Blockchain Reference Solution Architecture (BRSA)

BRSA

I have been publishing Blockchain perspectives over the past couple of years and rarely come across the real details on what it takes to implement a Blockchain solution. Nailing down the solution architecture is “where the rubber hits the road” in preparing an enterprise to gear up for blockchain implementation. Initially thought of offering a detailed technical architecture diagram which can easily lead to misinterpretations. Hence getting focused on describing a “Blockchain Reference Solution Architecture (BRSA)” in this blog post.

I would envision the following 6 foundation layers of BRSA and narrate it with a CPG use case for implementing Blockchain for “Diamond” product class.

1) User Interface: Any solution starts with a user-friendly UX. In our use case, let us say consumers walk into a jewelry store with an intent to buy a diamond for his fiancee. The consumer is”digital-aware” and carrying a mobile and an app on it that is designed to the diamond supply chain to gain the confidence of purchase. Henceforth one of the key features of the mobile app is a read-only application in the first place and will therefore not require any log-in. The consumer then is able to scan a barcode, RFID sensor, QR-code or for that matter invoke computer vision and access the information related to a particular product (in this case diamond) that may involve multiple the steps in the supply chain and tracking the source etc.

2) Data/File Storage: The next solution component is designing file storage. Typically the information stored in blockchain includes contract verification, hashes, and identification of who has added this information. In our example of diamond products, if a miner at source takes a photo of diamond drawing/marking at the source and add it to the blockchain. How this data could be stored on the blockchain, is a critical solution element and the following are 3 possibilities for storing that photo,

  • Upload to the blockchain and make it transparent to all the nodes in the blockchain, but this requires the blockchain to store a significant amount of information.
  • Upload photo to a separate database but accessed by the blockchain. Access can be restricted or open for everyone who interacts with the blockchain.
  • Store in a database that is owned or controlled by an administrator to upload the photo, but it is not possible to access through the blockchain. Only the creator of the file/photo decides who they want to share their data with.

Hence deciding a right data storage mechanism is a critical component of the BRSA component.

3) Blockchain Platform: Choosing the blockchain platform is the next step in the solution design. As mentioned above, the blockchain platform verifies files, contracts, and stores transactions. Platform options include public, private or a hybrid. Platform selection for diamond use case is primarily driven by transaction costs to a least and transaction capacity near real time. The public blockchains platforms include Bitcoin and Ethereum etc. If not the transaction costs, Bitcoin is not considered in this case due to a very low transaction rate. Even if the transaction cost in Ethereum is significantly lower, transaction capacity is still limited. Both transaction costs and transaction capacity be a restriction in a price/service sensitive CPG products. One way to handle this is to go for second layer solutions as they get matured. On the other hand, private blockchain can be most attractive, but only trusted partners are allowed to validate transactions and blocks. The validated and recorded content of the blockchain may or may not be published to the public. The platform selection is really a trade-off

4) Application / Smart Contract: The application or smart contract is another key element of the solution. The most well-known blockchain solution for applications is Ethereum, where the contracts are called as distributed applications (dApps). The applications are run on the blockchain by all nodes, they are distributed. In some other cases the contracts are not run on the blockchain – they are confirmed in the blockchain, and their verifications are embedded in the blockchain but the entire application is not run by the blockchain network. For generating a diamond smart contract, the diamond store must upload the GIA certificate for each stone to be listed. Tracking can be enabled for a single diamond of high value or for a basket of diamonds. The blockchain solution can be designed for distributors listing their diamonds, or for peer-to-peer sales. The transactions here can be virtual but in our case, it is physical in store, and a secure completion of the purchase could trigger the delisting of the smart contract. Many technology providers want their applications to be possible to run on different blockchains and this is much easier if the application is not run by the blockchain. This could potentially be an option for our use case.

5) The ID and authorization: The key CPG actors who are going to authorize the different steps in the process have to be identified and some sort of ID solution is required to be built into the overall architecture. In our use case, either diamond distributor can handle the ID-creation and directory within the blockchain system, or rather create the ID-system and let the private administrators of the system be responsible for the ID-solution. The system then creates the private and public keys of the participants and may use extra security such as IP-addresses to control for the authority of the actors. A simple barcode-based unique ID can incorporate complex data science models to create a unique signature for either a rough or a polished diamonds.

