Many years ago, I worked on one of the first supply chain RFID projects in a closed system food supply chain run on behalf of Marks & Spencer foods. It was an early innovation project and there was only one other celebrity project like it at the time: Walmart’s.
Walmart has always excelled at all aspects of the supply chain, from procurement and sourcing to technology enablement of logistics and warehousing. And it’s not afraid to invest boldly in emerging technologies. Given my experiences with Walmart as a competitor for technology leadership, this extract from the WSJ’s CIO Journal today caught my eye:
“Walmart Inc. is beginning to use the online ledger technology to manage supply-chain data for mangoes, berries and a couple of dozen other products. The system, built with International Business Machines Corp., will help Walmart figure out where bad food came from during product recalls.”
That Walmart is starting to use the blockchain in earnest tells me it’s about time we all started thinking about its uses beyond just the crypto craziness. Things are getting real.
As the Walmart experiment with food supply chains suggests, there are interesting things that distributed ledgers will apparently help facilitate beyond BitCoin. I must confess, I still have difficult really understanding its applicability but I have found some ideas to help me expand my imagination:
- Systems of record
- Digital identities such as who you are buying from on eBay or Upwork
- Applying a token to something to allow a physical item to be paired electronically – think about your luggage, your novel, or your award winning photo.
- Regulatory compliance could be evidenced by the blockchain so no need for further proof of certain things having happened. This is particularly relevant for money laundering and banking transparency regulations.
- Automated governance would remove the need for humans to play a role in how some transactions or relationships were managed.
- Ownership rights can be extended to intangibles such as stocks, intellectual property, deeds, etc.
- For nation states, it allows authorisation of transactions such as market exchanges or citizen remittances
- Cryptocurrencies, obvs.
- Audit trails in the age of hacks. Who has accessed what information and records and did they have the permission to do so?
- Smart contracting will allow digital relationships to be formed and secured.
So lots of ways to use it. And it will take the courage of a Walmart to just have a go. Their early forays into RFID proved successful. I suspect their blockchain experiments will also bear fruit.