Comment: Unlocking the potential of blockchain technology
Developed as a means of securing ledgers for financial transactions, blockchain technology has many more potential uses and is rapidly gaining recognition as an important architecture for connectivity and the Internet of Things. In particular, it could be used to streamline supply chain management systems in the food and pharmaceutical sectors, whilst providing a robust assurance of traceability.
Since its origin less than 10 years ago to underpin the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, blockchain technology has evolved rapidly and is already being applied in a variety of ways. It offers a decentralised, transparent technique for storing data, which could revolutionise the way in which information is stored and shared. It is particularly well suited for recording transactional data across complex supply chains, where there are many parties involved and where end-to-end transparency is important. It is also effectively immutable meaning it is highly secure and can’t be tampered with - in error or deliberately.
Demonstrating its suitability for application in supply chain systems, a company called Everledger has been using the technology to provide an assurance of provenance in the trade of diamonds. Specific data about each diamond including its country of origin and the mine where it was recovered, is permanently recorded on a blockchain so it can be viewed by potential buyers who may want to check its credentials prior to completing a transaction. The transparency and reliability of the system is particularly reassuring to potential buyers in a marketplace where there is a high risk of illegal trading and ethical concerns.
Of course, all blockchains are different and this is also part of the technology’s appeal. Depending on the nature of the supply chain, specific identifiers can be stored and protocols set up to allow access to a secure group if needed. Once established, the system can be optimised for different purposes. For example, changes to protocols could help to improve security or the speed of uploads.
In the pharmaceutical and food industries, supply chains can be particularly complex and suppliers are often geographically spread. Due to the potential risks associated with bringing new drugs and treatments to market, and the high risk of contamination in the food sector, product recalls may be required and corporate brands are judged on how well they react in such situations.
Blockchain technology could be particularly useful in such scenarios; helping companies to identify affected batches quickly and where they have ended up. Close analysis of the information stored on a blockchain could also help to identify other potential risk areas, where intervention may be required.
In this fast-paced area of innovation, where development is still at a relatively early stage, there are plenty of opportunities to secure patents. Standards for blockchain technology are just starting to emerge, which will increase commonality, but even after they are fully established, innovators should still be able to secure patents for revisions and improvements.
If we equate the opportunity to the world of mobile phones, which is a relatively mature marketplace, a new entrant seeking to launch a new smartphone today would be required to invest in multiple licences before doing so, giving it access to various standard essential technologies. A similar commercial opportunity now exists for early innovators of blockchain technology to obtain patents that become new standards.
Among the early innovators in this space, San Francisco-based Coinbase and Korean company, Coinplug, are both prolific filers of patents related to use of the technology as a system for users of cryptocurrencies. Other large corporates, including Mastercard, Bank of America and IBM also hold a significant number of blockchain technology patent applications.
In addition to building its own proprietary portfolio, IBM is also backing an open source initiative, called HyperLedger, to advance the collaborative development of cross-industry blockchain technologies. By licensing key blockchain-related IP in open innovation initiatives, key players in the sector can hope to influence the direction of future innovation.
For innovators seeking to develop new blockchain ledgers for supply chain-related applications, there are still many opportunities to secure commercial protection, giving them the exclusivity needed to market their solutions to industry. While early-stage collaboration could help to develop ideas more quickly, care should be taken to confirm the ownership of any IP that might be created in the future.
RAIN RFID, IoT and AI are key to a proactive supply chain
Across supply chains around the world, we have seen leading companies rely heavily on technologies like AI and IoT during the pandemic. These digital solutions have enabled businesses to accurately capture and ultimately use their own first-party data to drive efficiencies and protect increasingly fragile bottom lines.
However, what is less commonly known is the increasing role of RAIN RFID technology in supporting IoT solutions. By using RAIN RFID to capture item data and then feed that data into AI systems, businesses can identify inefficiencies within the supply chain and make informed decisions.
What is RAIN RFID?
In short, RAIN RFID is a powerful IoT technology that enables itemised data collection. By applying small, battery-free tags to items, organisations can identify, locate, and authenticate each of those items, scanning up to thousands of items simultaneously with a variety of devices, including hand-held, fixed and wearable readers.
RAIN RFID solutions dramatically improve the operational capabilities of an organisation by ensuring they have exactly the right items, in the right quantities, at the right locations, at the right time. During the pandemic, RAIN RFID solutions have been key to limiting disruptions in retail and manufacturing supply chains, most notably by increasing inventory and asset visibility and improving the management and flow of goods.
Three ways RAIN RFID helps solve supply chain concerns
RAIN RFID is used to streamline processes, maintain real-time inventory, increase productivity, and help manage labour shortages. We see three key ways RAIN RFID helps solve supply chain concerns:
- Automate shipment verification: Today, significant labour is required for multiple, manual barcode scans during the shipment process. RAIN RFID tags can be read automatically without a direct line of sight, erasing the need for workers to pause, locate a barcode, and scan it. By using RAIN RFID, supply chain leaders can automate their shipment verification process and improve warehouse efficiencies by up to 25%.
- Deliver real-time visibility: Retail Systems Research says that 76% of supply chain survey respondents reported that real-time inventory visibility was their leading focus for improving performance. When supply chain managers lack information about the status of assets and shipments moving into and out of warehouses, confidence and productivity suffer. By using RAIN RFID, supply chain leaders gain real-time visibility into an item’s identity, usage, and location. With this information, they can quickly find inventory and assets, and reduce the cost of asset investments.
- Improve order accuracy: Today, companies rely on redundant manual checks to verify that the right cartons are loaded onto the correct pallets. By using RAIN RFID, supply chain leaders can automate pallet build verification to streamline the process and increase order accuracy. In fact, a recent study by Auburn University found that RAIN RFID can help an organisation achieve up to 100% order accuracy, eliminating claims costs and unhappy customers.
RAIN RFID can increase value of AI-powered analytics
In today’s AI-driven, rapid decision-making business environment, RAIN RFID is uniquely capable of making systems more effective. This is because it provides item identifiers for tracking and locating billions of items, from clothing to food, pharmaceuticals, tools, packages, pallets, and more.
It also works without line-of-sight, providing visibility into places and processes not previously available. The data provided by a RAIN RFID system can give AI-powered solutions the ability to see individual items throughout the supply chain, understand how the entire supply chain is functioning and identify which areas can be improved.
As companies accelerate digital transformation, we expect to see a rise in interconnected data as investments into new technologies and IoT surge. But as the volume of real-time and accurate data about the movement of goods rises, so too do the demands on operations teams to make sound business decisions quickly and with confidence, often using AI-powered systems that thrive on improved data to make better decisions.
As an example, over the past several years, Delta Airlines transformed its customer experience by investing in technology including real-time RAIN RFID bag tracking and automatic check-in via the Fly Delta mobile app. Delta is now leveraging this set of investments in their implementation of an AI-driven platform that analyses millions of operational data points, from luggage movement to aircraft positions to flight crew restrictions to airport conditions. This system simulates operating challenges and creates hypothetical scenarios that help Delta’s professionals make critical operational decisions that improve the overall customer experience.
The need to drive digital transformation rapidly during the pandemic has made supply chain and logistics professionals increasingly tech savvy. As we prepare for a post-pandemic era, companies’ increased know-how and awareness of solutions like RAIN RFID, IoT and AI will play a key role in evolving the industry’s approach to solving supply chain issues from reactive to proactive, setting them up for future success.