Blockchain is continually pushing into various industries ranging from banking to retail. As it continues to grow, many companies and executives are starting to take notice and begin either adopting it or experimenting with it. One major area for blockchain innovation is supply chain management, which many companies investigating.
GS1 US, a member of GS1 Global is one such example. This nonprofit is working on building industry collaboration to improve the supply chain, and is looking into blockchain technology. In order to enter this field, GS1 hired Kraig Adams to serve as vice president of blockchain. Prior to joining GS1, Adams served as vice president of national foodservice distribution for The Coca-Cola Company, where he oversaw foodservice distribution and an operations network.
We spoke with Adams to learn how he got involved with blockchain technology at Coca-Cola and how blockchain will transform supply chain management.
Q. What will be your primary tasks at your new role at GS1?
A. My new role at GS1 US will allow me to focus on collaboration with a variety of industry leaders, first and foremost, which is what makes GS1 US so unique as an organization and why I’ve been a part of it as a member for so many years when I was with Coca-Cola. More specifically, I’ll be collaborating with leaders across multiple business sectors to help them explore distributed ledger technology, including blockchain, and better understand the role of GS1 Standards needed to support the business process that blockchain solutions are applied. Consistent, accurate data is fundamental across any technology solution when managing a supply chain and blockchain is not different.
Ever since blockchain surfaced about three years ago as a topic of frequent discussion in the supply chain industry, there have been many companies piloting it just for the sake of trying something new. What attracted me to this new role at GS1 US was the ability to partner with key stakeholders and work with them to cut through the hype surrounding blockchain. It’s not just a solution in search of a problem. It has real potential. But we have work to do — it’s not going to be an overnight success story and blockchain may not be right for everyone.
Q. How will blockchain technology improve your customers’ processes?
A. Blockchain could force a shift toward a new era of more widespread data sharing. This is exciting because it can help us evolve the supply chain processes that are typically slow and non-transparent into more efficient and democratized processes. It can also introduce more automation through smart contracts built into a blockchain solution, which automatically enforce previously-agreed upon terms, and record transactions on an unchangeable, immutable ledger. Though this means fewer opportunities for manual data management errors, blockchain does not automatically fix data errors that already exist. That’s why building a foundation on GS1 Standards is so important, otherwise bad data is just shared faster, and investments in blockchain will be nonproductive without data transparency, accuracy and integrity.
The most active members GS1 US sees pursuing blockchain are in the healthcare and food industries, which makes complete sense if you think about the impact that greater efficiency, accuracy and authenticity could have on saving people’s lives. By speeding up recalls before contaminated products can sicken people, for example, blockchain can help leading companies more adequately protect consumers and give them critical information that they need and are demanding. Additionally, the retail industry potentially has a lot to gain from blockchain too, as it can help reduce the incidence of claims, chargebacks, shrink, and counterfeit proliferation — all problems that stem from a lack of supply chain visibility and cost the retail industry millions of dollars and loyal customers each year.
No matter the industry, a technology solution like blockchain is only as useful as the data that you supply to it. Standards are more relevant than ever for those testing blockchain’s data sharing capabilities as they bring much-needed structure and consistency to the data being shared. We’re working on new guidance that will be out soon to help ground industry’s understanding of GS1 Standards as a prerequisite for blockchain. It’s been a collaborative effort of the GS1 US Cross-Industry Blockchain Discussion Group, which has been a very active forum for healthcare, apparel, retail grocery, and foodservice industry stakeholders over the past year to share their experiences with blockchain for the greater purpose of moving industry forward in the right direction.
Q. How did you first become interested and get involved in blockchain?
A. My previous role with Coca-Cola allowed me to explore different technology to improve operations and I became intrigued by what blockchain could do to enhance traceability, visibility and transparency in the supply chain. I was already aware of how GS1 Standards could do this and had seen tremendous results at Coca-Cola from the implementation of key standards like GS1-128 barcodes for better product traceability. I also served on the executive leadership committee for the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative and had been engaged with GS1 US as it too explored how blockchain could be applied to solve visibility and efficiency challenges.
At first, I was most interested in finding out for myself if it is really a technology that is too hyped up, or if it is a possibly historic game-changer. I learned quickly it was much more than cryptocurrency and has the potential for many more business applications where data visibility, traceability, authenticity, conditional terms and many other processes are important in a business process and sharing of data across partners. The more GS1 US learns from pilot programs, research, and from the technology community, I can see that blockchain has a number of nuances and complexities that need to be examined, and that a thoughtful approach, along with a global language of business through GS1 standards, will be most effective as blockchain technology is put into action.
Q. What do you see as the future of blockchain tech?
A. The future of blockchain technology is undefined — we’re in such a nascent stage of its development that it’s hard to tell how much or little it will be used and in which industries. However, I can say that an emerging concern of GS1 US members is how interoperable different blockchain solutions will be as this becomes more mainstream. How can different blockchain platforms be used by different companies and how can we apply the universality of GS1 Standards to make that happen? These emerging blockchain ecosystems have to effectively speak to one another, and there isn’t going to be just one blockchain solution offered — we already see a variety. The good news is we don’t need to start from scratch and GS1 US has decades of experience collaborating with different supply chain partners to help move forward in a common direction with a common global language.