Blockchain can help resolve the problems stated in our previous blog, Blockchain: The New Kid on the Food and Grocery Block; by adding transparency, increase efficiency and improve food safety. Together, those three benefits will also help to reduce the tragic waste of food around the globe.
Blockchain for the win
By beginning the ledger the moment vegetables leave the ground, data from one end of the food chain to the other can be immutably captured. It can track lettuce from the farm it came from, along with growing conditions, through to any processing facility. It can include batch numbers, expiry dates, storage temperatures and conditions, and finally shipping data including atmospheric conditions in transit and during warehousing and final mile distribution.
The potential business benefits of using the technology are clear. Increased efficiency cuts costs, while improved food safety reduces risk to both reputation and the bottom line. The blockchain ledger pens a direct line to bottom line-profitability on your own ledgers.
The way forward
As promising as it is, it is important to remember that blockchain is still in its infancy for supply chain management. For it to be successful there will need to be more research, more pilot programs and standards will need to be created and implemented. To that end, many significant supply chain organizations are joining the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA). It is a standards and advocacy organization to help educate, advocate, and establish standards for blockchain applications in the transportation industry. It and other organizations like it will have to work diligently to create a trust network that will allow for widespread use of blockchain in supply chains.
Likewise, for blockchain to work it will need a common or interoperable operating platform, and early adopters are cautioned to ensure they are dealing with reputable suppliers and not to place too much stock in inflated promises about deliverables. As with the dotcom boom in the 1990s, there will likely be much hype and little in the way of substance in many offerings that come to market.
A digital connection
Let's assume for a moment that blockchain really does reach its potential and becomes a widely accepted supply chain tracking and inventory management tool. From the farm to a consumer's fork, every bit of produce, meat and fish can be followed, and everyone along the way assured of its provenance, location and proper handling.
But if you are going to have all this security built in to your operations, you need to ensure you've deployed complementary digital tools to make it worthwhile. Blockchain secures the chain of custody and verifies what has happened to a product as it moves from point to point through the supply chain. To make sure that these benefits are preserved you need to be sure that delays or mishandling are not happening on your watch. For more on this, we invite you to read our white paper focusing on supply chain visibility.
Can you ensure that product arriving at your facility will be received in a timely fashion? Can you guarantee that trucks arriving to pick up loads will be processed quickly enough to ensure continued viability of perishable products? If a trailer is dropped, will your staff be able to locate it in your yard when it's needed? Are you managing the comings and goings at your dock doors using old-fashioned methods? Will a spreadsheet and telephone system be able to keep up in a blockchain world?
If your operation is not managing this link between carriers and the distribution centre effectively, a couple bad things will happen in a blockchain-enabled supply chain. First, product will be delayed, and delay in an omnichannel or even a simple e-commerce operation cannot be tolerated. Product will spoil, shelves will be empty, and customers will be lost. You'll be contributing to food waste and your business will suffer.
Second – and this is the new part – your deficiencies will be known to all parties along the chain. It will be forever recorded in the blockchain ledger that, for example, it was a holdup at your docks that delayed the shipment so long that the milk spoiled. Errors will not be blamed on some unspecified 'transport delay'. Your operation will have to take responsibility.
Why not avoid this scenario altogether and employ tools that are designed for the digital age? Using cloud-based yard management and dock appointment scheduling systems like C3 Solutions’ will enable accuracy, efficiency and productivity in your dock and yard operations that will let you keep up in the blockchain world.
Trucks need never be kept waiting for a time slot at the docks, drivers can make their own appointments and change them if needed. Trailers in the yard are located with pinpoint accuracy so you know which one arrived when and whether it's next in line for unloading. Likewise, your staff, indoors and out, will be kept productively busy with a well-scheduled dock operation. With warehouse staff being few and far between these days, maximizing the productivity of the ones you have means a more profitable enterprise.
Blockchain means supply chain operations will be held to a higher level of accountability. With every move being recorded in perpetuity, you need to be able to ensure your part of the chain is as transparent and well documented as it can be. By implementing a cloud-based yard and dock management system,you'll eliminate the paper trail and the errors that come with paper documentation. Every move that takes place between carriers and your facility will be recorded in real time and in a consistent and reliable fashion. And because it's cloud-based it's secure, and available on demand.
These are powerful, effective solutions to a fast-paced, complex operational challenge. And they are designed to be compatible with the next generation of 21st century digital technologies, like blockchain.
So when those blockchain-enabled leafy greens start pouring into your warehouse, it's just going to get faster and more complicated. Be prepared – take advantage of the digital tools that will help your operation keep up and you'll be ahead of the competition. They'll be in the weeds, and you'll be enjoying your salad days.
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 "The potential of blockchain technology in the food system", IFT.org, 2018.