How IBM used to store data before blockchain technology (via Pixabay).

IBM launches blockchain coalition with Anheuser-Busch, Cisco, and GlaxoSmithKline

The Trust Your Supplier network uses IBM Blockchain to track documents and invoices for a wide range of industries

If you’re buying a beer, a smartphone, or allergy medicine, you may be getting a product shipped on the same blockchain.

IBM is teaming up with blockchain builder Chainyard on a new supply chain management platform that has attracted participants from a half dozen industries. While many major coalition blockchain projects are industry specific—like Big Blue’s TradeLens Consortium for shipping and its Food Trust alliance for produce—the Trust Your Supplier network is focused on documenting and verifying supplier information of all types.

The founding members include Anheuser-Busch InBev, Cisco, GlaxoSmithKline, Lenovo, Nokia, Vodaphone, and Schneider Electric—and, of course, IT-focused IBM itself.

Rather than shipping logistics, Trust Your Supplier focuses on tracking and verifying the many documents suppliers must provide their customers. These include things like ISO and tax certifications, bank account information, and certificates of insurance. It can also manage purchase orders and invoices by linking to existing non-blockchain procurement platforms like the IBM Supply Chain Business Network.

Built on the Hyperledger-based IBM Blockchain Platform, Trust Your Supplier’s decentralized and immutable nature has the potential to cut the time and cost of on-boarding, verifying, and managing this data, said IBM in a release. This is often manually delivered and entered by buyers, and requires the use of many different networks. Third party validators including Dun & Bradstreet can provide verification services on the platform as well.

“Blockchain has the ability to completely transform how companies onboard and manage their supplier network for the future,” said Renee Ure, chief supply chain officer for Lenovo’s Data Center Group, in the release. “Through Trust Your Supplier, both buyers and suppliers will see the procurement benefits of blockchain through reductions in cost, complexity and speed.”

IBM will initially bring 4,000 of its North American suppliers onboard over the next few months, the company said. The goal is to bring on all 18,500 of its worldwide suppliers in time.

“IBM Procurement projects a 70 to 80 percent reduction in the cycle time to onboard new suppliers, with a potential 50 percent reduction in administrative costs within its own business,” it said.

“Using the latest technology to address a classical challenge will be of benefit for everyone, and further increase the speed of using innovative solutions,” Sanjay Mehta, vice president of procurement for Nokia, said in the statement. 

IBM said it plans to roll the Trust Your Supplier network out commercially in the third quarter of 2019.

Shipping blockchain adds Canadian Pacific

A number of the Trust Your Customer blockchain platform’s members are part of another, industry-specific blockchain project that got a big boost this month, the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA).

Canadian Pacific, the fifth-largest railroad in North America, joined the nearly 500-member transportation, logistics, supply chain, freight, and technology blockchain platform on August 1. Among its members are Anheuser-Busch, Cisco, and Chainyard, as well as giants like FedEx, Microsoft, Target, and BP.

“The alliance is pleased to have CP’s expertise and support as our organization navigates this exciting new digital frontier,” said Patrick Duffy, president of BiTA, in a release. “Blockchain has the potential to smooth the transactions that occur between shippers and carriers, but it requires the active participation of transportation leaders like CP.”

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Leo Jakobson, Modern Consensus editor-in-chief, is a New York-based journalist who has traveled the world writing about incentive travel. He has also covered consumer and employee engagement, small business, the East Coast side of the Internet boom and bust, and New York City crime, nightlife, and politics. Disclosure: Jakobson has put some 401k money into Grayscale Bitcoin Trust.