Follow Friday: Vierde Vrijdag and Susanne Pieterse

Scrolling through my Twitter feed, I saw “The Blockchain Tiramisu – Tech Stacks and Pragmatic Engineering,” and thought to myself I like tiramisu, and also blockchain!

Upon further investigation, I discovered that this event was not, in fact, serving tiramisu, but it ended up being a great experience anyway.

Vierde Vrijdag at The Hague Tech is a gathering for people in business and tech to socialize and learn from each other about various trends and developments in the industry. I didn’t know much about the presenters, but the programming sounded quite educational (for myself, at least). People spoke about intellectual property laws, blockchain, and digitizing the city.

Unfortunately I was not able to stay for the whole program, but I had the pleasure of listening to Susanne Pieterse talk about what blockchain is and how it can be useful to a variety of businesses.

Susanne Pieterse and her company Pieterse Innovate

Pieterse started her presentation informing us that she will give this presentation at an event for the Powerful Business Women’s Network, and we were a test-run audience. The PBWN asked her to present not only because of her prestigious status as a powerful business woman, but also because their audience wanted to know more about how blockchain technology can improve their companies.

As a woman interested in networking and being powerful, I was already intrigued.

She went on to tell us about her work experience as a legal consultant who worked in digital zoning for ten years. She had always been interested in computers, so she studied programming last year and then started her own business, Pieterse Innovate. The company advises clients on how to innovate and evolve their processes.

But her enthusiasm doesn’t end there. She also runs blockchain030, a blockchain co-working event every Monday in Utrecht, and she started the podcast Block Rock, which focuses on Dutch blockchain news and projects.

How Blockchain technology is being used

Pieterse gave a great explanation of blockchain technology (safe, immutable, shared ledger), emphasizing that its use is based in trust. While it’s not a solution for everything, it is extremely helpful when

  • More than two parties are involved
  • If there are conflicting interests
  • In the presence of shared common trust

She also gave a few examples of how blockchain technology is currently being used. Pieterse mentioned the Port of Rotterdam collaboration with Blocklab, as well as automated micro-transactions for package deliveries, and an experimental effort to tag social welfare benefits. (Though it was noted that the kindpakket project decided it was too difficult to implement blockchain this way at the moment.)

But blockchain can be used for so much more.

Supply Chain Management: An experiment with a fishery found that everyone in the supply chain had conflicting interests. When an app was developed to solve the problem, many in the supply chain rejected its use because they felt it didn’t represent their interests.

Energy Usage Data: With Oehu, smart meter owners submit their energy usage data to the website. Users remain owners of their data, but the shared access to the information will help improve the technology.

Theater Tickets: GUTS Tickets uses blockchain to create a fair ticket resale market. As a result, it fights ticket fraud while giving fans a better opportunity to attend shows.

Document Verification: The University of Nicosia uses blockchain for certificates, which means future employers or organizations would not need to contact the University to verify the authenticity of the document.

Final Thoughts

Vierde Vrijdag was a great opportunity to participate in a discussion about the tech industry, rather than just reading about it. At first I was nervous because it seemed like everyone already knew each other and was familiar with each other’s work (that’s always the case at networking events, right?).

But when I got pulled into a conversation, it turned out that other people attending also didn’t have a background in programming. My greatest takeaway from the event – as well as Pieterse – was that it doesn’t hurt to just go: go to a networking event, go to a panel, go hard on the paint and start your own business. Just go.

Follow Friday: Shypple

I’ve written extensively lately about blockchain, and for good reason.

What if you are ready to digitize your freight and logistics needs, but aren’t ready to invest in this newly explored frontier?

Digital Shipping Solutions

Our lives have been transformed by convenient technology, from hailing a cab to having razors delivered monthly to our doorstep. And with so many options within a service industry, comparing prices has also become significantly easier.

But that technology only recently came to the logistics industry. Why?

Shypple: Booking.com for Freight and Shipping Solutions

You’re tired of keeping track of all the papers on your desk or in your file cabinet. In can be days before you have all the information you need to make a final decision about how you will move your product from point A to point B. And once your product is in transit, it takes multiple emails and phone calls to pinpoint its location.

As I learned at Intermodal Europe 2018, lack of visibility is a concern for everyone in the supply chain, yet the industry has not widely embraced solutions to this problem.

Shypple addresses these issues and more.

It’s been touted as the “Booking.com for sea freight,” and rightfully so. If users are already familiar with the concept, why not apply the model to your own industry, especially one as layered as logistics?

In response to the ancient methods of the freight industry, Shypple founder Jarell Habets started Shypple to make transportation easier. With so many options and providers in the market, this dashboard allows users to compare quotes, consolidate documents, and track shipments from one application.

