Future Decentralized Supply Chains

PCI Executive Director Dr. David Bray gave a main-stage talk at Singularity University’s Global Summit on Our People-Centered Digital Future. Below is a short article from that talk, on development of “a more people-centered approach to decentralized supply chains”. We welcome suggestions from members of the coalition about how this development could be accelerated by activities of the PCI coalition and our partners.


By Dr. David Bray, PCI Executive Director

Supply chains provide just about all the conveniences we enjoy in the modern world. Whether the supply chains involve items made locally, manufactured in another part of the country, or produced half a world away — as our world become increasingly connected, so too do the opportunities to benefit from items provided by supply chains shipped by road, rail, air, and sea.

Lately there has been talk of possible tariffs and trade wars among nations — with some pundits saying these will disrupt global supply chains. There also have been pundits talking about how the industrial internet of things (IIoT) might allow greater efficiency and effectiveness of global supply chains, noting that visibility into global supply chains is something that a lot of organizations currently lack.

A 2017 Supply Chain Worldwide Survey placed supply chain visibility as the third greatest strategic priority for 623 industry professionals in 17 countries yet found that only 6% of the respondents could claim full visibility into their supply chains for their respective organizations.

Earlier this month I spoke at the annual Global Summit for Singularity University. The conversations centered around the pace of technology changes in our world, and how that pace of change was causing ripple effects on how organizations, societies, and nations operate. During the discussions I considered what decentralized supply chains might look like; specifically:

  1. Imagine if there protocol allowing anyone, anywhere indicate some element of a supply chain they could assist with delivering? This could be something they were in the process of growing, producing or manufacturing. Or, it could be the ability to transport items of a certain volume or type to certain places. Or it could be a storefront or location that could place the items on sale — possibly either a retail store with foot traffic that people visited or an online store that allowed visitors to buy through the web.
  2. The protocol could allow individuals to indicate online what part of a supply chain they could help provide, and then help broker connections as part of future decentralized supply chains. This could involve matching, for example, a rice grower in Vietnam, with a truck driver willing to drive the rice to market, to a market seller willing to sell it at a certain price.
  3. The protocol would also allow for future dates to be set — for example, future dates of availability for an item to be sold, or shipping capacity to be used, or when items would be needed at storefront for selling. There would also be the ability to track pass successes and reputations of the different individuals participating in the decentralized supply chain and the ability for a neutral third-party to hold funds in escrow until delivery or sale was completed.

To a degree we are already seeing some parts of this emerge on the Internet. Auction sites, like eBay, allowed anyone to participate in placing an item for bid. Similarly, marketplaces like Amazon and Wal-Mart allow third party sellers to participate. Lyft, Uber, and other ride-sharing apps allow people to participate as drivers in a “transportation-focused” supply chain customized to the needs of the riders. Yet a consistent protocol standard that would allow anyone, anywhere in the world to participate in decentralized supply chains does not exist at present.

Lots of supply chains right now are associated with corporations. While some “direct to consumer” elements are arising associated with items as diverse as razor blades to mattresses, a way to allow anyone, anywhere to provide services associated with a supply chain does not yet exist. The ability to find people based on location, timing, and type of service or goods would need to be readily available — both locally and around the world.

The conversations at the Global Summit earlier this month left me wondering if development of a more people-centered approach to decentralized supply chains was something that private companies would do — perhaps serving as that neutral third-party providing the online services associated with matching participants with both current and future “supply chain pieces” as well as tracking successes and holding funds in escrow until delivery or sale was completed. Alternatively, perhaps a non-profit or non-government organization might need to establish this if global interoperability was required — similar to some of the early days of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

In the meanwhile, I thought I’d share this idea to see what thoughts other people had on what future decentralized supply chains might look like?

What mechanisms for discovery, connections, and inter-relating both locally and around the world might help us improve both the effectiveness and empower people to play whatever part they would like?

Thoughts and ideas welcomed!


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Posted in Events, PCI News.

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