The heatwave generated by the blockchain revolution hasn’t spared the IoT field. While there are a number of blockchain use cases that just don’t make sense (such as controlling smart home devices), we are particularly interested in its potential impact on product traceability.
Some of the unique properties of blockchain technologies could be very useful tools to help fix a number of inefficiencies in the supply chain. In particular, the immutability and decentralization can help fix the growing distrust within supply chains and between consumers and brands.
Not idling on these ideas, we’ve launched a number of EVRYTHNG Labs activities. Concretely, we are working on several pilots with our customers on practical guides to evaluate blockchain solutions, while also creating bridges between the blockchain and EVRYTHNG.
Supply chain traceability services are not inherent to blockchain solutions, and we have been successfully providing such services to a number of big brands. Here, we’d like to talk about a proof of concept to leverage blockchain technologies for existing supply chain tools. With this service, we’re showing that transactions in the EVRYTHNG platform could be backed by a blockchain. This could be used to reinforce the immutability and distribution of transactions, which could be useful for use cases regarding distrust. For example, this can be used in product provenance applications (studies have shown most US citizen do not trust organic or artisanal labels) or for regulatory compliance (GDP2013/C343/0 states that a deviation of temperature within the supply chain of a drug should be reported to the distributor and recipient).
Transactions in the EVRYTHNG platform are modeled as Actions (according to the W3C Web Thing model), mostly using the standard EPCIS terminology. As an example, moving a pair (or pallet) of shoes from distribution to a store is an Action on the uniquely identified pair of shoes (Thng), performed by the distributor (source) designated to an actual pair of shoes (destination). Such a transaction is authenticated via API keys and certificates and recorded in the EVRYTHNG platform, where applications can consume it via APIs. So, in essence, this could serve product provenance or be used as a basis for regulatory compliance.
But what if the brand decides to modify this data after the fact? This is where the blockchain can help: transactions in a blockchain are immutable.
Thanks to EVRYTHNG’s Reactor, we can illustrate how to “certify” this transaction via a blockchain. We created a Reactor script that creates a secure hash of an EVRYTHNG Action and pushes this as a transaction in the Bitcoin or Ethereum blockchains. After about ten minutes, the transaction is accepted by the Bitcoin system and validated by a number of Bitcoin participants (miners) before being permanently added to the blockchain. A blockchain bridge service running on the EVRYTHNG side captures this event and creates a new Action containing the reference to the Bitcoin transaction. The Action is now certified by the blockchain, it can be audited by anyone and any modification could easily be spotted (the Action hash would become different from what was recorded on the blockchain).
This is a relatively simple example of the power of a blockchain. However, it is also important to note that implementing supply chain traceability, product provenance, or product authenticity does not necessarily need a blockchain solution. Blockchain technologies are still in their infancy, and the relative immaturity and heterogeneity of the technologies make them quite a risky bet. Hybrid approaches are a safer model, since they can leverage the potential of several blockchains while maintaining the data in proven platforms. EVRYTHNG is definitely playing in this space, and we will gradually release new tools for integrating our centralized system with an increasing number of blockchain solutions.