Peer Perspective: Blockchain Is an Innovation Driver

Distributed ledger technology can make the supply chain more secure for everyone.

June 14, 2018

6 Min Read


Jaime Zarate

By Jaime Zarate, Chief Strategy Officer, Richardson Communications and Consulting

I’m often asked what blockchain technology is and how it can be used in customer environments. It’s best to think of blockchain as a tool that goes well beyond its role as the underlying platform that supports cryptocurrency. As with IoT, if you can imagine an innovative application of the technology, you can probably achieve it.

Blockchain technology, also known by its more generic name, “distributed ledger technology,” can support a variety of business processes and workflows requiring secure and permanent records. Conceptually speaking, think of it as an encrypted records database that can be securely shared between two distinct parties. Businesses looking to set up new intercompany processes or workflows and/or improve the customer experience can share sensitive data in a more secure environment than rewritable databases provide. Blockchain-based platforms require authentication of when data is posted to the ledger, and by whom. Moreover, data is encrypted and cannot be changed once written to the ledger. Thus, in business processes where there is risk of data being breached or changed, a trusted record can now be deployed between two federated entities.

Blockchain technology is a tool for governing accountability in business. Contracts, transactions and the records of them are among the defining structures in our economic, legal and political systems. They protect assets and set organizational boundaries. They establish and verify identities and chronicle events. They govern interactions among nations, organizations, communities and individuals. They guide managerial and social action. And yet these critical tools and the bureaucracies formed to manage them have not kept up with the economy’s digital transformation. In a digital world, the way we regulate and maintain administrative control has to change.

Blockchain promises to be this change by recording transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way. The ledger itself can also be programmed to trigger transactions automatically.

With blockchain, we can imagine a world in which contracts are embedded in digital code and stored in transparent, shared databases, where they are protected from deletion, tampering and revision. In this world, every agreement, every process, every task and every payment would have a digital record and signature that could be identified, validated, stored and shared. Intermediaries like lawyers, brokers and bankers might no longer be necessary. Individuals, organizations, machines and algorithms would freely transact and interact, with little friction. This is the immense potential of blockchain.

Here are a few ideas for how blockchain-enabled workflows and processes could empower customers:

  • A business that needs to track for goods, like lettuce or medicine, can use blockchain technology to securely monitor factors like temperature or location and record the stages of manufacturing or movement of assets.

  • Software-development teams working for different companies can capture who took part in each step of the development process.

  • Companies can manage their licensed digital content by securing authorship data and keeping track of who has accessed intellectual property.

  • Health-care providers can more securely store electronic health records in permanent non-rewritable databases.

  • Mortgage brokers can offer applicants a single place to store and share sensitive financial data with multiple lenders.

  • Insurance companies can reduce fraud by tracking customer interactions. In claims where multiple insurance companies are involved, data can be shared between them identifying events such as double payments.

Want something more meaty? Consider the slippery reality of …

… fish fraud.

Case Study: Something’s Fishy

In 2016, Oceana, an ocean conservation advocacy group, compiled a report drawing from 200 published studies on seafood fraud. Based on their findings, a whopping 20 percent of seafood is not labeled correctly. The problem extends to all corners of the globe and all levels of the supply chain, from the people catching the fish to those distributing and selling it.

The seafood-mislabeling infractions detailed in the report ranged from the relatively minor (a restaurant advertising wild salmon but serving a cheaper farmed salmon) to the downright disturbing: sushi chefs purposely mislabeling endangered whale meat as fatty tuna in order to smuggle it into the U.S.

The consequences of mislabeling pop up in global health, the economy and conservation efforts. According to the Oceana report, the best way to combat fraud is by increasing traceability. The report asserts that a more detailed and transparent record of information about the fish as it moves along the supply chain could help decrease instances of mislabeling. Blockchain could provide this record, and a number of companies are looking for ways to apply it to the seafood supply chain.

In April 2017, for example, Intel released a demonstration case study showing how Hyperledger Sawtooth, a platform for creating and managing blockchains, could facilitate seafood supply chain traceability. That study used sensors to track and record information about a fish’s location, temperature and other characteristics as it moved from boat to restaurant. In January 2018, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) announced its appropriately named Blockchain Supply Chain Traceability Project. Through that project, the WWF and its partners are cracking down on illegal tuna fishing by recording every step along the supply chain on a blockchain.

“Through blockchain technology, soon a simple scan of tuna packaging using a smartphone app will tell the story of a tuna fish — where and when the fish was caught, by which vessel and fishing method,” said WWF-New Zealand CEO Livia Esterhazy.. “Consumers will have certainty that they’re buying legally caught, sustainable tuna with no slave labor or oppressive conditions involved.”

Of course, getting everyone along the supply chain to agree to a new recording system might not be easy, and that’s why a blockchain-based seafood solution like Fishcoin could be useful. The idea behind that project is to reward people all along the chain for providing valuable data directly to those at the end of it. For example, a fisherman in a developing nation might send a restaurant or grocery store information on the seafood he just caught. This triggers a smart contract that transfers a certain number of Fishcoins into his cryptowallet. The fisherman can then exchange those Fishcoins for something of value, such as prepaid cellphone minutes.

Most of these projects are still in the development stages, but should they take off, they could have far-reaching implications for global health, the economy, and of course, your dinner plate. What could you do for your customers with blockchain?

Industry veteran and former XO cloud evangelist and strategist Jaime Zarate brings more than 20 years of telecommunications, systems integration, IT outsourcing and managed services experience to Richardson Communications and Consulting. Jaime brings a unique, broad understanding of aligning a client’s strategy with processes, applications, infrastructure and networks, as well as, extensive hands-on experience in the development and deployment of cloud solutions. Before joining Richardson Communications and Consulting, Jaime was a strategic planning and cloud-services consultant to companies such as AT&T, Fujitsu, Rockwell, Unisys and XO Communications. He also served in business development and global alliance management roles.

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