6) Asset Registry: In diamond CPG industry there exists many organizations and authorities that can have an interest in labeling the products with their certificates. Hence in our use case, there should exist a public authority to assign a code to keep track of the diamond and their production. After creating the signature as described in the previous step, diamond can forever be verified against it to prevent fraud of any kind. The amount produced or sold by the diamond maker etc. will then get a code in the blockchain and lives on immutable.

All the above components collectively build a robust solution architecture as depicted in the diagram above for implementing the Blockchain solution for Diamond CPG supply chains.

CPG Blockchains

scmCPG Supply Chains are undergoing an unprecedented change looking out for new ways of improvement. I am focusing on this blog on how net-new technologies including  Blockchain is transforming the CPG supply chains.  Evaluating few real-life examples in CPG space triggering a discussion on Blockchain relevance in CPGs.

CPG sectors that benefit from Blockchain are widespread. Fashion products, which is one of the prime CPG sectors ripe for Blockchain adaption where supply chain provenance plays a significant role. The other product classes include garment or makeup products, fine wine, art, luxury items or for that matter diamonds that can benefit from Blockchain adaption. I have been evaluating on how CPG companies can promote an “ethical fashion” or “ethical products” with Blockchain based applications. Let us dive into details.

Blockchain relevance to CPGs:

Focus areas chosen are supply chain provenance, transparency, counterfeiting, and sustainability. The enterprise-wide Blockchain platform could help to increase business velocity, create new revenue streams, and reduce cost and risk by securely extending the supply chain to drive tamper-resistant transactions on a trusted business network.

Provenance & Transparency: Do you agree that the relationship between CPG supply chains Transparency (access to information) is not always linear & straightforward with Traceability (provenance)? Let us look into how to build a Blockchain based solution for CPG supply chain provenance.

Blockchain could help in improving the transparency of the fashion supply chains, promoting sustainability and addressing fashion companies’ lack of ethical supply chains that are contributing to >10% global emissions, and as well in combating to counterfeiting.

Blockchain can play a role in transparency in transforming fashion supply chains through technologies such as track and trace and inventory management. With Blockchain, it is possible to create physical – digital link between goods and their digital identifiers. Cryptographic seal or serial number can be used as a physical identifier linking back to the product’s digital-twin. An example to quote is “Better Kinds”, with a focus on decentralized manufacturing allowing everyone to know where your clothes come from.

Counterfeiting: Blockchain solution as well helps fashion CPGs in combating counterfeiting by recording on blockchain every time goods change-in hands. The chain of custody on blockchain provides a record of the last party to gain custody of the product, showing where the counterfeit product slipped in, or an authentic product got diverted. Read my blog post, Combating Counterfeiting With Blockchain Technology

Sustainability:  The promising outcomes of Blockchain in this space include, sustainability gains in the form of reduced environmental impact and better assurance of human rights and fair work practices. Having a clear record of product history helps product buyers to be confident that goods being purchased are coming only from sources that have been recognized as being ethically sound. More accurately tracking substandard products and identifying their occurrence further upstream in supply chains will help reduce the scope of rework and recalls, providing considerable greenhouse gas reductions and other resource savings. the ultimate goal of Blockchain will be improved supply chain optimization gaining access to a more complete longitudinal supply chain datasets eliminating redundancies and bottlenecks, and ultimately, decreases in resource consumption.

Blockchain implementation process for CPG Blockchains:

Blockchain solutions could help fashion CPGs in their brand positioning as environment-friendly and tech-savvy. Existing technologies like ERPs, Enterprise Data Warehouse, Integration Technologies, and existing e-commerce website can enable provenance, but with practical limitations.  That is where new technologies including Mobile App Development, Public/Private Blockchain Platform, Crypto-Fiat payment gateways & wallets, Digital-Twins, Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Analytics, IoT Sensors, Robots & New Handheld device Hardware etc.

