By John Soat, Forbes OracleVoice
What do mayonnaise, palm oil, and pig farming have in common? Companies that deal in such commodities are testing the viability of blockchain distributed ledger technology to keep verifiable tabs on their goods as they travel across global supply chains and end up in the hands—or on the lips—of increasingly finicky consumers.
Blockchain technology has generated considerable interest as a way for partners to collaborate, share data, and establish trust. It’s why blockchain is being poked and prodded by a good many businesses for its potential in a wide variety of networked environments.
A capability known as “track and trace” is emerging as a blockchain fundamental, especially in complex supply chains that depend on several tiers of collaborators. “Now you can start providing visibility into the layers of your supply chain which you typically could not reach, or if you could reach, you could not trust that the data is accurate or correct or current,” says Prasen Palvankar, an Oracle senior director of product management.
Businesses have been developing track-and-trace systems without blockchain for a while, Palvankar notes, “but blockchain adds efficiency, trust, and automation about how data is collected and shared among participants.”
Thank You, Uncle Sam
In the same way that financial applications spurred the development of relational databases, track-and-trace capability will likely accelerate blockchain’s development. And you can thank Uncle Sam for much of that momentum.
A number of new government regulations require companies to provide a detailed and verifiable audit trail of what took place across their supply chains. By 2023, for example, the US Federal Drug Administration will require every participant in the pharmaceutical supply line to employ fully digital, interoperable systems that support unit-level traceablity, according to the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA).
Here are a few examples of the Oracle Intelligent Track-and-Trace blockchain application’s use:
- Because freezing temperatures deteriorate the quality of mayonnaise, a major consumer products company wants to track the trucks shipping those products: where they’re going, how long they’re stopped, and the temperature variations they experience when they’re not moving. The company wants that data in near real time to perform up-to-date analytics.
- Another major consumer products manufacturer wants to track and record the use of palm oil in its products, to ensure that it’s indeed sustainably produced. Accurate tracking depends on the participation of suppliers at the very start of the supply chain—are their palm oils certified sustainable?—as well as those further along the chain to determine what percentage of that certified supply goes into their products.
- A supplier of pork in South America wants to provide its demanding customers—high-end grocery chains, sophisticated restaurants, and so on—a complete by-the-batch image of its home-grown product in a trusted, reliable format. That includes certifications at every stage of porcine development: the farm environment, any exposure to disease, vaccinations, butchering, and transportation.
To further help its customers make productive use of blockchain, Oracle’s track-and-trace application offers built-in “intelligent” features.
One such feature lets users establish rules regarding data sharing among blockchain network participants. “A lot of this data shouldn’t be available to everyone on the network,” Palvankar says. “There has to be control in terms of who actually has access to it.”
In addition, Oracle’s track-and-trace applications can employ machine-learning tools to perform deep analytics on any kind of data from any type of transaction performed across a supply chain, he says. Users can identify patterns that suggest potential weak spots. For example: Typically, how long does it take when I use Supplier #1 with Carrier #3 to transport this specific product? “The more data, the better the insights, the better to identify inefficiencies in your supply chain,” Palvankar says.
Computing history tells us that it might require just one compelling application to establish an innovative technology. In intelligent track and trace, blockchain may have its prime mover.