By Pete Harris, Co-Founder and Research Principal
Welcome to the new monthly update from Chain Business Insights, in which we focus on news and developments from blockchain technology vendors operating in the supply chain space. Usually, this update is for our clients only, but since this is a pilot posting, as it were, we’re making it free to all.
A lot is happening in the blockchain meets supply chain world, and each month we want to highlight what is important. If you are doing something that you feel qualifies for inclusion, we want to hear from you, so please contact us.
This month, we have news for you regarding IBM, Ambrosus, Provenance, Ripe.io, R3, TradeIX, Cisco and the Trusted Internet Alliance, Oracle and SAP. Let’s get going, starting on a few developments related to food supply chains (which we dived deep into in some recent research) …
In case anyone is wondering how important blockchain is to IBM, a recent tweet from the company’s CTO Jerry Cuomo provides a good indication:
True, those words didn’t come directly from him – he was quoting from a news article – but he clearly liked the sentiment that was expressed.
More specifically in the supply chain space, Big Blue has expanded its food safety project with Walmart to turn it into the makings of a consortium. In addition to Walmart, early members include other food retailers, producers and logistics companies, with Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick & Co., McLane, Nestle, Tyson Foods, Nestle and Unilever.
The food safety opportunity is focused on track and trace of products, against a world where 1 in 10 people fall ill and 400,000 actually die annually due to contaminated food. Once a problem is detected with a consumer, the imperative is track a product, and often its constituents, back to their source as quickly as possible – to shut down the bad producer while keeping the overall supply chain running and stable.
Multiple pilots are planned with these players, though the common thread will be their use of IBM’s cloud-delivered blockchain platform. At presentations, IBM has provided a glimpse of what a food safety application might look like, but it’s not yet ready to offer it as a product.
Elsewhere, IBM has begun work with PSA International, a Singapore-based port operator with operations in Asia, South America and Europe, on proof-of-concepts to use blockchain technology to automate document transfers between trading partners.
On the trade finance front, IBM has begun to work with a number of banks on a trade finance pilot dubbed Batavia. Involved in the project, which is led by UBS and is expected to run in the first quarter of 2018 are Commerzbank, Bank of Montreal, Erste Group Bank and CaixaBank.
Meanwhile, IBM (and Microsoft) has teamed with the GS1 communications standards organization to leverage its standards for “identification and structured data” within blockchain-based supply chain applications. GS1 has standards for product codes and business vocabulary, and along with a blockchain’s shared ledger, should enable a standardized exchange of data, and item tracking.
The Swiss-based startup has an ambitious goal to create a supply chain ecosystem – with an initial focus on food and pharmaceuticals – based on Ethereum blockchain, smart contracts and IoT sensors. Now, it has has begun its “Token Generation Event” to allow investors to purchase its Amber cryptocurrency – that will be used for transactions between participants.
The road to token generation has not been without challenges, such as the need to incorporate strong Know Your Customer controls, as well as fighting off denial-of-service attacks on its servers and fake websites – the world of ICOs motivates all manner of bad actors. Luckily, the Ambrosus team were diligent and acted fast when they encountered nefarious activity.
To help potential users understand how Ambrosus can make a difference, the company has created a few cases studies, including for Halal food quality control, the olive oil supply chain and applications in the pharmaceutical industry.
With a $800K seed fund raise behind it, UK startup Provenance is making a lot of noise this month via its Open October – #openoctober – program, designed to promote “brands and businesses sharing information about the origin and histories of food products, empowering shoppers with the knowledge to choose according to their values and preferences.”
The company has also been showcasing some of its recent successes and partnerships, including tracking of poultry from Arkansas to the West coast, and how it is working with a number of certification and standards bodies.
Californian startup Ripe Technology – or Ripe.io as it likes to be known – has a somewhat similar mission to Ambrosus in that it wants to create a food supply chain ecosystem. In Ripe.io’s case, it is looking to integrate data from many sources – including participant databases and IoT sensors, and apply analytics that can feed into smart contracts that run automated processes.
It’s a lofty goal, but it’s made a practical start already with an initiative involving The Cornucopia Project, a non-profit agricultural education organization, and IoT sensor vendor Analog Devices focused on growing better tomatoes.