Furthermore, Shypple offers financing options, insurance, and customs management. It offers the whole freight package from start to finish!

When I read about Shypple, I was surprised to learn that no service like this existed for logistics. A digital platform for planning every branch of a shipment’s journey seems like an obvious need. (Again, how is there such a lack of visibility?) But as I have come to learn, the industry has not been quick to evolve.

How does Shypple improve the shipping industry?

With Shypple, customers can make responsible, fully informed decisions in less time, saving their companies valuable resources. But how does it pressure the logistics industry to change?

On one hand, this type of ranked comparison makes it easier for customers to choose the cheapest – but not necessarily highest quality – option. This may further encourage the “race to the bottom,” which is something that many agree is not good for the industry.

On the other hand, it may pressure the supply chain to improve in other ways in order to be competitive. How does your company fair when compared side-by-side to your competitors in a platform that allows customers to book in one click? What do you have to offer customers other than a low price?

Final Thoughts

I’m still an advocate for blockchain technology in the logistics industry. Those who had the resources to invest in trials and research should absolutely do so.

But Shypple solves a different problem for users on the supply chain. Shypple is for the one who initiates the chain but the last link on the line. It makes building the chain simpler and more visible. And the industry could use more visibility.


Need someone to write about your business and services? Drop me a line!

How does blockchain technology help the food industry?

Blockchain, blockchain, blockchain. It’s all anyone wants to talk about (including myself, to some extent).

In just the past week, people have sent me two articles about blockchain and the food industry: The Next Web wrote about Australia recently shipping almonds to Germany with blockchain technology, and Forbes wrote about some of the major players working to implement blockchain technology in the food manufacturing industry.

Clearly businesses see potential benefits from using blockchain technology – but what are they?

Blockchain Technology and the Food Industry

Cut Red Tape, Reduce Waste, and Eliminate Wasteful Bureaucracy

One of the benefits frequently highlighted is the reduction in bureaucratic waste. By replacing paperwork and verification steps with blockchain technology, businesses can reduce costs and save time.

The assumption is that everyone in the supply chain uses the same blockchain software, let alone using it at all.

These articles talk about huge companies that have the resources to do trial runs, which is great for those who can’t afford to test the waters. But everyone involved in the experiment is testing the same software.

I realize that may seem like an obvious statement and necessary for product development, but with the way “blockchain” is so freely used, articles make it sound universally accessible, rather than a new technology.

As far as I’ve seen, companies like IBM and Microsoft are developing solutions, which means it’s unlikely they’ll speak to each other. Why would one business want to be compatible with another business’s software for the same purpose?

It’s the same dilemma that the medical industry faced with digitizing medical records. Sure, it technically eliminated the need for fax machines, but because none of the solutions speak to each other, hospitals and medical offices are still using fax machines. (For more about this, listen to Vox’s The Impact.)

Blockchain_Med-01

E. Coli, Salmonella, and Other Scary Words That Make Your Stomach Crawl

Another the common example of application is that of foodborne illnesses. If there’s an E. Coli outbreak, officials will be able to trace the source in a matter of seconds and identify where the problem originated.

For example, take the romaine lettuce E. Coli outbreak in the United States in spring 2018. Illnesses were reported at the end of March, and an official statement was released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on April 10.

Between April 18 and May 16, the CDC suspected that the contaminated lettuce came from the Yuma region and continued to investigate.

On May 16, they released a statement to say that all contaminated lettuce from the Yuma region was last harvested on April 16.

In this instance, blockchain technology could have potentially stopped the contaminated harvesting sooner. Instead of receiving enough evidence after the last harvest date, the CDC could have found that information sooner with the near-immediate retrieval of information that blockchain technology provides.

But where do we lag the most in food illness outbreaks? Is the time businesses spend trying to determine where a shipment came from? Or is it more about the resources available to the CDC and the constraints of simply being human?

The first reported illness from this outbreak was on March 22 – 19 days before the outbreak was officially declared. And even when the CDC released their official statement on April 10, they were not sure of the cause. Romaine lettuce is not pegged as the culprit until April 13.

Collecting data to prove an outbreak takes time and is not necessarily something that can be resolved by blockchain. Take it one step further – can blockchain even help prevent the outbreak from happening in the first place?

Final Thoughts

Overall, I’m excited about blockchain technology. I still love seeing all the new trials and applications of it. I’m just hesitant to put all my eggs in this trustless basket for now.

Blockchain for the Medical Industry? Maybe.

This morning TheNextWeb posted an article suggesting that “blockchainification” is just one more possibility looming in the future of medicine.

It is certainly possible – blockchain is the cool new kid that everyone wants at their birthday parties. But how will it serve the medical community?

