On September 13, 2017, Microsoft, IBM, and nonprofit global business communication standards company GS1 announced a collaborative effort to integrate GS1 standards into supply chain-based blockchain applications.
For decades, GS1 has informed global commerce, making history on June 26, 1974, by putting a barcode on a pack of chewing gum. Today, over 40 years later, GS1's global data and identification standards encompass protocols that work with blockchain technology, allowing for logistic documentation to take place on an immutable ledger and eliminating misinformation by distributing this inalterably structured data to enterprise recipients on the supply chain.
As per the announcement, information that is stored on or referenced by a blockchain network can achieve interoperability by adhering to "GS1 and ISO open standards of Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) and Core Business Vocabulary (CBV)," both of which enable "standardised exchange of data and item-level tracking."
Robert Beideman, GS1’s VP of Retail, spoke about the draw of blockchain technology to businesses. "What attracts many organisations to blockchain technology is the possibility of sharing data across corporate boundaries while maintaining a high degree of rigor and accuracy. We hope to make this possibility a reality for businesses by working with dedicated technology and industry partners – and together promoting a common business language."
GS1 standards afford businesses the opportunity to expand by offering solutions for ecosystem participants in supply chains. The innovation enables blockchain proofs of concept like one Walmart and IBM embarked upon to trace mangoes in the US, and pork in China, as reported by ETHNews.
Frank Yiannas, VP of food safety at Walmart, described the pilot's impact, saying, "Our pilot projects in the U.S. and China demonstrated that blockchain can strengthen existing food system safeguards by improving traceability. Using blockchain, we were able to track a product from retail shelf back through every stage of the supply chain, right to the farm gate, in seconds instead of days or weeks. Building blockchain traceability solutions on a common set of standards can help us scale across our complex, global supply chain and build networks based on transparency and trust."
Brigid McDermott, VP of blockchain business development at IBM, alluded to interoperability being essential to removing communication obstacles:
"One of the key benefits to blockchain in the enterprise is the trust it delivers, which enables more efficient and complete sharing of the critical data that drives enterprise transactions. By removing the barriers that can be caused from disparate entry systems, that trust is solidified even further. That's why we are working with clients like Walmart and collaborating with other industry leaders to implement GS1 open standards into the work that we do."
CEO of R3 David E. Rutter described today's supply chain as a disparate digital system linked together by a means of paper-based processes. "These 'digital islands' work well when everyone is on the same network, but as soon as there is a lack of connectivity with certain participants using different solutions, things quickly revert to paper and manual processing." Rutter believes that advances in technology, like blockchain and distributed ledgers, will "provide that connectivity between participants across business networks."
"Leveraging existing GS1 Standards to structure event information will enable blockchain-based supply chain implementations to be more interoperable and will simplify the capture and description of events that are written against smart contracts," Yorke Rhodes III, global business strategist, blockchain, Microsoft said, as he described the joint effort. "Collaborating with partners to implement solutions on blockchain using standards already in place for item-level tracking is the quickest path to production."
As more paths lead to interoperability, many different blockchain platforms may soon be capable of working together to solve the diverse needs of industries.