Cryptologistics: Where supply chain meets blockchain
Thursday, August 02, 2018
One of the most universal issues facing logistics is the ability — or lack thereof — to process data in a fast, useful way. Like an unorganized warehouse packed with product and short on shelves, logistics professionals are often forced to put aside efforts to streamline in favor of staying on top of periodic targets.
In short, it's difficult to reinvent the wheel when it never really stops moving.
While computers have historically aided in bridging that gap, they too rely on a standard set of numbers presented in a specific way in order to produce useful results. Have a lot of moving parts and no time to parse them into computer-digestible reports?
You're likely still relying on the "gut feelings," instincts, or momentum that ran warehouses decades ago, rather than any evidence-based data.
Can the Blockchain Tie it Together?
Like calls to like, and the many-branched approach of the blockchain — a decentralized method of solving complex problems using a network of computers — is well-situated to appeal to supply chains' growing pains.
Not only is it scalable by its core concepts, it allows logistics service providers and warehouse management teams alike to have full transparency in every transaction. That means that the already-intricate dance of getting items when and where they need to be is no longer slowed down by verbal miscommunications.
With GPS-linked blockchain options, everyone across the supply chain, provided they're provided visibility into the correct blockchain channel, can see exactly where a shipment is and plan accordingly. No calls, no email tag, no variables holding up the works: just pure, in-the-moment, blockchain-served data, dependent on each recipient to use it to benefit their company directly.
The blockchain is a powerful tool in modern business, but it shouldn't be considered a panacea. The underlying principles that feed data into the blockchain need to be logical and consistent — the blockchain itself is nearly inviolable because of its decentralization, but misinterpretations can plague it at either end.
Before exploring the blockchain for your own logistics use, consider whether or not you have clear answers ready to the common questions:
- What will we use the blockchain to track, discover, or solve?
- Will this benefit our supply chain partners or business partners as well?
- Does everyone using blockchain technology at our company understand it?
- Do we need to experiment with blockchain, or are "old" methods still working well for us?
Cautions When Using the Blockchain in Logistics
As any cryptocurrency holder that has ever had their currently lost in a shutdown or hack can tell you, the blockchain itself is secure, but you'll need to be cautious about the platforms and accounts you're linking to it.
China, for example, is in the midst of escalating trade tensions with the U.S., and is notorious for taking aim at decentralized currency and blockchain technology that relies on anonymity.
If blockchain technology is used as part of your international supply chain, the hard stances of some countries against some forms of blockchain technology could impact or even sever your connection to your data as well as your partners. Be sure you always have a backup plan when incorporating blockchain into your business, or else you'll end up at the mercy of every blockchain slowdown, hack, or regulation — both local and international — that rears its head.
Whether you're just learning about everything this game-changing approach can do for business or you're fairly comfortable with it, bear in mind that sociopolitical pressures should always be planned for when it comes to the blockchain.
Even if your business is only using it to trace cargo or verify transactions along the supply chain, it's better to use it as a supplemental tool to your data processing than transforming it into the core of a new system — remember, you're always only a piece or two of legislation away from running into blockchain-terminating troubles.
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