GS1, IBM, Microsoft collaborate to leverage GS1 standards for blockchain applications

GS1 has announced a collaboration with IBM and Microsoft to leverage GS1 standards in their enterprise blockchain applications for supply chain clients.

The organisation’s global standards for identification and structured data enable blockchain network users to scale enterprise adoption and maintain a single, shared version of the truth about supply chain and logistics events—increasing data integrity and trust between parties, and reducing data duplication and reconciliation.

GS1 Australia’s executive director and CEO, Maria Palazzolo said, “Blockchain, like any other technology designed to exchange data across organisations, must be established on strong foundations. At its core, any supply chain implementation needs to be based on all involved parties agreeing on a common way to uniquely identify any item, location, shipment, consignment, asset or any other ‘thing’ that blockchain transactions relate to.”

“Trading partners must also adhere to common data definitions to ensure all parties in the chain can correctly interpret, and integrate, the ‘meaning’ of data in the blockchain. This is what GS1 has been doing for over 40 years across the globe.”

 Data stored or referenced by blockchain networks can be structured for shared communications and interoperability through the use of standards. For example, the GS1 and ISO open standards of Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) and Core Business Vocabulary (CBV) enable standardised exchange of data and item-level tracking.

Peter Carter from Data61 (CSIRO) said, “A blockchain is a generic technology platform. The data we store in the blockchain still needs to follow supply chain data standards, and integrate with existing systems that use those standards. We have already started research into the use of GS1 EPCIS standards on blockchain, and we are exploring how we can integrate smart sensors and packaging into the supply chain on blockchain.”

“What attracts many organisations to blockchain technology is the possibility of sharing data across corporate boundaries while maintaining a high degree of rigour and accuracy,” said Robert Beideman, vice president – Retail, GS1. “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 offer global businesses like Walmart the ability to expand blockchain networks to suppliers, distributors and other ecosystem partners, unlocking the business value of data sharing, transparency, visibility and trust. IBM and Walmart have successfully used blockchain technology in a pilot test to enhance the traceability of two food commodities in two different countries: mangoes in the US and pork in China.

“Our pilot projects in the US 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,” said Frank Yiannas, vice president of Food Safety, Walmart. “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.”

“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, said Brigid McDermott, vice president, blockchain business development, IBM. “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.”

“The challenge with trade finance and supply chain today is that participants are forced to use disparate digital systems bridged by paper-based processes, with little or no common standards. 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,” said David E. Rutter, CEO of R3. “We see distributed ledgers as the means to 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,” said Yorke Rhodes III, global business strategist, blockchain, Microsoft. “Collaborating with partners to implement solutions on blockchain using standards already in place for item-level tracking is the quickest path to production.”

“We look forward to close collaboration with Microsoft and IBM, and will also engage with other blockchain technology companies for the adoption of GS1 standards to enable interoperability and decrease adoption barriers”, added Ms Palazzolo.