By: Mark Crowne, general manager at Nexer Insight UK
In the post-pandemic world, consumers are increasingly demanding integrity and authenticity from brands and one way to deliver this is by implementing Blockchain as part of digital transformation. It can enable open and honest relationships for global brands, while also cutting supply chain costs by removing expensive and arduous paper-based processes.
Despite Blockchain’s potential in improving efficiency within supply chains, a number of barriers, some of which need to be debunked, currently exist which are stopping the widespread implementation of the technology.
“The block to implementing blockchain,” says John Waite, director of Blockchain adviser and Nexer collaborator, Criterium Solutions, “is typically the perception that it will require new technical infrastructure, new IT platform adoption or complex integration, and six or seven figure budgets.”
However, this is far from the reality. Blockchain platforms often have the ability to collect and store information separately from a company’s ERP system, allowing both to operate side by side with no further capital expenditure. If integration between systems is required, an application programming interface (API) easily allows applications to communicate and share data with one another, enabling simple integration of systems with minimal implementation costs.
Similarly, preconceptions of ambitious projects and large budgets as the starting point for blockchain implementation can be dispelled. Implementing the technology is not about large-scale integration and the costs associated with that, but about minimising risk by starting small, developing a rapid proof of concept and testing amongst a small subset of customers before moving to larger-scale operations.
With the complexity and cost myths debunked, the real block to getting started in Blockchain is typically mindsets, attitudes and preconceptions held by stakeholders, managers or key individuals. When decision makers’ mindsets are closed off from change and they do not have the openness to explore, even without necessarily committing to, new ways of working, they could be missing out on the opportunity to transform business operations and evolve relationships with their customer base.
As we emerge and recover from the pandemic, businesses will need to assess whether current processes are suitable and competitive enough to operate in the ‘new normal’. Going forwards, more innovation and exploration in commercial and operating models will be essential and for this to be effective, decision-makers need to have an open, willing mindset.
This willingness to explore and experiment is the critical start point for blockchain exploration to take place.
The three-phase process of exploration
The exploration process for blockchain can be effected within as little as three or four months from start to finish, including evaluating the outcomes of the implementation.
The process can be dissected into three phases: the discovery phase, where current internal processes are reevaluated and pain points are identified; followed by the rapid design and prototyping of a technical solution on Blockchain; once architected, the proof of concept is trialled among a small sample of customers via a set of simple end-to-end transactions, such as from production to retail environment.
This framework outlined in more detail below is proven, and most importantly “de-risked” to make Blockchain supply chain innovation more accessible and attractive to businesses.
The first stage in implementing blockchain technology typically takes four to six weeks to complete. Critical to this stage, and indeed the overall process, is establishing a tight-knit stakeholder group. Too often momentum is lost or discovery deadlines are missed and extended due to the logistical challenges of coordinating meeting times between stakeholders.
Before wider discussions begin, defining the overall project framework is essential and the focus should be on identifying specific business issues and particular pain points that Blockchain technology has the potential to mitigate.
The discovery phase is likely to raise several problems and it is important to take a phased approach, whereby issues can be grouped into those realistically solvable with a typical two-to-three-month concept scenario, and those that will require additional time and resources.
In short, the pilot ethos should be to begin with the future in mind, but to start simply with the aim of cutting through the conceptual talk about Blockchain. Ensuring all relevant stakeholders can witness first-hand the tangible and transformative benefits that the technology can enable is essential in this phase.
John at Criterium Solutions says: “Digital transformation is the key here. Simply taking some IT and “smearing” it onto an established procedure or process misses out on the opportunity to rethink or re-engineer a business-customer relationship.
“Implementing Blockchain should be an innovation opportunity to think digitally and critically – what may appear to be an issue or what has worked in the past may not actually be the right way forwards.”
Based on the requirements identified within discovery, the second phase is focused on translating this into a technical framework or architecture. This phase tends to last two or three months.
Prototyping and development does not have to entail the expense and commitment of building a technical solution from scratch. Typically, companies can leverage existing blockchain platforms which can then be customised to suit the specifics of the business.
As Blockchain is a relatively new technology, many Blockchain Platform providers are still in the start-up phase of their own business and as part of their roadmap with investors actively encourage companies to transact on their platform at minimal or no cost, presenting a further opportunity to keep costs down while exploring possibilities.
Proof of concept trial
The final phase of the exploration process is to leverage blockchain to undertake a small proof of concept test with a limited number of a company’s customers, usually lasting between four and six weeks.
With a focus on simplicity, the objective in this phase is to test out enough series of transactions to demonstrate the potential future value of blockchain, but not too many as to overload a pilot study, which can be a delicate balance. There is of course an argument for more data, but initially just enough data to show value or worth for later scale is suitable.
Blockchain has a reputation for being expensive and arduous to implement but this is most definitely not the case, and key to implementation is a mindset to explore, protoype and test Blockchain solutions on a small-scale basis before scaling up. Blockchain is helping businesses to not only streamline processes and drive down operating costs but provide a company’s customers with guaranteed proof of the business’s core brand and corporate values.
Nexer Insight and Criterium’s Rapid Azure Blockchain Kickstarter Programme can deliver a rapid proof of concept in a supply chain, cutting through the complex technical jargon to provide a clear understanding of the benefits of the solution. To find out more, visit https://nexergroup.com/news/mynewsdesk/nexer-drives-supply-chain-innovation-with-azure-blockchain-3101187/.
About Nexer Insight
Nexer Insight is an award-winning specialist systems integrator, focused on IoT with Microsoft Azure. IoT integrates data from billions of things such as equipment, devices or sensors into the Azure public cloud to generate Insights which form a basis for Actions by people or AI.
With IoT Elite and AI Inner Circle recognition from Microsoft, Nexer Insight specialises in helping clients solve their business problems through rapid and pragmatic application of Azure IoT, Data, AI, AR/VR and Digital Twins technologies. Nexer has helped solve client problems such as, how to control rat populations in a city, how to keep construction workers safe from overhead lifting, how to urgently transform healthcare provision in the time of Covid-19 and how to enable remote operation of self storage services for clients.