FreightWaves recently covered the E. Coli outbreak and how the recall issue is causing the world to rethink “farm to table” and shedding light on the supply chain. From that outbreak alone, over 100 people fell ill due to a contamination that federal agencies couldn’t pinpoint. As traceability becomes more imperative, blockchain has emerged as a potential solution. The problem with equipping an entire industry, however, is a major stumbling block toward making the real kind of change needed.
In light of that, we spoke with Chris Kirchner, CEO and co-founder of blockchain provider Slync, to share his experiences on not just the blockchain hype-machine and what it can do—but also what it currently is doing.
Slync offers a blockchain-based platform for shippers, carriers, freight forwarders and other supply chain participants that creates an immutable audit record of any series of events within a supply chain, specifically focused on domestic and international shipment transactions.
“Scalability is a problem for the entire industry. There’s nothing done at large scale today. That’s just not reality. There’s still more questions there than answers. We are doing some things which could get us ahead of our competitors but it’s all theories right now,” says Kirchner.
“Instead of this winner take all approach, we’re working with an anchor customer and their smaller networks. Where you can work with four or five companies to cooperate. It’s much more of a doable thing, much more realistic. We’re finding very tangible outcomes in those limited partnerships. That’s the pathway to success for blockchain as far as I’m concerned."
Slync logs bill of lading, IoT data and associated costs, and provides a collaborative system of record for business partners, which among other things, reduces disputes. Currently, Slync operates in the logistics, precious metals, pharmaceuticals, wine, luxury goods, FMCG and food industries. But food is hard.
“One of the main barriers to connecting all the parties into blockchain is if a party doesn’t want to be in chain,” says Kirchner. “There’s what I would call ‘light touch’ for their documentation to be put in even without direct participation. That’s one of the challenges that blockchain faces. You have to have levels of cooperation. Those issues make it a tough nut to crack honestly.”
“The other challenge is the business model challenge of getting multiple businesses to cooperate at the same time,” he says. “I don’t know how well that’s going to work to be frank. It’s hard to get just a few businesses to cooperate, but entire industries? Everyone has their own agendas.”
Currently Kirchner says Slync is more focused more on international logistics and high value goods. “Those are our sweet spots. You have all little more structure. There are still multiple parties in the chain. You take out some of the levels of 30-35 points. A box of tomatoes, those things go to a produce market and you don’t know who those intermediaries are in many of those cases. You could have potentially hundreds of points that need to be on your blockchain.”
Another important point of contact is the partnership of IoT and blockchain. “They very much go hand in hand,” says Kirchner. “They’re technologies that can benefit each other, and can launch companies that want to implement solutions.”
"At first I considered hardware for Slync, but then we decided to stick with software and partner with companies like Roambee. From what we’re doing with them we can things like change of custody and the immutability of blockchain helps so that it can’t be tampered with. There’s a natural interconnect with those technologies," Kirchner says.
"We’ve made blockchain simple. You don’t need to know any code. You pick your sources, and you put it in an API invoice. Our speed is another differentiator. We’re a little more agile and can get into operations faster than anyone else on the market. Most of our founding team came from salesforce. We know how to take other companies interfaces with an easy to use interface."
Slync’s membership in the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA) will drive blockchain implementation in the freight industry, in partnership with leading logistics players, including UPS, Fedex and Penske. Slync will also present a live demo at Transparency18 in Atlanta May 22-23. The demo will showcase how Slync streamlines international transactions in the supply chain with blockchain.
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