Walmart Canada launches world’s largest full production blockchain solution
The improvements are immense, and it's still just scratching the surface.
Walmart Canada's distribution centres in the country cover over 8.75 million square feet, which sounds a lot bigger than saying 0.813 square kilometres.
These distribution centres help move over 853 million cases of merchandise per year, through over 4,500 associates and drivers, including third party logistics companies as well as Walmart Canada's own fleet of 180 trucks, 2,000 trailers and 350+ drivers, delivering to over 400 retail stores across Canada. Each third party trailer tracks about 200 data points per shipment.
That's a lot of data across a lot of different parties, and you could save a lot of money by automating its collection and management. That's what Walmart Canada's new blockchain solution is doing. It was announced today, and by some metrics is now the world's largest full production blockchain solution.
The system was a joint effort between DLT Labs and Walmart Canada. It's been heavily tested in a pilot, and is now rolling out to encompass 70 third party trucking companies. It's expected to be live across all of Walmart Canada's third party carriers by 1 February 2020.
The concrete benefits of this system are:
- Workflow automation to reduce effort and improve accuracy
- Better collective utilisation of data among participants, for earlier detection of problems and faster responses
- Consolidation of transactions into a single invoice, for faster payments
- All participants to manage the shipment, invoice, payment and settlement process, reducing time spend on disputes and reconciliations
- Better analytics and predictive modelling through accurate, real-time supply chain data
- More efficiency and more automation, and less paperwork
"Our carrier partners move over 500,000 loads of inventory nationally, which creates an extraordinary volume of transaction data. This new dynamic and interactive blockchain technology platform is creating complete transparency between Walmart Canada and all of our carrier partners," said John Bayliss, Walmart Canada senior vice president of logistics and supply chain.
"Blockchain is enabling a material advance in our smart transportation network, with expedited payments, extensive cost savings and other benefits among our supply chain. Moreover, this degree of improved efficiency represents a powerful platform for us to continue to reduce our environmental footprint and continue our leadership in environmental sustainability."
How it works
The blockchain itself is a type of distributed computing network that's specifically designed to let multiple parties share data in a way that it's completely tamper-proof. Without getting into the technical weeds, blockchain basically works by putting each node of the distributed computing system on a really high shelf, and then taking away the ladder so no one can reach it.
The parties involved in a blockchain will typically be able to assess the programming to confirm for themselves that it's genuinely tamper-proof.
This system comes with a multitude of downsides. It's obviously quite inefficient in many respects, and most businesses prefer to be able to access and modify their own systems as needed.
The upside is that it's perfect for collaboration and data sharing between multiple parties. If no one can tamper with the system, then you can completely trust all of the data in the system to the extent that you trust whatever systems are feeding data into the blockchain.
This means companies can turn their attention towards automating these data feeds and creating automated responses to the data.
Consider the typical payment process without blockchain: A vendor delivers goods, the recipient confirms the delivery, the vendor submits an invoice, the recipient makes sure everything is in order and then makes payment.
With blockchain, you could hypothetically confirm that the delivery was made in real time (loading dock cameras, biometric ID of the driver, RFID tags on the goods, etc), and automatically make a payment based on that. The vendor can be certain that payment is guaranteed when the delivery is confirmed in the specified way, and the buyer can be certain that the payment will not be made unless the payment conditions are met.
On the one hand, it seems like tamper-proof distributed computing isn't exactly an earth-shattering development. On the other hand, the cumulative, cascading long term benefits of blockchain-driven automation are almost unquantifiable.
You can eliminate fake invoice scams, reduce administrative costs, get real-time insights, more quickly and easily onboard new suppliers with a higher level of trust in them, while all-around faster payments unlock funds for other purposes.
These benefits multiply when you involve other industries.
You can automate the financial services side of things to pass more cost savings downstream, and expand the system to include farmers and other suppliers to more easily track any problems to the potential source. You can use it to manage joint ownership of resources to improve equipment utilisation, and even use it as reliable architecture for managing machine-to-machine transactions, such as a driverless truck unloading foods at a fully automated loading dock. The same level of transparency can even be extended to consumers, cementing consumer trust in blockchain-tracked products.
It also helps open the door to unconventional initiatives, such as the blockchain digital currency microbank scheme patented by Walmart.
Walmart Canada's new blockchain solution is now the world's largest example of a full production blockchain, but it's also just scratching the surface.
It "proves the high value of blockchain and sets the stage to revolutionise supply chain management and logistics, due to its ability to enable secure information sharing, manage trust and reduce waste in multi-partner operational processes," said DLT Labs CEO Louden Owen. "Just as the Roman's concept, 'dictum meum pactum' (meaning 'my word is my bond') was fundamental to building trade, this product creates a secure digital handshake using blockchain to renew trust and efficiency in global trade."
Disclosure: The author holds BNB, BTC at the time of writing.