How to Implement Blockchain in the Supply Chain: 7 Mandatory Steps
For several years, Walmart, McDonald's, IBM, FedEx, Alibaba, Starbucks and many other well-known brands have been using blockchain to optimize their supply chains and require the same from partners, as new technology can save billions of dollars, simplify workflow, eliminate errors and inaccuracies as well as increase customer confidence.
As FedEx CEO Fred Smith said at the Consensus 2018 conference: “You will either implement blockchain or disappear!” And today we will describe how to do it - how to implement blockchain in the supply chains of your business. What is needed for this, who should do what and what problems you may encounter.
It’s also not worth introducing blockchain if:
If the above items are not your case, you can safely proceed with the implementation of the blockchain in the supply chain of your business. This will require from a couple of months to a year of real time, depending on the scale and complexity of your logistics. To speed up and simplify this process, use our step-by-step instructions.
The first step in implementing the blockchain is to decide how exactly you will use it. It is not necessary to describe the technology itself at this stage, only use cases. A simple example is Walmart's Food Traceability Initiative. The trading network, together with IBM, created a blockchain to track the life path of food products from the manufacturer to the shelves in supermarkets.
Their platform collects information about:
Walmart launched this project to track counterfeit, spoilage and fakes, as well as in the case of force majeure, such as in the case of greenery infected with E.coli, to quickly track the source of infection and infected lots. Provenance, MediLedger and TE-Food startups went along a similar path.
If you are a big "fish", for this it is enough to threaten with refusal to cooperate, as Walmart did after the next case of infection of the greens with E.coli bacterium. If your influence is not so great, you need to show partners the benefits of switching to blockchain:
If your partners are already using blockchain to optimize supply chain logistics, it might be better to join their project rather than create something of their own. In this case, you will save a lot of money and time, but most likely you will not get a lot of rights with regard to the management and development of the blockchain platform.
When all participants in your sales chains (or pilot project) have agreed, you need to choose a method for reconciling data in the administrative register. It's about blockchain type and consensus algorithm. By type of blockchain, they are divided into:
As for the consensus algorithm, there are also several options. For example, in the Walmart blockchain (Hyperledger Fabric), a separate service is engaged in the formation of blocks. VeChain uses Proof-of-Authority (PoA). The JPMorgan Chase blockchain called Quorum uses a modified version of Proof-of-work (POW). Which algorithm to choose depends on the blockchain platform and the distribution of rights and responsibilities between participants in your supply chain. For supply chains, it is best to choose a private or blockchain consortium, since they are fast and allow you to hide some of the information: financial calculations, the content of documents, and the like.
If these solutions do not work, then you need to choose one of the universal platforms and optimize it for your project. We are talking about Ethereum, TRON, EOS, Hyperledger Fabric and other blockchains sharpened for launching applications. Here, the best solution would be EOS, since this blockchain is fast, has no problems with scaling, and is customized for work with IoT. Hyperledger Fabric is also a good option, especially if you need to create a private network with several levels of access rights.
The next step in the implementation of blockchain in the supply chain will be the development of smart contracts. These are computer algorithms for automating formalized business processes and exchanging values, such as money, goods, property rights, information or documents. They speed up and reduce the cost of processes, eliminate intermediaries, and also help fight corruption and the human factor.
Their development is subject to the following rules:
In addition, statistics show that many companies overestimate the effectiveness of their business processes, neglecting the lack of standards, a large number of errors and data losses when transferring from one department to another (or between partner companies). Usually, such things create a lot of problems that are solved manually without the knowledge of the authorities, so the authorities who decided to integrate the blockchain into their business are not able to assess the scale of the work ahead.
In the article “ERP System Development Process: Key Tips” we described how such things failed to integrate ERP systems in companies such as Nike, PG&E, HP, Woolworths and Target. It also describes how to avoid such problems.
The last step in introducing blockchain into supply chains is to test it on real business processes. Usually, a pilot project is launched for this, that is, the system is tested on a small scale on a small chain in which all user roles are involved: manufacturer, carrier, distributor, retailer, buyer and financial contractors.
For example, Walmart tested its system on the supply of mangoes from Mexico to the United States. Their pilot project involved 16 farms, 3 brokers, 2 packaging lines, 2 warehouses and retail stores Walmart. After confirming the concept, the network retailer expanded the pilot project to supply pork from China and supply packaged goods within the United States, and then to other supply chains.
You need to go the same way. Choose a simple (short) supply chain in which you can use all the user roles of your blockchain platform. Test the system on this chain, identify all problems and fix them, and only after that integrate the blockchain into all the logistics processes of your business.