Blockchain_Med_indiv-01

Making communication more efficient

This article immediately reminds me of an episode of the podcast The Impact, which explores the human consequences of United States policy-making. Their first season focused on health care policy, during which the host Sarah Kliff investigated why the industry is still so heavily dependent on fax machines.

In Barack Obama’s first presidential term, the government “spent upward of $30 billion encouraging American hospitals and doctor offices to switch from paper to electronic records.” It was massively successful, in the sense that nearly 85% of hospitals were using electronic medical records by 2015.

It was unsuccessful, however, in deterring dependence on fax machines: while hospitals now have digital records, they all use different software programs that don’t speak to each other. As a result, hospitals and offices still have to use the fax machine.

Businesses found an opportunity to monetize this digital revolution in the medical industry. Ultimately, the ease of sharing medical records is not in the interest of most companies (and hospitals) because it makes it easier for the patient (or consumer) to switch providers.

Blockchain_Med_indiv-02

More technology, more problems

Which brings me to my original concern with blockchain technology. It all sounds well and good to have this incorruptible digital ledger, but can it be read by any software? Or will everyone in the supply chain need to have the same program?

While it seems to be in everyone’s interest to exchange research and ideas, it is not necessarily a profitable business practice.

Another obstacle that “blockchainification” may face, according to TheNextWeb, is recently-implemented General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It would seem, however, that blockchain technology may actually work in favor of GDPR because it has the potential to give data control to the patient, rather than locked in the hands of the healthcare provider.

There are still significant questions like this that need to be explored before blockchain is meaningfully implemented throughout industries.

Blockchain and Supply Chain Management: A Quick Explanation

What is blockchain?

Imagine an outbreak of salmonella that may be associated with the mangoes you sell. How much time should it take for you to find out where, exactly, this mango came from?

With blockchain technology, Walmart was able to figure it out in 2 seconds. (Note: they did not have a salmonella outbreak.)

A plethora of news articles and videos have popped up on my newsfeed recently about how blockchain will improve supply chain management. The technology is generally associated with crypto currencies, but its characteristics may prove useful to industries where supply chain tracking is paramount to quality control.

So what is it, and why is it so exciting?

Blockchain: A Simple Definition

Blockchain essentially puts a digital signature on the product, and anyone in the supply chain can access its digital ledger at any time. As a result, it holds every party accountable for their step in the supply chain.

No one can hide or brush mishaps under the rug because everyone in the supply chain can point to that step and say “There’s where the change occurred” or “That’s where the problem started.”

Blockchain Infographic
With blockchain technology, companies can’t easily hide bad business practices, like using raw materials produced by slave labor, or maintaining sub-standard facilities for refrigerating produce. The blockchain holds everyone accountable.

The catch, however, is that everyone needs to be on board with using blockchain applications, from source to storefront.

Are There Downsides to Blockchain?

Of course there are. Blockchain’s primary obstacle is laziness – people don’t like change.

If the companies that grow, process, and sell the wheat for your bread use the same application, but the transportation company doesn’t, there will be a gap in the blockchain. As a result, the technology is useless in its ability to streamline supply chain management and enforce accountability.

broken blockchain

But what if blockchain produces a digital signature that can be read by all applications, like a UPC?

The Forbes article from 2017 states it perfectly:

First, every crate, shipment, or individual package of produce must be uniquely identifiable. The global standards body, GS1, is leading the way in serialization efforts, offering unique codes called GTINs that can be applied to products for these purposes. Second, that participants in the supply chain must transfer the custody of these products every step of the way.

If and when GS1 is able to develop a way for blockchain codes to be assigned to any item in the supply chain, how long will it take for applications to read them?

A farmer may be able to assign a blockchain code to a batch of wheat, but then when the bags of finished flour are boxed and moved by the distributor, the company receiving the shipment doesn’t have a way to mark itself in the blockchain, hence the hiccup noted in the second half of the dilemma presented in the Forbes article.

Final Thoughts

In order for blockchain to be effective, every step of the supply chain has to be on board with the process. It is certainly an exciting technology, and we should encourage each other to hold ourselves accountable with this incredible step in supply chain management. Recalls can be addressed quicker, modern slavery can be combated, and we can consume safer products.


Sources

Africa Could See the World’s Fastest Blockchain Growth by Christina Comben, 2 June 2018 – Null TX

How Blockchain will Transform the Supply Chain and Logistics Industry by Bernard Marr, 23 March 2018 – Forbes

Blockchain Venture Wants to Change African Farming Forever by Joe Easton, 28 November 2017 – Bloomberg

Why Big Business Is Racing to Build Blockchains by Robert Hackett, 22 August 2017 – Fortune

Block Commodities in the Media