Interview with Philipp Spaeti and Tatjana Meier
Top IBM executives share insights into IBM Blockchain technology’s role in logistics supply chains, the food industry, and beyond.
With the help of IBM Blockchain, visionary companies across the globe are coming together to transform the way their industries work. Striving for a safer, smarter, and more profitable food chain, IBM is leading the business world into a new era of collaboration and innovation. Blockchain—a shared distributed ledger—enables unprecedented and exceptional transparency and efficiency along supply chains. As a result, parties can reduce or eliminate fraud and errors, improve inventory management, minimise courier costs, reduce delays from paperwork, reduce waste, and identify issues faster.
Philipp Spaeti is the Chief Technology Officer of IBM Switzerland, an IBM Distinguished Engineer, and a member of IBM Academy of Technology. In his role as a CTO, Philipp engages with clients in shaping and defining their digital transformation journeys through the application of the latest technologies, such as the Internet of Things, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.
Blockchain Practice Leader for IBM Services Switzerland, Tatjana Meier, is a recognised blockchain expert in the consumer industry. At IBM, she supports clients in their business transformation by driving sustainable sales growth, reducing costs, improving process efficiencies, and promoting organisational change in a digital world with the help of technologies.
Taking technology to new heights, IBM Blockchain describes itself as a movement to help businesses redefine their most important relationships through trust, transparency, and newfound collaboration. Tell us more.
At IBM, we also call it Blockchain for Business because we’ve seen that blockchain technology is beneficial for increasing trust and transparency between business partners. We help our clients become more competitive and efficient in their journeys to digitalisation. We use blockchain as the key technology to address the digitalisation of the entire value chain, meaning between partners, their partners, and within systems.
IBM invested in the creation of new business platforms based on blockchain early on. We launched our first two platforms three to four years ago—one in the food industry, which Tatjana will provide more details about later, and the second, TradeLens, in the logistics area. TradeLens, which we originally built together with Maersk, focused on containers for sea freight. The aim was to digitalise the entire container shipping process and thus improve the end-to-end-process, not only for Maersk as an ocean carrier but for all its partners—from customs to ports, terminals, third-party logistics suppliers, internal operators et cetera. Meanwhile, the platform has grown into a very large marketplace with many other shipping companies and many more organisations. Today, TradeLens’s ecosystem includes 175 unique organisations and publishes more than two million events per day.
In response to COVID-19, IBM Blockchain and MiPasa teamed up and recently released an open platform for coronavirus data built on Hyperledger Fabric. Can you elaborate on the technology behind the platform? Which pandemic-related issues and solutions is it currently tackling?
The current crisis with the advent of COVID-19 is demonstrating that there is an increasing need for sharing and consolidating data in an anonymous form to understand the evolution of the situation better. One of the main problems clinicians, scientists, and researchers studying the data behind the crisis say they are facing is the lack of integration of verified data sources that can be used with confidence.
MiPasa has created an open platform for attested COVID-19 data built on Hyperledger Fabric. MiPasa draws data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and any qualified agencies are able to integrate new platforms of their own with the simple use of APIs. This will make it significantly easier to collect, collate, and study information about outbreaks, spreads, and containments. MiPasa hopes this resource will help public health officials, businesses, members of the scientific community, and the general public battle the ongoing virus epidemic more efficiently.
At IBM, we hope that others will join us in this effort. We are eager for more data providers—governments, hospitals, and anyone who may want to share information with researchers—to contribute their data and help fight the outbreak.
IBM Food Trust sees data as the world's most essential ingredient. The network connects participants across the supply chain through a shared record of food system data. How does end-to-end traceability tie into this?
Once we share data on a single data-sharing platform, everyone has instant transparency with regard to the transactions they are authorised to view. No intermediations are required, and there is no need to contact multiple parties. So it allows for end-to-end traceability and, hence, enables companies to react to the most pressing challenges they face faster.
What are the most pressing challenges currently facing the international food system's supply chains? And what blockchain-backed services does IBM Food Trust™ offer to help actors in the industry overcome these challenges?
There are several key opportunity areas where the food industry is currently focusing its efforts. Firstly, food safety—a big challenge. One out of ten people are still getting sick each year, and 400,000 people die from foodborne illnesses. Secondly, optimisation of the supply chain. A staggering amount—the estimation for CPG companies is around 80%—is still partially or entirely paper-based, leading to highly inefficient processes and a lot of unnecessary, additional costs. Thirdly, food waste. Around one-third of all vegetables and fruits are thrown away because their quality drops and is deemed unacceptable. And then there’s consumer demand. Around 25% of consumers trust today’s food system, whilst 90% say they would be more loyal to brands that offer transparency.
Each of these issues can be addressed with end-to-end traceability and visibility in the supply chain. However, creating end-to-end supply chain visibility requires enabling companies to share their data on their own terms in a trusted and protected manner. And this is precisely where IBM Food Trust can help actors in the industry overcome their challenges.
How is IBM Food Trust™ working to eliminate food fraud and food waste?
IBM Food Trust™—powered by blockchain—is a modular solution that tackles various issues that companies in the food industry face. The Trace module, for example, ensures the end-to-end traceability of a product within seconds, thereby allowing a faster and more targeted product recall. When we combine the traceability of a product with analytics from our second module—the Hyper Insights module—companies can improve their inventory management. This ensures that perishable goods are stored in the right environment and not going to go to waste. Traceability also demonstrates that food fraud can be detected more easily. A combination of crypto-anchors and IoT sensors provides an extra layer of security which ensures that food products do not get tampered with along the supply chain.
However, the Trace module and Hyper Insights module are just two modules, and there are certainly a number of use cases that might not have been tackled yet. But this is the great thing about the IBM Food Trust™ solution: if there is a use case or a problem that has not been solved, we are here to develop the solution to solve the problem together with the client, for example, by adding another module to the platform.
Looking at the future of food, how will blockchain solutions help the food system cope with threats imposed by climate change?
Blockchain solutions offer the basis for companies and organisations to gain end-to-end visibility along their supply chains. In combination with other technologies, such as analytics, IoT sensors, or artificial intelligence, companies are able to make better decisions. Therefore, they can react a lot faster to threats and problems arising through climate change.
Let's have a look at the example of blockchain data and weather data. If we combine weather data and blockchain data, and secure end-to-end visibility, companies can proactively analyse this data and adapt to changes in the weather, like storms or flooding, a lot faster. If industry platforms have the power to collect data anonymously along the entire supply chain, or even from different supply chains on a higher-level, companies and industries can draw conclusions about the impacts of climate change. Again, they can react a lot faster to these and ensure that they really lower and prevent negative impacts on local producers.