Blockchain implementation for CPGs is an art. The new technology adaption process includes building a public or private blockchain network bringing connecting all key stakeholders using a DLT. Create a token that promotes the use of such application and potentially incentivize the users and suppliers. Create wallets to store tokens and collect incentives. Integrate with payment gateways and exchanges. This forms the Blockchain Core. Then build business and application logic with workflows that support the provenance functionality. Integrate the Blockchain core with back-end transaction systems and ensure seamless flow of information ensuring the data integrity and privacy. It may be a good idea to consider a second layer solution for improved transaction rates and at the same time confining certain confidential information, in this case, supplier data to open access to all competitors via a blockchain. Developing a mobile app and lastly, integrating UI, Application (Blockchain Core) and back-end systems. A brief description of 3 layers of foundational architecture is provided below.

  • User Interface: Customer experience plays a significant role in provenance applications. Should have access to a friendly UX that should support consumers to be able to walk into their favorite retailers, use phones and scan the tag on a garment or makeup product to be able to pull up full supply chain information.
  • Application Logic: Build business and application logic with workflows that support the provenance functionality. This is the core platforms that developed and rolls out provenance application.
  • Data and Back-end Transactions: Brands should get a better handle on what’s really happening in their production processes and chosen technology should relieve a logistical headache by streamlining the record-keeping and verification processes. Second, it requires brands to voluntarily invite their suppliers (who will need to in turn invite their own suppliers, and so on down the chain), to adopt the technology.

How to calculate ROI for CPGBlockchains?

Setting up a Blockchain based application for CPG supply chain provenance involve a capital investment for infrastructure and development costs and ongoing maintenance costs. ROI is a derivative of whether such application attracts more consumers demand and/or willingness of consumers pay additional fees for access to truth and sustainability and/or reduced costs of the current supply chain with streamlined operations. Hence ROI should be computed as “[ Increased revenues from consumer demands & adaption + Premium fees consumer willing to pay + Reduced costs of supply chain operations – Total Investments & Costs (CapEx+OpEx)]

The real ROI of Blockchains come from handling the volume of CPG products and transactions having a second layer solutions to offload/ off-chain transaction volumes from core Blockchain. Estimating components is a challenge in computing Blockchain ROI. But there exists an opportunity to estimate parameters with a degree of accuracy. Such parameters include,

  • Improving the efficiencies of running workloads. Smart contract automation can save significant time in real life transactions avoiding manual interventions
  • Cost reduction is a great value in horizontally integrated supply chains. Blockchain can easily create a global view without expensive third parties
  • Increased trust among key stakeholders that would improve supply chain performance
  • CPG/Retail plastic/waste management can be incentivized leading to a better sustainability

Let us examine use cases:

The following two case studies offer a great insight into how Blockchains can enable provenance. From these examples, taking a value chain based approach for identifying incremental benefits along various supply chains components could fairly offer potential ROI perspective from Blockchain adaption.

  1. Examining the Everledger based blockchain application for traceability of diamonds. The key challenge of the diamond industry is certification of the ethical origin of the diamond. Noticed that Everledger has been trying to create a database of diamonds registering on the blockchain to certify the final cut diamond was ethically-sourced from “conflict-free” regions. Such examples can be used to create an anti-counterfeit database for other valuable goods such as fine wine and art.
  2. Moving on to another example, Blockchain enabled traceability application for yellowfin and skipjack tuna fish. The Etherium based platform trying to track the entire supply chain from fishermen to distributors. End users could track the source of their tuna fish sandwiches via a smartphone. This platform would enable determination of information about the producers, suppliers, and procedures undergone by the end product. allow confirmation of a given fish’s origin tracking the supply chain. Such a solution would present a viable model for product certification to an end consumer.

In Summary…

The complex blockchain solutions will provide an unprecedented level of transparency and traceability, to build the highest level of trust in the sustainability of the CPG supply chains. The CPG products are able to be traced on the blockchain through their unique tracking code with the information collected from linking all information sources within the global supply chain covering from the source through the production process up to the final point of sale as described in the case examples above.

