Our aim in our four part series has been to get away from the hype and complexities surrounding Blockchain, and excite supply chain professionals not just about efficiencies and the opportunities for friction-free trading but by showing how the technology can leveraged to underpin a company’s brand values and consumer perceptions of authenticity, corporate responsibility, sustainability and ethical trading. What’s more, these values and a brand’s rich heritage and history can be communicated to consumers in exciting new ways (eg via QR codes/NFC chips). Compliance to those same values by a company’s suppliers can be monitored via a new form of contractual arrangement called a smart contact, set up to automatically enforce agreed terms and conditions between parties, reducing third party involvement and costs.
But we’re not happy just to tell you about Blockchain and then walk away! So the aim of this article is to demonstrate a clear, timely and cost effective pathway to begin exploring and implementing potential Blockchain solutions.
The challenges to implementation…not what you might think
The block to implementing Blockchain is typically the perception that it will require new technical infrastructure, new IT platform adoption or complex integration and 6-7 figure budgets.
However, the reality is, Blockchain platforms can often collect and store information separately from a company’s ERP system, so both can operate side by side with no further capital expenditure. Furthermore, if required, integration between systems can be enabled via an API (Application Programming Interface) which – in simple terms – is a piece of software that allows two applications to talk to each other and share data accordingly. So the integration costs of implementation can be minimal.
Similarly, perceptions of large budgets can be dispelled as the start point for Blockchain implementation is not about large-scale integration and the associated costs but minimising risk by starting small, developing a rapid proof of concept, testing it amongst a small subset of customers and then moving to scale.
Mindset and the Willingness to Explore
Having dispelled those three myths, the real block to getting started in Blockchain is typically a company’s or key individual managers’ mindset towards change and whether or not they have the openness to “explore” (without necessarily committing to) new ways of working that have the potential not only to transform business operations but evolve their relationships with the consumer.
As we emerge from the pandemic, operating in the new normal will require a move away from “business as usual” thinking to exploring new operating and commercial models. It is this willingness to explore which is the critical start-point for Blockchain and below we have outlined a proven but importantly “de-risked” framework enabling exploration to take place.
The 3-phase process of exploration
What’s exciting is the exploration process for Blockchain can be effected within as little as 3-4 months from start to evaluating the process’s outcomes.
In summary, the process can be dissected into three phases comprising an initial Discovery Phase where current internal processes are re-evaluated and pain-points identified; followed by the rapid design & prototyping of a technical solution on Blockchain and once architected, the proof of concept is “tested” amongst a small sample of a company’s customers via a set of simple end-to-end transactions, eg from production to the retail environment.
Discovery Process (typically 4-6 weeks)
Critical to this stage and indeed the overall process is first establishing a fairly tight-knit stakeholder group. Too often momentum can be lost or deadlines for discovery are extended due to the logistical challenges of coordinating meeting times between stakeholders
Before wider discussions begin, defining the overall project framework is key and here the recommended focus is on identifying specific business issues/ problems or pain-points that the technology has the potential to address.
This is likely to raise several options and it’s important to take a phased approach whereby issues can be segmented between those realistically achievable within a typical 2-3 month concept test scenario and those that will require a longer time-frame and more internal resource to address.
In short, the pilot ethos should be: begin with the future in mind but start simply with the aim being to cut through the conceptual talk about Blockchain, so that all relevant stakeholders can witness first-hand the tangible and transformative benefits that the technology can enable.
An opportunity for evolution
Digital transformation is key here. Simply taking some IT and “smearing” it onto an established procedure or process, potentially misses out on the opportunity to rethink or re-engineer a business relationship with a customer. Using the innovation opportunity wisely to think digitally is critical…what may appear to be an issue or what may have worked in the past may actually not be the right way forward.
Rapid Prototyping (2-3 months)
Based on the business requirements identified within discovery, the second phase is focused on translating those into a technical framework or architecture.
What is not always required however is the expense of building a technical solution from scratch and typically to demonstrate proof of concept, companies can leverage existing Blockchain platforms that can be customised to specifics of their business.
Presenting a further opportunity to minimise costs is the fact that many Blockchain providers are in the start-up phase of their own businesses which means that – as part of their roadmap with investors – they need to be seen to be actively encouraging companies to transact on their platforms, often at minimal or no cost.
Proof of Concept Trial (4-6 weeks)
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.
With a focus on simplicity, here the objective is to test out a series of transactions sufficient to demonstrate potential future value but not too many to overload a pilot study – this is a balancing act. You can always argue for more data of course but the focus here is to gain enough data to show value or worth for scale later on.