and that consumers always have an idea of what is in stock and ready to buy.

Retailers secure profitability again through the connected customer

Retailers have an interest in IoT. It provides improvements in inventory management, asset management, and consumer experience-driven sales. The simplest explanation of the future of retail is that IoT will become a critical enabler of the shopping experience. What does the connected customer expect? What can they provide to the industry?

IoT improves customer satisfaction

A key component of IoT in the retail experience is its ability to enhance customer satisfaction. Happy customers translate into stronger loyalty, larger transactions, and more frequent visits to retail locations. IoT can connect people, including customers, associates, and service providers, directly to products and to product information.

That means it can help to improve the visibility of product. Consumers know what’s available, and that drives their ability and willingness to purchase now. It also reduces inaccuracies in inventory availability. This is one of the most common reasons e-commerce retailers see abandoned order carts, customer dissatisfaction, and even brand switching.

Profitability increases

With more customer satisfaction and loyalty, retailers see long-term profitability rise. Initially, this means bigger checks, but it also means increased sell-through. It improves profitability overall but also reduces the need to mark down products now, a critical concern for many retailers today. Consumers have become accustomed to buying only when there’s a sale or discount. Retailers no longer have to mark down their product to see sales as frequently.

Personalized marketing drives better sales performance

Finally, IoT creates personalized marketing opportunities for retailers. This type of marketing is perhaps the most important component of physical store marketing going forward. Personalized marketing is the ability to send specific messages of sales, opportunities, or product awareness to a consumer that’s most likely to buy. This leads to higher conversion rates and better sales performance in every scenario.

The changing retail sector is more consumer-focused than ever

It’s estimated that 70 percent of retail decision makers across the globe are adopting IoT to improve customer experiences. Another key fact from the Zebra 2017 Retail Vision Study says that 90 percent of retailers plan to implement some type of buy-online/pickup-in-store plan within the next four years. As these details demonstrate, there’s a growing need to change the way you do business to meet the needs of today’s consumer.

Imagine, for a moment, how personalized marketing could work for the average retail location. A consumer stops at a shopping mall. The mall’s implemented IoT system notices the consumer based on his or her opt-in app. It can provide insight into the latest discounts or perhaps offer in-store purchases in a flash sale. Retailer A sees that this consumer, who purchased a specific product from them, is nearby. The retailer can ping the consumer’s phone, offer a flash sale on that item or provide information about bulk inventory, and the customer benefits. This creates instant satisfaction to the consumer and provides a clear opportunity for the retailer, and the shopping center, to connect and engage their consumer.

The key here is the technology behind IoT. With the most effective system in place, including the hardware, software, and connectivity, it becomes possible to embrace a better customer-retail connection. Of course, having the framework in place and the tools to pull in and analyze that data is the critical first step. From there, the more companies implement IoT strategies, the more they will comprehensively change the retail atmosphere.

Learn how to innovate at scale by incorporating individual innovations back to the core business to drive tangible business value: Accelerating Digital Transformation in Retail. Explore how to bring Industry 4.0 insights into your business today: Industry 4.0: What’s Next?


Joerg Koesters

About Joerg Koesters

Joerg Koesters is the Head of Retail Marketing and Communication at SAP. He is a Technology Marketing executive with 20 years of experience in Marketing, Sales and Consulting, Joerg has deep knowledge in retail and consumer products having worked both in the industry and in the technology sector.

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.



Why Blockchain Is Crucial For FP&A: Part 1

Brian Kalish

Part 17 in the Dynamic Planning Series

In these times of almost continuous technological change, there is a natural tendency to be suspect of whatever is being heralded as the “flavor of the month” or the “next best bet.” In early 2017, I was graciously given the opportunity to speak on what I believed to be the technologies that were transforming finance and specifically, the FP&A function. The talk I ended up giving covered five areas:

  • Advanced analytics and forecasting
  • Robotic process automation
  • Cloud and Software-as-a-Service
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Blockchain

While all these topics deserve further investigation, for this article, I want to focus on blockchain. Part of the reason for diving deeper into blockchain is the lack of understanding of what it actually is and the great amount of time people in the finance function are currently spending talking about it. This has greatly changed in the past nine months.

Last March, while hosting an FP&A Roundtable in Boston, I ask a group of 25 senior FP&A professionals how familiar they were with the concept of blockchain. Out of this august group, there was only one participant who felt truly comfortable with the concept. I still get asked on a regular basis, all over the world, “Blockchain. What is it?”

Blockchain: What is it?

By allowing digital information to be distributed but not copied, blockchain technology has created the spine of a new type of Internet. Picture a spreadsheet that is duplicated thousands of times across a network of computers. Now imagine that this network is designed to regularly update this spreadsheet, and you have a basic understanding of blockchain.

Information held on a blockchain exists as a shared and continually reconciled database. This is a way of using the network that has obvious benefits. The blockchain database isn’t stored in any single location, meaning the records it keeps are truly transparent and easily verifiable. No centralized version of this information exists for someone to corrupt. Hosted by many computers simultaneously, its data is accessible to any authorized user.

Blockchain technology is like the Internet in that it has a built-in robustness. By storing blocks of information that are identical across its network, the blockchain 1) cannot be controlled by any single entity and 2) has no single point of failure. The Internet itself has proven to be durable for almost 30 years. It’s a track record that bodes well for blockchain technology as it continues to be developed.

A self-auditing ecosystem

The blockchain network lives in a state of consensus, one that automatically checks in with itself on a regular basis. A kind of self-auditing ecosystem of a digital value, the network reconciles every transaction that happens at regular intervals. Each group of these transactions is referred to as a “block.” Two important properties result from this:

Transparency. Data is embedded within the network as a whole, and by definition, is available to all authorized users.

Incorruptibility. Altering any unit of information on the blockchain would mean using a huge amount of computing power to override the entire network. In theory, it is possible; however, in practice, it’s unlikely to happen.

A decentralized technology

By design, the blockchain is a decentralized technology, so anything that happens on it is a function of the network as a whole. Some important implications stem from this. By creating a new way to verify transactions, aspects of traditional commerce may become unnecessary.

Today’s Internet has security problems that are familiar to everyone. However, by storing data across its network, the blockchain eliminates the risks that come with data held centrally. There are no centralized points of vulnerability that can be exploited. In addition, while we all currently rely on the “username/password” system to protect our identity and assets online, blockchain security methods use encryption technology.

I hope this little tutorial helps describe what blockchain is. In my next article, I’ll discuss the value of blockchain to the FP&A profession.

For more on this topic, read the two-part “Blockchain and the CFO” series and “When Blockchain Fulfills CFOs’ Paperless Vision.”

2018 will be a busy year with FP&A Roundtables in St. Louis, Charlotte, Atlanta, San Diego, Las Vegas, London, Boston, Minneapolis, DFW, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Jeddah, and many other locations around the world to support the global FP&A community.

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Brian Kalish

About Brian Kalish

Brian Kalish is founder and principal at Kalish Consulting. As a public speaker and writer addressing many of the most topical issues facing treasury and FP&A professionals today, he is passionately committed to building and connecting the global FP&A community. He hosts FP&A Roundtable meetings in North America, Europe, Asia, and South America. Brian is former executive director of the global FP&A Practice at AFP. He has over 20 years experience in finance, FP&A, treasury, and investor relations. Before joining AFP, he held a number of treasury and finance positions with the FHLB, Washington Mutual/JP Morgan, NRUCFC, Fifth Third Bank, and Fannie Mae. Brian attended Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA for his undergraduate studies and the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech for his graduate work. In 2014, Brian was awarded the Global Certified Corporate FP&A Professional designation.