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Blockchain integration turns ERP into a collaboration platform

Lucas Mearian | June 12, 2017
The combo yields a trusted system of records that can be shared between disparate partner companies.

Ramzan said his customers are asking about blockchain for audit logging and or verifiable logs, which is viewed as a reliable way of tracking what happened in an organization to satisfy regulatory auditors. Other RSA customers are interested in it for user authentication to ensure users are accessing the correct digital records at the right time.

At Walmart's shareholder's summit last week, for example, IBM demonstrated a Hyperledger-based blockchain integrated with the retail corporation's safety system that tracks shipments of fresh produce. Specifically, the system was tuned to track multiple shipment of mangoes. The pilot blockchain tracked where a mango had been, what branch it came from, what packing house it went through, in what cold storage facility was it kept, and what distribution center it passed through.

Much of the information about the mango shipments came directly from Walmart's ERP system, McDermott said, eliminating the need to create a secondary record or recreate shipment information. Being able to track the mango shipments enables Walmart to determine where, if there's a food illness outbreak, any bad fruit originated.

The importance of being able to closely track produce is evidenced in a 2013 E. coli incident that saw Taylor Farms Retail Inc. recall spinach from five retail outlets in 39 U.S. states. The recall was initiated after a random test of a single bag of spinach by the Washington Department of Agriculture found there was potential salmonella contamination.

Because Taylor Farms didn't have an accurate method of tracking each bag of spinach, it recalled all of its shipments.

"We absolutely understand this is a ripe opportunity in the market. We know this is something people need.... 3,000 people die every year in the U.S. because of food-borne illnesses," McDermott said. "SAP just joined [the Hyperledger consortium] as premium member. Everyone I'm encountering is looking at how to build out solutions so they can get data as efficiently as possible onto blockchain.

"Right now we're talking to a group of influential players in the market about how quickly we can expand this...," she added.

Managing the supply chain and maintenance

Another company, Sweden-based enterprise software provider IFS, has created a new proof-of-concept to demonstrate how Blockchain can be integrated with organizations' ERP systems, and used in the aviation and energy industries.

A large number of IFS's client base is commercial airlines, such as KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Emirates Airline, Southwest and South China Airlines.

Bas de Vos, director of IFS Labs, the company's R&D arm, said the project has demonstrated how blockchain can be used for asset management, including tracking supply chains, parts shipments and even to log and verify commercial airline maintenance work, to include everyone from airline pilots and maintenance workers to parts vendors.


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