Supply chains and blockchain: the weak link

A technology expert has warned of weakness in blockchain technology as applied to supply chain…...

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A technology expert has warned of weakness in blockchain technology as applied to supply chain management: the humble barcode. It’s well known to digitally savvy procurement practitioners in the food market that this industry was among the first to seize on blockchain technology to enhance supply relationship management and create an immutable record of the origin, ownership, location, time stamping and movement details of products at all points along the supply chain.

However, according to technology expert, Steve Tallant, in an article for Supply Chain Management magazine, there is a weak link between the physical supply chain and the digital ledger itself, a weakness that threatens its otherwise immense benefits: the method of data entry into the ledger, which is currently the scanning of barcodes or physical entry of their associated numbers. The advantages are clear: blockchain is a bank-safe immutable digital ledger that can’t be tampered with, logging every event and transaction along the supply chain, enhancing traceability operations – food can be traced within minutes instead of days or weeks – and including crucial information, such as farm buildings in the food industry, dates, places, and distribution channels.

The barcode, though, is not bank-safe. It can be easily faked or copied by unwelcome third parties and lacks robust protections against forgery. As Tallant puts it: “If supply chain parties are not sure that they are entering/scanning an authentic and trusted barcode, with the original provenance of the items in the shipper, then there is doubt for the entire supply chain of the item.”

But a solution, Tallant explains, is becoming available: creating a robust and secure e-fingerprint from the barcode printing process. Two identical barcodes could be printed in the physical world, but new software platforms can now assign two distinct, unique digital e-fingerprints to each. It means that the physical product can be safely and authentically linked to the digital ledger, overcoming the standard barcode’s inherent weakness. Digital procurement transformation now has a new tool: e-fingerprinting.

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