Editor's Choice

From the editor's desk: The future is calling

Third Quarter 2020 Editor's Choice

The move to level 2 has brought a feeling of renewal. At last we can start thinking ahead and contemplating the future in this new digital world. SAFPA for one has taken the leap, and has engaged an association management company. We feature an interview with Cynthia Badenhorst who is the account executive for VDW & Co, where she outlines some of their plans for taking SAFPA further into the virtual age.

Kim Robertson.

Manufacturers have been knocked for six, but are now starting to reflect on the disruptions they have experienced and are taking action. Digital transformation makes sense, but adoption has been slow. The concepts can be overwhelming − the sheer size of the task, and trying to figure out where the value is for your company. Now it’s urgent. Organisations need to be agile and respond quickly to disruptions, otherwise they’ll be left behind and risk becoming irrelevant and uncompetitive. According to Forbes magazine, manufacturers are about to experience five years of innovation in eighteen months, and they will stop just talking about IIoT and start doing it.

At first all the talk was about the factory and manufacturing processes. More recently there has been a realisation that other business processes like supply chains also need transformation. Traditional supply chains are failing. The World Economic Forum says that Covid has shone a spotlight on these outdated supply chain management techniques and highlighted the cracks. They have been exposed as lacking visibility, agility and the resilience needed to cope with even minor disruptions. Regaining trust in these systems is critical to recovery and restoring economic activity.

An upside to the pandemic is that it is taking us through a learning curve that can help remedy this. Blockchain is one of the rising IIoT technologies that are seen as a solution for a post-pandemic economic recovery. It can help rebuild disrupted networks by providing transparent, trusted and secure data on the movement of goods. It can process and verify transactions quickly and contribute to a more equitable system of commerce, altering the future of supply chains at every level.

So what is blockchain? It’s an open cache of information distributed across computers that can permanently record transactions between parties and verify them. Originally created to support bitcoin, it is based on an open, shared database that is spread across many computers rather than having a central database like in a bank. Transactions are securely encrypted and repeated in many copies.

Once data is written to this chain, it is nearly impossible to change, making it a very secure system for storing digital transactions. Every point on the network stores the entire chain. The only way to falsify a transaction is to change it on every node in the chain. The data being recorded is transparent to all points on the chain, and encrypted so only those involved in a transaction have access to their digital record. The beauty of blockchain technology is that it creates trust in peer-to-peer transactions, with no need for the intermediaries previously required to bring trust to buyer-seller relationships.

The three major advantages of blockchain are transparency, decentralisation and security. Everyone can see what’s happening on the chain at all times, and no one person can control it. For manufacturers the possibilities are huge and it is gaining ground in every sector.

Blockchain is also supporting efforts around the globe to battle Covid-19. It is used for tracking public health data with increased transparency. Rapid processing follows virus activity, patients, and suspected new cases so that symptoms can be detected early before they spread to the level of an epidemic.

Blockchain is also used in tracking and tracing medical supply chains by reviewing, recording and tracking demand, supplies and logistics for PPE. The entire process of recording and verification is tamper-proof by every party, while also allowing anyone to track the process.

One huge potential application will come when a Covid vaccine becomes available.

Finding a way to distribute it on a global scale will be crucial and will require one of the largest supply chain capacities ever built. Eradicating the virus around the world will involve distributing 7 to 19 billion vaccine doses – and blockchain will be essential for fast, equitable, efficient distribution and it will be leveraged on a massive scale never seen before. It has the potential to reduce vaccine wastage rates, eliminate stockouts and ensure a truly equitable distribution of the vaccine to the entirety of the human population.

When I line up for my vaccine shot I’ll be thinking of blockchain.


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