Microsoft’s Project Manifest: Blockchain-Based Product Tracking
Microsoft’s latest endeavor, Project Manifest, is looking to make end-to-end improvements in retail supply chains. By partnering with Mojix, a pioneer in the RFID field, Microsoft plans to enable the tracking of goods from the point of origin at a factory, through shipping, warehouses, and distribution centers, all the way to the point of consumption at retail stores.
Both Mojix and Microsoft will be relying on Ethereum-based technology to bring this project to fruition. It’s the perfect intersection of innovative Internet-of-Things (IoT) projects, smart contracts, and distributed ledger technology. The tech stack for Project Manifest will run in Azure, which offers blockchain-as-a-service. It will use a permissioned and public implementation of the blockchain, and the only physical piece of the project will be the RFID tags and sensors installed in the field.
By combining RFID scanning and tracking with blockchain technology, all parties involved in the supply chain would be aware of the exact location of a product at any given time. Everyone would be notified the moment something goes missing, or a shipment fails to arrive. By taking advantage of Mojix’s IoT platform, the entire supply chain becomes that much more transparent.
The National Retail Federation reported inventory shrinkage figures from 2015 reached upwards of $46.2 billion within the retail space. In regard to cargo theft during transportation, the average cost per shipping incident was $300,000, according to a report from Loss Prevention Media. Being able to monitor individual items in a shipment should certainly help lower that figure.
Tracking the provenance of goods is beneficial for many reasons beyond simple loss prevention. Another planned system, also leveraging blockchain technology, could allow self-sovereign identity for workers in the supply chain. This trust protocol would mean that people will know who is working with what goods, and when. Identifying individuals in a transparent goods tracking system not only increases trust among collaborating enterprises but also weeds out bad actors via a reputation system that follows an individual from job to job.
What’s really great about a worker identity tracking system would be the potential for eliminating child labor and slavery from the supply chain. If every entity involved from start to finish is tracked and accounted for, there’s nowhere for illegitimate operations to hide. Yorke Rhodes III, Blockchain Business Strategist at Microsoft, said:
"The consumer would like to be able to see where the goods are to make sure they’re not coming from slave labor and things like that. By way of giving consumers the ability to do that we’d like to push certain parts of the data to a public blockchain."
This would allow Microsoft to create a verifiable clean supply chain certification. Suppliers, retailers, and consumers could be confident that every item is not the result of slavery or child labor.
In response to ETHNews’ inquiry about who Microsoft may be working with, and if they’re currently testing in a sandbox environment and working on any proofs of concept, Rhodes commented:
“Sandboxes are running. We are working closely with a number of undisclosed parties on some POCs. Auburn University RFID is one partner that I can name right now.”
It would seem that Microsoft is putting a fair amount of effort into this project. Collaborating with Auburn on the RFID aspect should be nothing but beneficial, helping to accelerate progress on Project Manifest.
By holding every person and entity involved in a supply chain accountable, and tracking goods through an immutable, easily shared blockchain-based system, illicit activity becomes less likely. Or at least less likely to succeed. A system of compliance and reputation ratings would lead supply chain contractors to only work with reputable people and businesses. This project will be nothing but good for humankind and businesses alike.