Dr. Paolo Tasca, Executive Director at UCL Centre for Blockchain Technologies (CBT), Advisor on Blockchain for EU Parliament and the UN on OSA DC’s Mission to Renovate Retail.
Dr. Paolo Tasca is a Digital Economist, Blockchain Specialist and Public speaker, who specialized in peer-to-peer financial systems. In the past, he was the lead economist for digital currencies and peer-to-peer financial systems at Deutsche Bundesbank, Frankfurt. Currently, he is an advisor on blockchain technologies for a host of international organisations, including the EU Parliament and the United Nations. He is also the founder and executive director of the Centre for Blockchain Technologies (UCL CBT) at the University College London.
His seasoned career makes him an ideal advisor for blockchain development as it relates to the EU’s and UN’s policies and regulations. An invaluable asset to the team, he provides a wealth of insight into the impact of blockchain on existing industries, what OSA DC’s multi-technology platform means for retail and other industries, and what the future of shopping could look like with OSA’s decentralized solutions.
Why did you choose to join the OSA DC team as an advisor?
So basically I find that applying blockchain, artificial intelligence, and data analytics to the fast moving consumer good market is very interesting. I didn’t see any companies in the market taking OSA DC’s approach, so when they contacted me, I was very enthusiastic and I was happy to join the advisory board. It’s also a step ahead of its pees. It’s not just a whitepaper; there’s a serious team backing the project, which has already developed some milestones in the sector with the OSA Hybrid Platform. They have a strong expertise in AI, big data analytics, and blockchain, and their expertise was another strong factor to get me to join the advisory board.
I also like OSA’s combination of different technologies. The team understands something very important, something few companies and teams have understood so far in this industry. This is, the fact that you cannot treat the blockchain as the panacea to cure all the problems in the world. Rather, it is a medicine that needs to be used with other technologies to heal the system’s problems. You need artificial intelligence, machine learning, decentralized process management, image recognition technology, and so on. These are all part of the same toolbox, and I think the fact that they use this technology together is very unique — no one else is doing what they’re doing.
Do you feel that you can influence the industry on a personal level by working with the OSA DC team?
Well I hope so. I think that we are moving towards an era of real-time, high frequency data exchange between humans and Internet of Things (IoT) technology. Projections say that by 2030 there will be something like 100 billion IoT devices that we will exchange information with, so we need to collect this information somehow. The best way to do so is to give power back to citizens, to give them control over their data, and the tool do this is blockchain. So the fact that OSA decided to design their ecosystem on a blockchain platform that works with AI is very promising. The users, the consumers can decide whether they want to share, how much they want to share, and by doing so, they are rewarded, so they are actively taking part in the sharing economy. They basically take part in the production process because they help retailers and manufacturers to analyse consumer behavior and they alert them to product anomalies and risks.
Instead of having a monopolistic control, centralized control over the platform’s data — the kind of control we’ve seen over data for services like Facebook, Uber, and other centralized platforms — with OSA DC, we are creating a decentralized platform where the raw data and its use is directed by the people based on a community-driven reputation system. So bottom line, the people, the consumers are in control of the platform, and this is the major difference between OSA DC and the first wave of data management platforms that I’ve seen so far.
Do you think that the innovate technologies OSA integrates will improve the retail industry? Is it ready to accept the change?
Well yes, of course! We have a lot of data so we need to decide what we want to do with it. We have two choice. We can either ignore it and not collect it, or we can empower informational services with this data. I think the choice here is obvious, so we should go the second route by empowering ourselves with a larger informational reserve which allow us to make wiser, more intelligent decisions. Now, how we do that — that’s the tricky part. If we do it by centralizing everything and stealing information from consumers, this will not be beneficial for the consumer or the industry at large. But if we keep the consumer as an integral part of the production process, allowing them to interact directly with the producers, then this will be beneficial for all involved in the long run.
What are the key concerns you experience with the retail supply chain as a consumer?
The major concern that I have, which happens very often, is not being able to find the same product for the same brand across different stores. For instance, when I go to buy my favorite brand of buffalo mozzarella in the grocery store near my flat, it’s often out of stock on the shelf. So I have to walk more than a mile to the next shop to find the mozzarella that I want to buy, or I need to adjust my choice to find the next best brand.
So shelf stock-outs are the main problems that I see in my case. But also, you know, there’s the problem of having overly expensive prices. I find it difficult to justify some of these prices, because they cover retail market’s inefficient processes — you’re not paying for the product; you’re paying for the overhead. These are the most frustrating things that I find when I shop.
Absolutely, so something like OSA DC’s product master catalogue and its product registry and look-up would help tremendously with these problems.
How, in your opinion, can consumer data collection improve retail business processes?
It depends on how you handle the data. So here, OSA DC wants to use two important technologies: AI and image recognition, both for big data analytics. If you use AI, then you have a method to recognize data patterns, which enables the platform to forecast problems, such as in-store product shortages. Such problems can be detected by the AI, which can then respond to them in a timely manner. And image recognition is very useful from the consumer side of things. You enable the consumers to be able to pinpoint the products they really want, making sure that they match their expectations and diets. So if you integrated this with healthcare data, this could help consumers to make purchases based on the diet recommendations of a physician and help them to make healthier, more informed purchasing decisions.
Once you put all of this data on the blockchain, thus securing its integrity, all of this is very powerful.
Do you think it is important to encourage cooperation between each party — consumer and manufacturer, at each stage of product circulation?
Of course. Like I was saying earlier, connecting consumers to producers and retailers can only improve services, because it introduces a new level of cooperation and support. And this will help to provide value to the industry in a more holistic way, as it engages every actor involved with the industry.
What are the key innovations you believe in the most and why?
So there’s no particular technology that makes me say, “Ok, this is a breakthrough that has never been used before.” But the novelty of this ecosystem is its design and how the combination of technologies are put together and put to use. This originality has given us a very powerful platform, a very powerful tool to connect consumers to retailers, retailers to manufacturers, producers to consumers — all of the people in the supply chain are connected on a different level through this data. OSA DC connects all of them using these tools. So basically, the design of the platform is the kicker. It’s a new combination of existing technologies, not unlike blockchain itself. Blockchain is novel because it’s putting together all of these old technologies into something new. So the same for the platform here. I see this as an evolving platform that will mature over time with the help of artificial intelligence and big data analytics, so I think the combination of all these cutting edge technologies makes OSA DC truly novel in design.
How do you see the retail industry in 5 years and OSA DC’s role in it?
Yeah, so it is very difficult to predict the market. What’s interesting for me, what’s important to consider is that it is an agnostic platform. It’s a kind of research and development lab which is providing a platform which is put together in a regional fashion, and this will serve and bring power to the retail industry. But this same platform could be applied to other sectors. So I would say I think that OSA DC should be an industry agnostic platform, one that could expand to other services and industries in the future. Also, the fast moving consumer goods market has a large amount of available data, so we need to figure out how we can store, transfer, process, use, and power decisions using this data. So for retail specifically, given its first-mover advantage, I think OSA DC is well positioned in this sector, and I have high hopes for it even five years from now, especially considering I believe it can be applied to other sectors.