Management Insight Speaker Series: Blockchain in the Supply Chain

09 March 2021

Alongside their usual lectures and seminars, our MSc students are invited to attend a wide range of speaker and insight events, designed to put the learnings from their course into a business context. Several of our ambassadors share their experiences and key takeaways from attending the 'Future of Blockchain in the Supply Chain” session with Martyn Walker, CEO Agility Sciences (creator of Activeledger).

Eleanor Chung, MSc Management of Information Systems & Digital Innovation

The session covered a variety of content, from what blockchain is, how it works, to applications on supply chain with the benefits blockchain brings in collaboration with established systems. Martyn introduced us to a real case, Yangshan, where Activeledger is used to manage one of China’s largest farming supply chains. Another case study on Volkswagen illustrated how blockchain is used to reduce cost and impact on PR.

My key takeaways from the session
The most important takeaway of the session is understanding how blockchain can help to reduce or even eliminate uncertainty from communications and transactions. Sometimes when humans are uncertain about the information at hand, their interpretation of information may not be rational. The middlemen in businesses such as banks, brokers, news media or any bureaucracy could be eliminated as the uncertainties in transactions. These uncertainties may cause transactional issues by adding unnecessary processes to the desired outcome. For example, their inclusion can add fees and slow processes down. By decentralising the process, blockchain smart contracts could eliminate middleman processes and provide certainties to outcomes.

Thinking about how this technology affects my career path
Understanding the mechanism behind blockchain leads to extensive thinking on how this technology affects my career path. Around the globe, a lot of disruptive businesses are being set up with blockchain tech removing the need for traditional middlemen. These businesses disrupt traditional business processes, change how the world works and deliver outsized growth as industries transform. As a business student, it is highly important to focus on these future trends and capture the market possibilities of these transformations. It enables us to investigate the future trends of our chosen industry and get prepared to adapt to digital transformations. 

Relating my modules to the Management Insights Speaker Series
I am really thankful to the school for organising this sharing session. As a student of Management Information Systems and Digital Innovation, I found the content of the sharing session highly related to the modules of my course.

One of my elective courses is “Digital Finance, Blockchain & Cryptocurrencies”. The module focuses on delving into the use and impact of digital technologies in the world of finance. One of the key highlights is exploring both threats and opportunities for the incumbent financial services firms and banks using blockchain technologies and smart contracts. The sharing session provides insights into the key focus of blockchain services which could help me quickly get into the module with real-life examples when the topic is being discussed in class.

Another module, Enterprise Information System, emphasises how enterprise resources planning systems help to manage the supply chain within a business. With the understanding of the critical elements of supply chain management systems, it is interesting to think further about how the implementation of blockchain into ERP systems can facilitate the efficiency of the organisations and the effectiveness of the firm’s business goal. The session is therefore very useful in integrating the knowledge obtained from different modules of my course. 

Aksara Iambumrungsakul, MSc Business Analytics

Have you ever heard about state-of-the-art technology that will change our world in the future? One of the disruptors people are talking about these days is blockchain. A lot of newspapers, podcasts, and articles have been raising the topic over the past few years. However, what is it exactly? The question is solved by Martyn Walker, the CEO at Agility Sciences, who joined us in the session of ‘The Future of Blockchain in the Supply Chain’.

The underlying concept of blockchain is database. In the digital transformation era, we have a ton of data to store from various sources; transactions, records, contracts, etc. How do we deal with this? We can use spreadsheets, but it has a limit of data storage and access, or a cloud technology, which is perhaps costly for individuals or small businesses. The aim of blockchain is to enable digital data to be recorded and distributed, but not modified. The key features of blockchain are as follows;

  1. Storage: data is grouped and partitioned into blocks (rather than tables in spreadsheets), which are afterwards chained with the previous ones. When a block is filled and encoded, it is also given a timestamp when it is added to the chain.
  2. Immutability: every node i.e. network, has a copy of the digital ledger (transaction). To add a transaction, each node requires a validity check and approval from the majority. This also increases transparency.
  3. Decentralization: blockchain doesn’t require system governance. It puts every user in a position where everyone can access their own information in the blocks if they have a private key.

How can it apply to the supply chain?
Blockchain could be traded, financed, and appeared in real-time because it can digitize and register digital assets. A freight company using blockchain could form smart contracts that trace structures and automatically generate a report of product movement. This benefits the company in which it improves reliable communication and reduces administrative cost from manual processes and complex data throughout the freight supply chain.

Moreover, blockchain reduces cost in supply chain finance by liquidating funds.  A buyer and its suppliers use blockchain to aid the financial decision cost from a centralized banking system where every supplier needs to contact a bank individually to confirm an invoice and wait for a couple of days for the fund approval. With blockchain, a buyer can issue advanced payment obligations and the buyer’s bank is responsible to fund suppliers with lower cost and less operating time.

In conclusion, I am delighted that I joined the session. Not only did it provide in-depth knowledge on blockchain, but it also went one step further with the real-world application of the supply chain. I believe that such knowledge enhances my understanding of Supply Chain Analytics, where we mostly learn about the manufacturing industry.

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