Blockchain applied to traceability. A game with three roles.

Updated: Aug 25

An article by Richard Catteloin, Operations, Support & Innovation Information Systems Director at Danone, for the Tilkal blog.



The use of blockchain seems logical when it comes to traceability. After having met many parties involved with this "new technology", after the traditional benchmark, after having achieved our first Proofs Of Concept and lastly, after a successful pilot with Tilkal, it seems possible to summarise blockchain by means of three distinct and inseparable roles.

1) The "Technology Provider"

This is the party which will provide the blockchain technology with its specific features: a shared database in collaborative mode, with encrypted data, which is updated in real time and is secure and auditable. This blockchain can be public or private or even be part of a consortium. A wide range of options is available on the market, both from traditional software publishers and from a number of specialist start-ups. In our experience, blockchain is not a solution on its own; instead, the supplier's intelligence and analytical capabilities create value for us in the industrial sector.

2) The "Data Provider"

A blockchain without data doesn't make sense! Various stakeholders, as many as possible, must therefore contribute to this database by injecting data at a very regular frequency. When it comes to traceability, these "Data Providers" can be suppliers of raw materials, producers, logistics partners or distributors. The injected data will be varied: dates, quantities, product codes, batch numbers, certificates of analysis, temperatures, etc. Of course, the quality of this data is vital. The main issue for these "Data Providers" is to check the availability of this data…or to prepare for this data availability in the most automated way possible.

3) The "Story Teller"

The "Story Teller" will consolidate all the data available in the blockchain to which it has access and reconcile this data to tell a story. This story may be intended for the end consumer in order to provide transparency or it may be intended for internal use with a view to optimising the supply chain (advanced analytics). These two areas of focus are complementary and are not in competition with one another. The "Story Teller" is, in one way, the leader of the blockchain because it is going to invite the "Data Providers" to join the blockchain community and it will explain the data which needs to be collected to tell its story.

We're already seeing many distributors take on this role and asking upstream stakeholders (suppliers, producers). It is likely that these requests will increase.

Ultimately, which role should you choose?

The role of "Technology Provider" is not guaranteed to be a role with significant added value for an FMCG company. Firstly, blockchain is just one kind of technology and we are increasingly focused on a service world (the cloud, SaaS, etc.) so internalising this technology rather than another wouldn't really make sense. Secondly, the purpose of a blockchain is to ensure collaboration between multiple players, something which is not compatible with proprietary systems.

Remaining a mere "Data Provider" does not provide significant added value either, although it makes advanced collaboration possible.

Clearly, the best role is that of "Story Teller". Not only can it tell a story both externally and internally, it can also tell a story in terms of traceability/transparency: it's the "Story Teller" which preempts consumer communication.

Ultimately, the aim is undoubtedly for each player in a value chain to be both Data Provider AND Story Teller at the same time. This dual role ensures a "win-win" approach and is a requirement for a long-term collaboration. This dual role also neutralises the exclusivity of the relationship with the consumer. This is an ideal vision but the capabilities of various stakeholders to come together and to work towards the same goal must be taken into account...