How to Talk About Blockchain at Parties
By Kirk White, Yusen Logistics
2018 is, among other things, the year of Blockchain. And for all the buzz and hype, many still don’t know exactly what it does and what it will bring to the world of supply chain. It’s very easy to say, “oh…it’s going to revolutionize the Supply Chain by streamlining documentation, removing non-value-added steps to processes, speeding up payments, eliminating errors or miscommunications, providing better scrutiny and validation to our factories and, not for nothing, making everything just a little safer…and I heard it has vitamin C and electrolytes to boot?” Okay that last part is not verifiable….but not any more NOT verifiable than anything else. THAT is the rub. Right now a whole bunch of blockchain is just potential. It’s going to become concrete faster than you can imagine but as of this moment, since we quoted the Terminator so much so far, “the future is not set…there is no fate but what we make for ourselves”.
Anywhoo…As the season wraps up, many of our loyal readers will be going to various gatherings and holiday parties…and invariably, if your parties are like our parties, the subject of Blockchain will come up. And you may be tempted to make a quick dash for the snack table…but fear not…as our gift to you, please see our handy dandy guide to talking about Blockchain in any social situation (you’re welcome):
Things you can say when someone asks you about your opinion on Blockchain:
“This is nascent technology”
Nobody has cracked this…YET. But a lot of folks are trying. Think back to the early days (1995) of the ol’ internet. Think of the companies that got on that train early…think about those who didn’t. But again, NO ONE HAS CRACKED IT YET…mostly because…
“the application of using it for supply chain on a global scale doesn’t exist”
This won’t be able to be said for long because there are a bunch of pilot programs in the works as companies fight to be the “Facebook” of Blockchain. The main issue is that there is nothing standard…no standard connection and the supply chain industry already has multiple means of getting and transferring data…some use EDI, some use inhouse systems, some just email things to you. Getting this many disparate individual operators to suddenly agree on the next big ONE platform of communication is not going to be easy. People fear change. People think if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. People like to do things THEIR way. And we haven’t even TOUCHED the learning curve! However, it is inevitable that there will be a blockchain/supplychain revolution soon, because…
“A lot of companies are taking this seriously”
Once again, think back to 1995ish, those of you who were not in grade school or diapers then! This whole “internet thing” was a novelty….email was a hoot, yes, but nothing to worry about, until it wasn’t a novelty… and there was something to worry about. Think about how many business failed because they were late to the online game. Borders Bookstore went out of business in 2011 and the industry mostly attributes this to their inability to get with the online program. They doubled down on inventory (esp CDs and DVDs) just at the moment Ecommerce and electronic distribution of media was becoming ubiquitous. They even outsourced their ecommerce to Amazon…and a chill was felt around the room. Many of the big companies do not want a similar fate with regards to Blockchain. IBM/Maersk is leading the supply chain side of Blockchain with a joint venture called Tradelens. There is not much info available yet, a visit to their website (www.tradelens.com) yields a lot of high level marketing materials but not much else at this point. They have an early adopter program that, as of this time, features @ 94 participants and are looking for a general release / expansion in 2019 and to begin adding an A.I. component by 2020. With 154 million+ events moving through their system, they are an early lead in the race. The significant pushback seems to be coming from other carriers who believe the system may prioritize Maersk to clients.
Not to be outdone, Microsoft has teamed up with Adents (www.adents.com/adents-novatrack )to create NovaTrack. Initially created for the pharmaceutical industry to track and trace product for safety, it has quickly expanded into a robust system that is adding A.I., serialization capability, and Internet of Things components early in the process. By teaming up with a powerful partner in Microsoft, a company whose products are more than likely already used in many potential clients’ computers, they may have an advantage to a completely new platform. This might actually be a good time to ask…
“Would YOU like to be an innovator in this?”
Never hurts to ask…you are at a party. What are the other people hearing, seeing, thinking about using. A lot of this is going to live and die on the buzz of early adopters and pioneers. In fact, many people will probably wait to enter the blockchain world until there is a clear cut favorite. It’s like the Academy Awards (the Oscars)…the Best Picture is chosen by every member of the Academy. However, many members…a LOT of members…don’t actually go out and see all the movies up for best picture. They usually vote based on all the articles that come out picking the favorite films; the “who should win” so early hype and buzz is uber important for film makers. This is a similar thing to what is happening now, IBM/Maersk, Microsoft/Adent and Amazon (more on them in a moment)…and not for nothing, all the other dark horses we’ve not heard of yet…are all working to be the word buzzing on everyone’s lips. And speaking of dark horses…
“there is still a chance for an indie solution”
Adding a giant monkey into the wrench, Amazon has thrown their hat into the ring with AWS (Amazon Web Services) Amazon managed blockchain. They have a HIGHLY SCALABLE platform called Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB for short: https://aws.amazon.com/qldb/ ) and their aim is to provide the ability for multiple users to create their own proprietary APIs (application program interface) using the Amazon blockchain and therefore remove the need for a central blockchain system….instead of ONE system that everyone adopts, companies could build their own blockchain enabled systems and use them as a differentiator/revenue generator. Will this be a game changer or simply muddy the field so to speak? Time will tell, but QLDB does seem to level the aforementioned muddy playing field a bit as organizations with a robust and agile IT dept could use the AWS blockchain fabric with their own innovative API and revolutionize the industry. For the moment the sky is wide open and one may say that a small company doesn’t have a chance against IBM or Microsoft but then again…nobody thought The Hurt Locker would beat Avatar for Best Picture now did they?
And since we’re talking…what have YOU heard? Be sure to leave in the comments below any early “buzz” you have picked up in your travels.
Kirk White is a corporate creative and a supply chain futurist. He has worked in every division of Yusen Logistics. After a brief stint in Transportation, he transferred to Corporate, where he coordinated Yusen’s Employee Empowered Kaizen system and served as a Specialist for the Business Process Re-engineering group, after which he moved to the Warehouse division to serve as the East Coast Quality Manger before ultimately joining the International division, where he hopes to use his Quality knowledge base to prove an asset to OCM.