Blockchain’s greatest strength
Blockchain technology is extremely reliable and cost-effective for its main purpose – to maintain crash-proof, tamper-proof records, and rules for how those records are managed. This unlocks powerful innovations throughout supply chain management.
Problems with today’s supply chains
Supply chains start with sourcing and extraction of raw materials, then manufacturing, assembly, and distribution to end users. Each of these steps requires records for shipping, order numbers, inventory, logistics, warehousing, delivery, inspections, and often customs, serial numbers, and authentication.
Many of these steps are handled with separate systems that cause delays and loss as products are handed off between the many parties. For systems that involve regulations, such as customs inspections, there’s often paperwork required. In some areas, it’s estimated that about 15% of fresh produce shipments spoil while waiting for paperwork to clear. That’s potentially tens of billions of dollars lost in just one industry.
A single source of records
Symbol is an ideal solution for this kind of problem. Imagine a single, trusted, source of records that shows the unbroken chain of custody and who signed off each timestamped step of loading, shipping, and inspection. You can configure the system so records of each of these steps are available to all designated parties in real-time. The system never crashes and uses APIs to interface with the blockchain so it easily integrates with existing barcode scanning or RFIDs. Confirmations take 15 seconds, or faster if aggregated. With Symbol it is easier to keep track of goods, ownership between partners, and to verify their authenticity.
Symbol can make it easy to do things that are hard on other blockchains
All blockchains are good at tracking data, but Symbol has some features that make it exceptional. It allows you to easily configure immutable rules about how records are used. The Symbol blockchain enforces those rules without exception to prevent human error and fraud. For example, you can configure a shipping record that can only be sent to specific designated accounts, to ensure nobody else can sign off on it. You can configure approvals to require X-of-Y quality inspectors to sign. You can require the origin and provenance of materials are included for various types of records. You can require approval permissions to expire and be renewed. And with all the records accessible in real time to anyone that needs them, paperwork can never go missing.
The first version of Symbol, NEM, has already been used successfully by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture to track the complete chain of custody of food products from field to store shelf.
Blockchain-integrated supply chain records have many other advantages. A huge amount of food and raw materials are wasted when supply and demand are volatile. For example, if a grocery chain cancels their usual orders while a shipment is en route, the products are often thrown out. Having verified records of the real-time condition and location of goods make it easier for brokers to sell those shipments to another buyer before they spoil. Another potential advantage is that close to half the world’s farmers and producers lack access to credit. Verified records of their production quality may help them build reputation and credit outside their local area, giving them opportunities to grow. This would give producers a valuable incentive to work with companies using blockchain records.
Though blockchain technology is not yet widely supported in supply chain management, there are opportunities at every level. The Symbol blockchain technology is uniquely suited to be a leader in this industry.