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IBM on the coming power of blockchain

Laurence Haziot and Rachel Arthur
Laurence Haziot and Rachel Arthur

Blockchain will have the same impact long-term as we have seen the internet have on commerce, says Laurence Haziot, global managing director of IBM, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

A leading woman in the STEM industries, Haziot looks after IBM’s Worldwide Consumer Industries division, which includes retail, consumer products, wholesale and agriculture. She believes strongly in the potential of blockchain for the future, from the impact it can have on the supply chain to the role it will play in sustainability and transparency.

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While it’s nascent right now, the fact that this digital ledger was designed from the beginning to be more secure than current systems we rely on, is key, she explains. That doesn’t make it a silver bullet, but it does make it an opportunity.

IBM is already trialling use cases of the technology as a result, including provenance for food safety at Walmart, shipping efficiencies for Maersk, and diamond authentication for the jewelry industry in a project called TrustChain.

For retail specifically, Haziot is bullish on the results it could drive in terms of efficiencies throughout the entire supply chain, as well as traceability for a consumer only seeking ever more knowledge of what they’re buying.

It’s for that reason she sees blockchain infiltrating numerous job roles. “This is not an IT play,” she explains. “This is really a business topic – I think it will touch probably most of the functions in the company, from marketing to manufacturing, transportation and more.”

In this episode with Rachel Arthur at a live FashMash recording in London, Haziot also answers some tough questions on the limitations of the tech to validate authenticity, and leans on her experience of 30+ years at IBM to explore some of the surrounding innovations that are needed to make it viable long-term.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick product technology

IBM announces blockchain network to track and authenticate diamonds

IBM TrustChain
IBM TrustChain

IBM has announced TrustChain, a blockchain network that tracks and authenticates diamonds and precious metals from mine to market.

Working alongside a group of leaders in the gold and diamond industry – Asahi Refining, Helzberg Diamonds, LeachGarner, Richline Group and UL – the solution aims to bring transparency and provenance to the consumer by creating a trusted database that tracks every step of the supply chain.

“This initiative is important for our industry as we seek to raise the collective responsibility and provenance practices to new heights.” said Mark Hanna, chief marketing officer of Richline. “TrustChain is the first blockchain of its kind within our industry, designed as a solution that marries IBM’s leading blockchain technology with responsible sourcing, verification and governance by third party organizations, led by UL as the administrator.”

The technology aims to give consumers answers to common questions when buying jewellery, such as how the metal was mined and whether it was sourced from an ethical region. A participating brand will be able to pull up information on the full history of an engagement ring, per example, and that information is then available on a customer-facing web database.

At present, TrustChain is piloting the tracking of six different styles of diamond and gold engagement rings on the blockchain platform.

A public-facing interface that would allow consumers to scan a QR code to pull up more information is in the works, Jason Kelley, the GM of blockchain services at IBM, told TechCrunch.

IBM TrustChain
IBM TrustChain

To add another level of security, the IBM network has a mechanism for the participants of that chain to check the validity of each transaction, every step of the way, as a consensus. If there is a dispute, Kelley tells TechCrunch, a participant can click on a trusted chain and see what has happened immediately, which reduces the number of steps traditionally involved in a process like this.

Besides the enormous surge of interest in blockchain, examples of the technology being deployed have thus far been scarce. Major retailers such as Walmart and most recently, Starbucks, have been piloting the technology in order to provide consumers with the information they crave, yet still on a smaller scale.

Diamonds and precious metals is clearly an industry with a large demand for this type of technology, as seen by De Beers announcing it is also working on a blockchain program earlier this year. For luxury in particular, the benefits that the technology brings to consumers will increase the pressure for brands to be more open about their production practices and, eventually, more sustainable in their choice of suppliers.

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Editor's pick technology

De Beers is using blockchain to authenticate its diamonds

De Beers is trialling blockchain
De Beers is trialling blockchain

De Beers is piloting a blockchain program in order to ensure all diamonds are conflict-free and natural, while also enhancing efficiency across the sector.

The industry-wide initiative will take advantage of the very nature of blockchain technology – providing an immutable, permanent record for every diamond registered on it from the moment they are dug up from the ground.

It will then follow them throughout the value chain in order to validate them at each step of the journey, so every time they change hands.

Bruce Cleaver, CEO of De Beers Group, said: “Diamonds hold enduring value and represent some of life’s most meaningful moments, so it’s essential to provide assurance that a diamond is conflict-free and natural. By leveraging blockchain technology, we will provide an additional layer of assurance to consumers and industry participants, with every diamond registered on the platform having a record as everlasting as the diamond itself.”

“We are very excited about this initiative and the benefits it could deliver across the diamond value chain, from producers through to retailers and consumers. We look forward to continuing to engage with industry stakeholders as we progress development of the platform over the coming months.”

Blockchain is largely known as the technology that underpins bitcoin, but has wider application beyond cryptocurrencies through its basis as a distributed and secure digital ledger. For the fashion and luxury industries, it also has application from a provenance perspective as well as an anti-counterfeit measure.

The De Beers pilot is underway with a small number of participants in the industry following the success of an initial proof of concept trial. According to the press release, during this development phase, key considerations are being addressed, including the protection of commercially sensitive data, streamlining processes at various stages of the value chain and providing further assurance for those that finance the industry. The aim is for a full launch later this year.