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December 16, 2017
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Blockchain consortium sees bright future in supply chain

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Trusted IoT Alliance members Bosch, Cisco, and Gemalto will collaborate on open source development.

A consortium of technology companies including Robert Bosch GmbH, Cisco Systems Inc., and Gemalto NV will cooperate in setting standards to boost the adoption of blockchain software and internet of things (IoT) networks in a move that could improve information sharing and data security for supply chain applications, according to the terms of a deal announced yesterday.

Known as the "Trusted IoT Alliance," the group intends to encourage the development of highly secure IoT applications for industry, using blockchain software to ensure that the data cannot be tampered with, the group said.

Blockchain technology provides a "distributed ledger" of digital breadcrumbs that verify the identity of digital records by ensuring they cannot be changed without the permission of all parties in a given transaction. The technology has recently been gaining traction in transportation applications, led by vendors such as TCompanies Inc., IBM Corp., and SAP SE, and even another standards organization, called the Blockchain in Trucking Alliance (BiTA).

The Trusted IoT Alliance was formed to compile the efforts of similar groups in order to accelerate the adoption of blockchain for business applications. It will do this by leveraging the work that has already been done, not by developing new standards or reinventing the wheel, Anoop Nannra, Head of Cisco's Blockchain Initiative and a board member for the Trusted IoT Alliance, said in an interview. The board of the alliance also has members from Bosch, Gemalto, Chronicled Inc., and Skuchain. In addition to those founding members, the group includes major public companies such as BNY Mellon and U.S. Bank, as well as a dozen smaller firms.

While the alliance represents companies from a diversity of economic sectors—such as banking, information technology, and telecommunications—it hopes to create a blockchain application model that is responsive to the needs of specific industries, such as supply chain. "The machine-to-machine economy is on everyone's minds, but it means different things to different people," Nannra said. "I'm not sure blockchain practitioners have really addressed the needs of the supply chain industry, so there's a lot of work to be done there."

Supply chain applications for blockchain could include self-executing "smart contracts" or virtual wallets that allow assets to pay for things and engage in commerce themselves, within the context of a certain rule set, he said.

Blockchain could also streamline supply chain operations in cross-border trade and shipping. "What it takes to move a container from one continent to another is a monumental task that involves literally thousands of people, so it's a heterogeneous operating environment to begin with," Nannra said. "Blockchain connects those ecosystem portions together in a way that is immutable and secure, and that technology can greatly improve the visibility and transparency about the state of goods, or the state of a container, or the state of a ship."

In order to support such goals, the Trusted IoT Alliance plans to publish open source code, lead pilots, coordinate reference architectures, and fund small grants to support open source development. For example, members of the group have already published a common application programming interface (API) to register "things" to both the Hyperledger and the Enterprise Ethereum blockchain networks, establishing them as inviolable, interoperable sources of data for an IoT system.

By giving objects the equivalent of digital birth certificates, a trusted IoT could inventory and manage data across multiple blockchain networks, whether the physical object is a car, drone, package, sneaker, lithium-ion battery, or energy meter, the group says.

Ben Ames is Editor at Large and a Senior Editor at Supply Chain Quarterly’s sister publication, DC Velocity.

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