CHICAGO — Blockchain isn’t about stepping on the competition to gain a better position, advocates said at a United FreshTEC session.
The June 25 session, “Increasing Consumer Confidence and Improving Business Operations with Big Data,” was moderated by United Fresh Produce Association’s Jennifer McEntire, vice president of food safety and technology.
“Everyone benefits if everyone participates,” said Tejas Bhatt, senior director of food safety innovations for Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart. “There is a shared value proposition for everybody.”
Blockchain is a digital ledger technology being developed to share information throughout the supply chain.
Bhatt and Suzanne Livingston, food trust offering director for IBM, said blockchain is flexible enough to accommodate both large and small players in the supply chain.
“Is there any benefit to a single entity to go onto blockchain, or does everybody have to play?” McEntire asked. “And does everybody have to play in the same sand box? How many blockchains are there?”
Bhatt said blockchain is not a silver bullet.
“It doesn’t solve all problems for supply chain management, traceability, transparency, whatever you want to call it,” he said. “If you are a company considering blockchain, asking the question ‘What can blockchain do for me?’ that is the wrong question to ask.”
Instead, he said companies should focus on the business problem they are trying to solve for themselves and possibly for their supply chain and then consider if blockchain is the right solution to solve the problem.
Becoming more proactive and achieving more visibility in the supply chain is why Walmart partnered with IBM, he said.
IBM and Walmart tested the technology on fresh-cut mangoes in North America and with the pork supply chain in China, he said. Walmart could trace back supply to origin in seconds rather than in days.
“It really opened our eyes to what the power of the blockchain is and why it is different from a traditional traceability system with a single central database even though that central database is sitting on the cloud,” he said.
Rather than developing blockchain as a Walmart proprietary system that all of its suppliers have to pay into and subscribe to, Walmart and IBM invited Kroger and Wegmans and other retailers to explore how to apply blockchain technology to their supply chains.
“We wanted to make this a scalable, distributed decentralized model for enabling visibility, where every stakeholder in supply chain still has control of their data and can (give) permission to people to see what data they want them to see,” he said. “At the same time no single entity should have the kind of veto power or making decisions on data ownership and data privacy in this ecosystem we are building.”