For the project, Analog Devices is providing a prototype of its crop monitoring solution, which measures environmental factors to help farmers make decisions about crops related to irrigation, fertilization, pest management, and harvesting. All of that data is fed into Ripe.io’s blockchain-based platform, which makes decisions based on factors such as temperature, with an end goal of making tomatoes grown in New Hampshire better than those imported from abroad. Here’s a describing the pilot.
Cisco, Skuchain and Friends
Networking giant Cisco Systems is delving into blockchain technology with a focus on how IoT devices and data can be secured. That’s the focus of the Trusted IoT Alliance, of which Cisco is a founder. Other companies getting on board early are IoT sensor manufacturers and security leaders Bosch and Gemalto. They are joined by some blockchain startups, like Chronicled, ConsenSys and Skuchain. Some large potential users, like BNY Mellon and Foxconn are also in the early mix. The full list is shown below:
It seems that Skuchain founder and CTO Zaki Manian liked the Alliance so much that he quit his startup to be the organization’s founding executive director. Surprise, surprise – an early focus for the Alliance is on supply chain applications.
R3, TradeIX and 12 Banks
R3 – which has developed its own private Corda distributed ledger, and which leads a consortium of banks and other financial services players – has joined forces with TradeIX, developer of a blockchain-based trade finance system, on a pilot involving 12 major banks.
The banks involved are Bangkok Bank, Barclays, BBVA, Bladex, BNP Paribas, Commerzbank, CTBC Bank, ING, Intesa Sanpaolo, Shinhan Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland and Wells Fargo. The pilot implements an open account trade flow – where goods are delivered ahead of payment for them – based on TradeIX’s TIX Platform, implemented on the Corda distributed ledger.
Says a R3 press release: “[Using the platform, participants can ]automate pre- and post-shipment financing and risk mitigation for corporate buyers and sellers around the world. Standard trade finance smart contracts on a distributed ledger infrastructure will provide secure and automated financing of supply chains using a single record for critical trade data including identities, purchase orders, invoices, shipping and logistics information, trade assets, financing activity, credit risk and more.”
Separately, R3 announced that Corda has achieved release 1.0 status. A key aspect of this release is “API Stability” – which means the programming interfaces that developers use to access Corda functions will not change from this point onwards. In turn, this should encourage developers to create applications for Corda and implement them in pilots and production systems.
Oracle and SAP
And finally, two major IT vendors – Oracle and SAP – that each have significant focuses on supply chains, especially on the finance side, have announced blockchain services that look pretty similar to one another, as well as to IBM’s blockchain offering.
Both the Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service and SAP Cloud Platform Blockchain Service – which are based on the open source Hyperledger Fabric blockchain – are delivered via the respective company’s cloud services. While Oracle and SAP run their own data centers, SAP also allows its cloud platform to run on other infrastructure, from the likes of Amazon AWS, Google and Microsoft.
It’s notable that Oracle is getting into blockchain. Successful though it is, no one would accuse Oracle of being on the leading edge of any technology trend. It tends to track new technologies quietly (or in an openly hostile way, as was the case with cloud computing) until it feels that the commercial environment is right for it to be rolled out. So Oracle’s move could indicate a tipping point for blockchain.
SAP is aligning its blockchain offering with IoT and AI services as part of a ‘big bet’ for the company, called Leonardo. It has also kicked off a ‘co-innovation’ initiative with a number of partners that’s focused on digital supply chain efforts. Those partners include Capgemini, Deloitte, GrainCorp, HCL Technologies, HERE Technologies, Moog, Natura Cosmeticos, NatApp and PeerNova.
Between them, SAP and its partners plan to “explore applications including registering events to blockchain from product inception and design to manufacturing and logistics phases for product track and trace. The program also addresses parts serialization and order validation for inventory management and for product providence and authenticity.”
Finally, it is also worth noting that in addition to these moves from SAP, the company’s SAP Ariba procurement network is also working with blockchain partners, including Everledger, Hijro and TradeIX.
OK, so that’s the update for this month. We hope you find it a useful way to keep up to date on what blockchain means for your supply chain business. Feedback from everyone and updates from vendors is welcomed. So please contact us.