This week, global retailer Wal-Mart along with IBM and Tsinghua University announced a joint effort to improve the tracking and movement of food products across China in an effort to improve overall food safety.  The government of China has identified food authentication and supply chain tracking as a critical concern to quickly find and eliminate sources of food contamination within the country.

This announcement bears watching among consumer goods focused supply chains since this new effort will be leveraging what is termed as blockchain technology. This form of technology is increasingly being identified by supply chain focused technology providers for applicability in providing higher levels of intelligence regarding the movement of materials across a supply chain or B2B network. In essence, it fosters the sharing of data and information across a network of computers and as noted in the announcement, is gaining broader recognition due to its applicability in recording and keeping track of assets and materials. This form of technology currently powers digital bitcoin currency use.

According to IBM, when applied to the food supply chain, product information such as farm origin details, batch numbers, processing data, expiration dates, storage temperatures and shipping details can be digitally connected to food items, and the information is entered on the blockchain at every step of the process.

The technology can further aide retailers such as Wal-Mart in managing the shelf-life of products within individual stores and in having access to the traceability aspects of the product’s supply chain. In the specific applicability to Wal-Mart, the announcement indicates that the retailer plans to utilize IBM Blockchain based on Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Project, which is an open source software project approach that builds on blockchain tools.

Obviously, the closest applicability for the leveraged use of blockchain technology is in current B2B EDI messaging networks that record various movement and transactions among various supply chain trading partners. While attending the recent IBM Empower 2016 conference, executives made mention of upcoming announcements related to IBM’s Sterling Commerce B2B technology and future applicability for this technology.

OpenText, another major B2B technology network provider has also indicated a development direction that augments existing EDI and transactional messaging with broader analytics capabilities.

The takeaway for readers is to begin to consider the possibilities for utilizing EDI messaging and other transactional, content, and unstructured data passing along B2B trading networks as sources of broader supply chain intelligence and analytics related to needs in regulatory compliance, traceability and reduction of waste.

We believe there will be more initiative announcements forthcoming such as the one from retailer Wal-Mart, initiatives that will leverage B2B trading network information towards efforts to integrate value-chain physical flows with needs for broader intelligence and analytics related to more-informed and timely decision-making.

Stay tuned.

Bob Ferrari

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