Blockchain discussion highlights Connections supply chain conference day one

01mon_1551Day one of the SMC³ Connections 2018 supply chain education conference, an event focused on the trends and issues in the transportation arena, took a bit of a monetary digression. During “The Practical Guide to Blockchain” panel, a parenthetical discussion of cryptocurrency featured some visionary claims regarding the use of Bitcoin and digital money.

Austin Mills of Morris, Manning & Martin LLP, said that while Bitcoin will not necessarily be the cryptocurrency of the future, he does think that in the coming decades, a handful of cryptocurrencies will replace paper money. That may have been the somewhat bold statement of the day, but the overall message was clear: Blockchain is an exciting, engaging technology and its proponents are passionate and enthusiastic about its longterm prospects.

Stephen Rogers, vice president of blockchain initiatives for supply chain industry platforms at IBM, sounded a little unsure of that prediction. He told the crowd, which had earlier benefited from a complete Blockchain 101-type lecture, that there could never be a non-governmental currency like Bitcoin as the main source of money because the federal overseers wouldn’t want to cede any power to an outside force.

The money transformation is all far down the road. A little closer is blockchain’s implementation in supply chain processes. Before blockchain takes hold in the supply chain arena, though, regulations need to be strengthened.

“The laws need to adapt to technology and not necessarily the other way around,” Mills said.

The remaining panelists – Brian Glick, founder and CEO of Chain.io; and Craig Fuller, managing director of the Blockchain in Transport Alliance – were optimistic about blockchain’s near-term future in the transportation world.

“Net this is a technology that will lift all the boats,” Glick said, but he cautioned that companies don’t have to be on the “bleeding edge” of blockchain’s use in the supply chain arena to reap its benefits. “The first movers aren’t always winners… you can participate without leading.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Chris Gordon of AIMMS and PROS’ Suzanne Grimes participated in a panel on strategic analytics, exploring the use of predictive and prescriptive analysis, and big data. Gordon, who closely watches companies on both sides of the Atlantic, told the audience that U.S. companies are consumed with digitizing their supply chains, a trend that has really taken hold in the past 18 months. He attributes this activity to their “mild panic” of being left behind in a digital supply chain arms race, but noted that European companies don’t necessarily share this fear of missing out on the latest analytical trends.

Gordon noted that when he first meets with companies for a thorough look at how analysis can transform their business, they first apologize for the state of their data. Most are right to apologize, but he said it doesn’t take the best data in the world to take advantage of analytical processes that can change the business conversation and make companies more nimble. Grimes agreed, saying, “One of the biggest challenges when using data analytics is the data itself.”

And any discussion of supply chain technology has to include e-commerce. In a morning session, Brad Parrish, vice president of customer operations, consumer and industrial logistics for FedEx Supply Chain, explained that the reverse logistics industry is worth about $642 billion annually – twice the size of e-commerce. Nine percent of all store purchases are returned, and when focusing on just online sales, that number jumps to 30 percent. Of these returns, he told the audience, 48 percent can be resold at full price.

The reverse-logistics supply chain is more than a simple backtracking of the normal flow of operations. There are different pressures in the returns arena, he explained, noting that there’s a level of unpredictability to reverse logistics. But for those companies that are looking to tap into this environment, the possibilities are endless.

Day One Media Coverage:

The three-day supply chain conference Connections 2018 runs through June 27 at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. Follow along with the latest news each morning on the SMC³ Insider Blog.

Categories: Education, Supply Chain
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