Blockchain and business – the benefits and the barriers

As blockchain celebrates its 10th birthday this year, its momentum continues to build as new and innovative applications of the technology are developed. Our IT director, Will Robinson, shared his thoughts on its potential impact across business and commerce with Natwest Content Live.

“The technology could have huge benefits for global business and commerce. From supply management to the source-to-settle process, it makes great promises to tackle the issues of tracking and traceability with huge benefits to businesses at every step of the supply chain. In a single ledger, businesses can track every touch point of a product’s journey including its origin, place of storage, authenticity and records. By improving both the flow and security of the supply chain, efficiencies can be built in to save time and expense.

“However, to get the full benefits from blockchain, the hurdles are still high. This is a step up from electronically linking systems together (EDI) which still lags in some sectors. Some sectors may see commercial resistance such as wholesalers who won’t be keen to pass on their blockchain data to a retailer as it will include cost prices and supplier data.

“Consumers are increasingly becoming switched on to issues regarding the supply chain. It has never been more important for brands to demonstrate that they and their suppliers operate in a transparent and ethical way. Blockchain offers the possibility for consumers and brands alike to have complete confidence in a product’s point of origin and journey to date. Driving visibility, control, and risk management across the supply chain, it can help achieve enterprise or regulatory compliance while strengthening a brand’s reputation and improve customer trust and relationships. Meanwhile, brands can benefit from built-in efficiencies which will also help drive down volumes of cargo theft. This should have a positive impact the bottom line and ultimately savings can be passed on to consumers.

“The theoretical security of blockchain could be weakened by any global rollout. If you identify a supplier who uses unethical products or methods, you can easily spot their signature on any blockchain documentation and highlight for blacklisting purposes. But at this point, what would stop that supplier creating a new key with a slightly different trading name?

“There’s always a risk that businesses can get overexcited by new technologies and innovations. Any investment must always stack up against business objectives. As it stands blockchain could offer benefits to most businesses, but that doesn’t mean every business should deploy it. One of the biggest advantages of blockchain is that it can be tailored to a business’ unique needs. If an investment in innovation doesn’t promote business values or build towards objectives, it probably shouldn’t be made – just yet.”

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