Working as a single source of truth, Blockchain can change the way business transactions take place. From a supply chain perspective, such visibility will help ensure efficient transactions, while promoting safety, efficient recalls, the elimination of counterfeits, and the assurance of ethical trading.

I continue to research further on Blockchain relevance to CPG supply chains. While the core principles of Blockchain are being established, the companies adopting the new technology progressively evolve alongside. ABC (AI+Blockchain+Crtptocurrencies) continues to significantly alter Retail / CPG business models.

Reach out to me for further discussions @ kishor.akshinthala@gmail.com.

Combating Counterfeiting with Blockchain Technology

UntitledLet’s visualize, you walk into a jewelry store and see a very aesthetic diamond necklace you were dreaming to buy to your fiancé on Valentine Day. What if you have a technology at hand that make sure the jewelry is authentic. Self-authentication is seemingly the need for many consumers buying various products before making a purchase to avoid fake in a world of counterfeiting. As per OECD estimates, global trade-related counterfeiting accounts for 2.5% of world trade, or 461 billion USD in 2016.

Going back to the diamond necklace purchase scenario, let us visualize that you have an application on your phone and scan the necklace. The application tells you if necklace is real or not. Further to that application (a DApp on a Blockchain) displays a video of the designer explaining why you should select that precious necklace. You may find out that the necklace you like is a very limited edition and only 50 persons on the globe can have such a necklace. You can’t resist anymore and you just buy the necklace. After buying it, you ask the seller to transfer the ownership to you. They show you a QR-code, for instance, on their phone, you flash it with the app and declaring to everybody in the Blockchain that this necklace, one of few of the limited edition, only 50 pieces in the world, belongs to You.

The use case explained above is very much coming into reality with Blockchain enabled ant-counterfeiting platforms. Startups like Everledger, veChain, Chronicled, BlockVerify, Digmus etc. are offering Blockchain solutions for anti-counterfeiting. In today’s world counterfeiting plagues supply chains affecting consumers and businesses in many ways including the product under your possession can be a counterfeit or a products on the go can get diverted to a new destination or products gets stolen or products tied to fraudulent transactions / money laundering. Counterfeiting is widely present across industries ranging from luxury goods, diamonds, pharmaceuticals, wines/whisky, electronics, semiconductors, many retail products.

Why Blockchain Technology is promising in anti-counterfeiting?

Counterfeiting is basically a double-spend problem – the very problem the initial bitcoin blockchain was designed to solve. Blockchain offers a transparent environment where it is impossible to duplicate products. Enterprises can create registries of their products and monitor supply chains leveraging cryptographically secure mechanisms for anonymously transferring the identity of products as they move through multiparty supply chains.

Anti-Counterfeiting Blockchain Platform (ACBP) primarily has two key constituents. One is a Blockchain that acts as the storage of unique products identifiers and history of product transfer between parties. Blockchain technology can check the brand authenticity, issue crypto certificates and stores product information and additional data to verify authenticity. The second constituent is offering better UX to end user with a DApp which will be used to verify the product and provide verification for additional authenticity. With the advent of core technology and UX, ACBP identifies the product as it moves through the supply chain and alert the blockchain network if a duplicate shows up to the existence and location of a counterfeit.

Challenges of Blockchain anti-counterfeiting platforms and future focus areas:

Enterprises and blockchain communities have t aim overcoming the following potential challenges to deploy Blockchain Technology for anti-counterfeiting solutions.

