Provenance in a Blockchain world — Supply Chain & Beyond


Every imaginable thing in this world has a history and a journey and this is a source of inquisitiveness for many. Just think about the clothes we wear. Where and when was it manufactured, where did the fabric come from, if it’s a natural fibre where was it cultivated. What were the working conditions employed in the factory where it was manufactured and was child labour used in the process. Was there any damage to the environment, exploitation of resources, unethical practices or abnormal wastage ? The questions are countless. If there was a single term to describe this entire journey its “provenance”.

On a daily basis we use numerous products with very little information on them. They travel through a complicated supply chain of manufacturers, shippers, distributors, retailers, warehousing before they reach us. There is a growing demand for transparency and auditability of this information both from consumers and governments.

In the current scenario we rely on centralized systems to not only provide a tracking system but also to create trust. These come at the cost of an intrinsic bias and are also vulnerable. Even independent and non-profit entities are vulnerable to corruption or social engineering. Involving multiple participants make it more complicated, as the cost benefit trade-offs of the arrangement are usually not clear. A variety of reasons makes these systems inefficient. The main hinderance is that current supply chains are not able to adapt quickly enough. This is incompatible with a market which demands modifications rapidly and perpetually to meet constantly evolving market dynamics. There is a huge disparity in modes of communication and reliance on manual systems and paperwork. Digital information is locked away in silos and proprietary systems which makes collaboration impossible. Despite all these odds, a centralized system is used to share information and transact on supply chains.

Could Blockchain have an answer ? Through a permissioned network it could provide solutions and disrupt how we map the journey of every material thing — galvanizing a system where every participant in the supply chain can be connected. It leverages a global peer-to-peer network to provide an platform which is more secure, unbiased and trustworthy. Every physical product will have its own digital history, enabling traceability. This will authenticate its provenance, traits, title and create an auditable record of the journey. This has huge positive implications for businesses and society overall ranging from preventing sale of counterfeit products to duplication of compliances and certifications. This can also address environmental and ethical concerns. Blockchains can pre define criteria and rules which the participants of the platform, cannot modify creating immutability. The technology ensures the incorruptibility of the platform even in the scenario of unethical practices by participants. Anyone can access the information to track the provenance of anything from a tiny pin to a piano. Labelling, RFID, smart tags and other devices can connect the information of any physical product and make it easily accessible to end users.

The author is Head — Global Alliances & Partnerships for Xinfin a Singapore based blockchain technology company. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out on sandesh@xinfin.org

Linkedin — https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandeshhegde/