How Walmart Leveraged the Blockchain Technology To Improve Food Safety?
Blockchain Technology might be a term you’ve heard fairly frequently in recent times. First properly introduced to the world as the tech behind the leading cryptocurrency Bitcoin, it is, at the most rudimentary level, a chain of blocks. These blocks are actually virtual embodiments of information, digitally stored on a digital chain – essentially a public database.
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(image source: Investopedia)
While it’s true that the crypto world has been the first to adopt blockchain tech, the network has limitless potential still unexplored. Businesses, for example, aims to gain immensely by leveraging blockchain technology, as shown by several organizations like Walmart. Before we dive into the details of that use case though, let’s first take a look at how exactly blockchain can help businesses become more efficient.
The Fundamentals of Blockchains Technology – Absolute Necessities for Running a Successful Business
Blocks on the blockchain, as mentioned before, hold information, on data related to transactions made on the blockchain. Say you purchase something from a retail store and pay using a blockchain system – cryptocurrencies, for example. Firstly, the network of computers on the blockchain verifies all data related to the purchase (e.g. time, date, the exact amount transferred, involved counterparties, etc.). After verification, that information gets stored on a ‘block’ with your and the retail store’s digital signatures (akin to your username on websites). Further, The block gets added to the chain.
A new block is always added at the very end of a chain and linked with the previous block. In case of an attack, a block’s information cannot be meddled with, because all subsequent blocks would need to be updated too. The mechanism ensures data security.
A hash, to put it simply, is a unique code each block possesses that marks distinctiveness. The hashing system is an essential part of giving all blocks the maximum possible safety. This mechanism requires all data stored in a block (the input) to be processed via a complex cryptographic function that produces an output of a certain length – the same for every block. So if a hacker attempts to decode a particular hash, they cannot rely on the output to garner the length of the input.
SHA-256 is the name of the algorithm Bitcoin uses for producing hashes.
3. Distributed Ledger Technology
A blockchain is accessible to all users on the network. There’s no central authority in possession of all information. Rather it’s distributed among every node. The blockchain thus maintains clarity and allows all users complete freedom in sharing data.
All data stored on the blockchain is unalterable. Once a block is added to the chain, the hash makes it practically impossible to tweak the stored data. Edited or updated information is stored as a separate block, so there’s a permanent record of all data ever entered.
5. Smart Contracts
One of the most prominent applications of a blockchain that holds the power to revolutionize the business sector, a smart contract is a program that auto-executes itself once some predetermined, agreed conditions are fulfilled. Smart contracts enable transactions to carry out without any sort of risk or the need for an intermediary or a centralized institution.
Blockchain runs on a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) network. These ‘peers’ represent a host of devices connected by the blockchain system, which smart contracts are operated by, and each of which also contains a copy of all transaction histories.
Nodes are the device that connects to a blockchain to keep track of blocks and generally access the chain. People often confuse nodes with peers; the primary difference between the two is that while peers contain smart contracts and copies of the ledger, nodes can only see stored data and send information.
8. Permissioned Blockchain
Unlike decentralized general blockchains, Permissioned blockchains are a special type of blockchain that has an extra layer of security added on top. Therefore the controlling layer supervises the entire network so that only authorized, identifiable entities can perform certain actions.
Data provenance is the mechanism of recording the history of transactions. It notes down the complete transaction ranging from the time of their origin to various stages of their life cycle. It also tracks any other edits/updates made in between the transaction.
Blockchain Use Case Study: Walmart
Now that we know all the different ways a blockchain network can strengthen a business. Let’s take a look at one of the most well-known use cases of blockchain technology in business to date – the Walmart case.
What started it all was the threat of an outbreak of foodborne disease. Since organizations like Walmart supply food items to a large part of the global population, what happens if any product supplied by them causes some mass illness? It’d take a considerable time to find the source of the item and halt its supply, and it would cause extensive damage. So, for the sake of improved trackability, Walmart decided to try something new: a food traceability system based on Hyperledger Fabric.
Hyperledger Fabric is a blockchain-based system, mostly used by private organizations. It allows complete transparency and constant recording and updation of all data stored on the blockchain while simultaneously maintaining privacy. What Walmart required was a decentralized food supply system that preserved the company’s private information. Hyperledger Fabric, therefore, was a match.
Walmart created a food traceability system on the foundation of the Hyperledger Fabric. In association with IBM, Walmart tested out two PoC (proof of concept) projects. One of them traced the mangoes sold in the US Walmarts, and the other tracked the pork sold in Chinese Walmarts. As you might have gathered already, they worked out splendidly!
Before Hyperledger Fabric system, tracking the mangoes sold in the US stores used to take at least a week. When the blockchain-based food traceability system was deployed, the tracking time saw a decrease from 7 days to 2.2 seconds! As for tracing pork in China, since uploading certificates of authenticity on the blockchain was now possible, tracking the source of the sold pork became an effortless task.
As of 2020, Walmart use IBM developed Hyperledger Fabric fuelled blockchain tool to track over 25 products. These include poultry, dairy, packaged food and fresh produce from 5 different suppliers. It also relies on Hyperledger to maintain a steady stream of communication with all suppliers. Walmart, in partnership with the IBM Food Trust, also announced its initiative to employ the system in the tracing of a more varied range of products.
It’s apparent how large a change the use of blockchain-powered systems can bring to business operations. Most presumably, in near future adopting blockchain tech into businesses will become a necessity instead of a choice.
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