  • High volumes and underlying transaction fees: Blockchain comes very handy for very high value goods with low volumes without above said problem. But for Anti-counterfeiting blockchain platform to scale up to serialization in overcoming counterfeiting, it has to provide individual tracking of high-volume items with relative low value may not be viable. A potential solution to this is moving certain types of transactions into off-chains where they are processed, freeing up the blockchain for its primary role as a distributed ledger. The popular off chain solutions being piloted recently are
    • Lightening Network for Bitcoin
    • Plasma & Raiden Network for Ethereum
  • Public vs private blockchain for anti-counterfeiting: As decried above limitations of public blockchain like Bitcoin Blockchain is lack of handling high volume (consider a manufacturer producing a millions of products per day) at speed and underlying fees for these transactions would be several hundred thousand USD per day. However, going with private Blockchain has its downside: it give an opportunity to fiddle with data in some scenarios. To get the best of both worlds – performance and low cost of private Blockchain, and trust of public Blockchain, is a hybrid blockchain. Data is kept in a private Blockchain, but on regular intervals the control checksums of private Blockchain are persisted in a public network, which makes it is impossible to corrupt or modify existing records.
  • Data Privacy: Anti-counterfeit systems need to find a balance between privacy and transparency. Blockchain was designed having transparency and anonymity in mind, while leaving enough freedom for developers to decide on the level of anonymity and transparency Blockchain-based solution should have. Finding the right balance is one of the toughest challenges, as increase in transparency kills anonymity and vice versa. One way to handle data privacy is separating public data that is necessary to validate product from sensitive data. Sensitive data is then encrypted and securely stored off-chain. This way only users who possess eligible identity, such as representatives of governments or controlling organizations, are allowed to read protected data.

To summarize, Blockchain enabled distributed ledger technology can provide a way for large groups of unrelated companies to jointly keep a secure and reliable record of their products and transactions.Reducing costs and time by eliminating the need for third parties that administer ledgers and clear transactions has business benefits that can improve the profitability of blockchain adopters for anti-counterfeiting. The promising features of blockchain is undoubtedly positioning this new technology a means for anti-counterfeiting.

Supply Base Rationalization – Decison Sciences Approach

Within the area of strategic purchasing, the number of suppliers to maintain in a firm’s supply base is a critical component. Transactional purchasing performance is generally enhanced by larger numbers of suppliers that compete fiercely against each other for a share of business. Strategic purchasing, however, is enhanced by smaller numbers of suppliers that maintain long-term business relationships characterized by loyalty, openness, and trust.

Supply Base Rationalization – Key Determinants:  

Few of the key determinants of finding right number suppliers include,

Economies of scale: With a larger percentage of the business, firms have greater economies of scale to enhance their financial performance and provide the resource slack necessary to maintain the inter-firm collaboration and long-term investments needed to jointly succeed with their buying firm partner

Supplier performance diversity: While it is important for a firm to pursue a rationalization strategy that includes the best suppliers, it may also be incumbent on the firm to seek a diversity of performance capabilities within the reduced supply base. Ignoring this consideration could leave a firm undergoing supplier rationalization with a smaller but more redundant strategic supply base. This is more relevant in today’s environment of digital sourcing where large number discrete contracts with niche players is the visible phenomenon.

Product lifecycle considerations: Consumers that consistently purchase newly launched products are less price sensitive than are late adopters. These early adopters may also value speed to market and functionality more so than do the technology laggards. As these phases of the product life cycle attract different buying segments, strategic sourcing calls for different outcomes according to the different stages of the product life cycle. In the context of supply base rationalization, strategic sourcing organizes a reduced supply base structure thus still have to support the required diversity of firm objectives and life cycle considerations for those resource inputs deemed strategic to the firm

Supply base rationalization criteria:

The most common set of variables that many Sourcing organization aim to optimize while modelling supply base rationalization include, i) net-price, ii) quality, iii) delivery, iv) performance history, v) warranties and penalities, vi) facilities and capacity and vii) geographic location. So the objective function of supplier rationalization is to optimize the above relevant criteria.

A Practical Framework Considering Supplier Diversity Performance :
A reduced supply base enables management to focus time and resources on developing deeper supplier relationships with those firms remaining meeting the objectives as defined above. Provided that these suppliers have resources and capabilities that are aligned with the strategic objectives of the buying firm, the process of supply base rationalization can then be said to have critical strategic value to the firm. Hence supplier performance diversity plays a key role in this.

