3 QUESTIONS TO STEVEN LESPER R&D ENGINEER AT BOLLORÉ TRANSPORT & LOGISTICS

They are our clients, our friends, good contacts or just people we met in the crypto-community. They have a new vision, they are running great projects, they are developing new services or they just want to share their story. Havas Blockchain is interviewing key people of the blockchain ecosystem.

We are today with Steven Lesper, R&D Engineer at Bolloré Transport & Logistics :

  1. How and why is blockchain relevant for supply chain management?

On average, one intercontinental shipment involves 200 interactions and more than 20 different players, resulting in data trapped in organizational silos, disparate perspectives on transaction state, manual and time-consuming processes and clearance processes subject to fraud. These are few examples among others that highlight trust issues within the stakeholders and the fact that trust is one of the most important features in supply chain management. As a trust layer shared by an ecosystem of partners, which are more than often also competitors, blockchain technologies can address these points and make the global trade and logistics less inefficient and burdened, while possibly creating new data-related business models.

Blockchain being designed to allow for the exchange of trusted information among heterogeneous groups without third parties, several benefits can be highlighted using identified key blockchain features which are the notarisation, the contractualisation and the tokenisation. A distributed ledger notarisation offers an access to reliable data, proofs and certifications, contractualisation offers automation and instantaneity while tokenisation can handle the exchange of value, all of this within a trustless environment. More specifically in our domain, blockchain technologies can be used to enhance traceability, visibility & flow monitoring, increase the level of trust in supply-chain data by fighting counterfeiting and fraud, triggering trusted automation, disintermediation, proactivity and process digitalisation.

2. How do you see the future of blockchain and its relationship with other technologies?

Obviously, blockchain by itself won’t be enough to reach these objectives, and other data-related emerging technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the IoT (Internet of Things), will have a significate role to play in the digital transformation of the supply chain. What I believe we will observe in the future a convergence between these technologies, with clear synergies appearing.

Getting trusted data onto blockchains will be an extremely important element in many blockchain use cases. Here a convergence with the IoT can be important, in particular in supply chain use cases, which really rely on sensors to provide data on shipment along the chain. IoT devices such as sensors can be seen as oracles providing trust in data by gathering it at the source and then securing it in a blockchain so it cannot be tampered with. When it comes to tracking goods, monitoring conditions and guaranteeing provenance, IoT devices in combination with a blockchain have a great advantage.

Regarding AI and blockchain interplay, this latter will help democratise ownership of the data used to train AIs, trace the provenance and authenticity of such data, and help explain how AIs make decisions. AI in the form of deep or machine learning can also provide algorithms and models that can address more complex use cases, automation, and decision-making processes. It can also participate in the assessment of the data quality or veracity, detecting inconsistencies or even be integrated into consensus algorithms. Additionally, blockchain can also help AI in terms of scaling data aggregation (allowing for multiple data sets and the renting of data), managing the sharing of computer resources, and in creating a more transparent and trustworthy data economy.

This convergence will trigger the development of digital twins, a virtual representation of physical world objects or entities. For example, we can imagine a container, a warehouse or even an entire shipping line being dynamically and digitally duplicated and being used to reduce downtime, increase performance and productivity. While the IoT will provide a direct link between the digital and the physical worlds in the form of data, feeding AI in its multiple forms, blockchain, with its features of trust, distribution and value will play a fundamental role as trust protocol, making it possible to identify and connect physical objects and their digital representations, and allowing us among other things to transact in a fully digital, trustworthy way. For its part, blockchain can play a crucial role by allowing us to create these digital twins, unique, non-counterfeitable digital representations of the physical world — be they of people, organisations or objects — and provide trust in data.

3. What hurdles are you meeting when implementing blockchain solutions in the supply chain environment and how do you face it?

First of all, it’s really important to have a clear vision of the stakeholders' needs, what this kind of projects can accomplish, and a clear reason for using blockchain instead of traditional solutions or technologies. The main hurdle to large-scale implementation of blockchain in the supply chain is the participation. In order employ blockchain efficiently in this sector, all players have to cooperate and to take advantage of the technology. This means an implementation needs to fulfil heterogeneous needs and objectives while preserving security and data compliance within the participants and providing strong governance structures that give clarity on roles and responsibilities. Make all the actors of the ecosystem reach an agreement is really challenging and a distributed governance is always difficult to build, especially in this new paradigm offered by blockchain.

Furthermore, many players, particularly smaller ones, do not necessarily see the benefits, are not motivated to change their processes and are reluctant to join blockchain networks. Due to the radical nature of the technology we observe a reticence for collaboration and cooperation in this competitive environment, to join a shared platform and adopting an agreed set of standards. This major psychological hurdle to adoption of blockchain will need to be addressed through education about the benefits of the technology and important consumer macro trends, like increasing demand for transparency, driving the need for change. This can be helped by raising the general level of technology awareness within the companies. Change management needs to be made and this educational movement operated during the past years needs to continue to reach a real adoption and achieve the democratisation of decentralisation and distributed ledger technologies. For some actors, the transparency and auditability provided by blockchains also threaten to expose business-relevant data and so provide a competitive disadvantage. Being able to ensure proper data access and obfuscation will, therefore be one important key to adoption.

That’s why it seems likely that the first successful implementations of large-scale, live blockchain platforms will come in the form of very efficient, “permissioned” blockchains developed by industry or other types of consortia, and focused on a single sector and/or use case. In our environment, a private or semi-private undertaking with a limited number of stakeholders and a well-defined focus will also likely have an easier time of defining and agreeing to a governance model that is the generally the case with large, open, public platforms.

Considering how new and not mature blockchain technology is, working in a compartmentalised environment can be prudent from a software development and data security perspective. However, a risk is to have independent chains that can’t interoperate, limiting the perspectives of the technology and thus its adoption. A solution might be the implementation of hybrid solutions, using the robustness of public blockchain layer to store selected key transactions and a private blockchain layer allowing an easy and trusted interconnection within the network. More legal clarity in terms of blockchain (legal framework, smart contracts, liability, token usage) would be important too, as well as standardisation which will ease the interoperability between chains.

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