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In the context of supply base rationalization, the careful and deliberate selection not only of high performing suppliers but also of suppliers that provide performance diversity across multiple dimensions is critical to structuring a supply base that supports the higher-level strategic objectives of the firm, especially when those objectives involve multi-dexterous capabilities. One such framework using Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) that operationalizes the process of simultaneously considering supplier performance and supplier performance diversity is presented above. This framework overlay what is supplier efficiency (Y-Axis) as per the success criteria defined and how suppliers differ in terms of performance diversity (X-Axis).Suppliers whose net efficiency is low and as well overall supplier diversity performance is low are NICHE Performers. Enterprises should focus on developing them to augment the capabilities of future. On the other side Suppliers who efficiency is high and supplier performance diversity is high are OVERALL GOOD performers. The long term objective of enterprises is have strategy to transform NICHE and GOOD suppliers to SUPERIOR performers offering higher efficiency and performance diversity to build next gen capabilities enabling business excellence.

For those firms engaged in supply base rationalization, whether or not to maintain diversity or redundancy across various performance dimensions is a strategic decision dependent on the objectives being pursued. I will further elaborate on decision sciences in the context of strategic sourcing in separate posts.

Appendix:

The following link provides a sneak peek into available supply base rationalization models and key tenants of the models.

decision-model

Enabling Supply Chain Visibility – Integrating Shopfloor Production with Logistics Planning

Analysts and supply chain practitioners have been discussing the concepts of a demand-driven supply chain (DDSC) for a decade. The concept of demand-driven supply chains is highly relevant to CPG businesses and the methods to get there can be evolved with varying degrees of emphasis placed on demand-side and supply-side initiatives. This paper emphasizes the importance of an integrated demand and supply approach. Corporate Supply Chain (CSC) is a cross-functional area in many industries across the globe. This involves integration of production planning, dispatch order generation and logistics planning and suppression with normal logistics embroiled with primary distribution i.e. flow of material from manufacturing locations to Distribution Centers (DC). This post deals with a study conducted for a Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) company having 13 production locations and 22 DCs and Carrying & Forwarding Agents (CFA). There are 36 packing lines in all over manufacturing locations and each line packs different varieties of Stock Keeping Units (SKU). The CSC activities here are concentrated on the middle of the classical supply chain activities. An attempt has been made to streamline the planning activities and to integrate production logic with the logistics by considering total cost concept and constraint planning. Simultaneously an optimization technique has been proposed to support the planning logic developed.

In the existing setup the production plans in the CSC are prepared considering the rated capacities (capacities available when one SKU is run continuously on the packing line for one shift) of the packing line. The rated capacities and the number of shifts available per day are defined by considering the bottlenecks existing at the manufacturing and packing lines. However, since the rated capacities were calculated considering a single SKU per packing line the production plan was not getting converted into actual production and production clips were executing all the times. Hence a Rough Cut Capacity Planning (RCCP) logic was provided by considering packing line breakdowns, lunch breaks, packing line change over times and giving due weight-age to the demands of the SKUs getting packed on the same packing line.

An attempt has been made to formulate a dispatching policy on the basis of a decision matrix to allocate production plans to different manufacturing locations in order to integrate production logic with logistics plan. Total Cost Concept is the basis to decide upon the cost of manufacturing of an SKU at a given manufacturing location and the cost of delivering it at a DC over a certain planning horizon. The total Cost includes manufacturing cost, tax rates, freight rates, and inventory carrying costs from manufacturing location to DC location. Thus logically the priority of dispatch to a DC should be governed by the concept of least cost. This can be achieved by solving the conventional transportation problem using least cost approach. However, this straightforward approach would neglect the influence of certain non-quantifiable factors (ex: Geographical Benefits, Labor Efficiency, Technological Standards, Warehousing etc.), existing both at manufacturing end and at the DC end. It therefore becomes important to integrate these non-quantifiable parameters with the total cost. Hence total cost has been modified taking into consideration the non-quantifiable factors.

The transportation model is solved with these modified cost elements as inputs and the final solution of the quantity of SKUs dispatched by a particular manufacturing location, manufactured at it at a particular period, to a particular DC in a particular period has been suggested. In addition at various manufacturing locations the capacity utilization was also determined which forms an integral approach of such a logistics system. The outcome is a decision making system integrating production logic with the logistics system enabling demand driven supply chain.

You can contact the author Kishor Akshinthala at Kishor.akshinthala@gmail.com for further discussions.