COVID-19: Blockchain-Based Network to Solve Supply Chain Challenges

Tech giant IBM is leveraging blockchain technology to connect buyers with non-traditional suppliers producing masks and other PPE needed to combat COVID-19. The company is leveraging its expertise with blockchain to help address medical supply chain shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), used by health care professionals due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


IBM has launched a blockchain network, called Rapid Supplier Connect, to help government agencies and healthcare industries identify new, non-traditional suppliers that have pivoted to address the shortage of equipment and supplies needed for COVID-19 pandemic relief efforts. The company mentioned that Rapid Supplier Connect is freely available to qualified buyers and suppliers in the U.S. and Canada by the end of August this year.


Rapid Supplier Connect intends to link buyers with non-traditional suppliers that are now making masks, gowns, and other essential supplies items for health care facilities and personnel. Mark Treshock, IBM’s Global Leader for Blockchain Solutions in Healthcare and Life Sciences explained the mission of Rapid Supplier Connect stating, The goal is to bring two parties together, reducing the friction and time it normally takes to conduct business. Blockchain is applied here to enable companies to move forward fast and efficiently.” 


Blockchain Dealing with Supply Chain Challenges 


Blockchain acts as a key technology tool to improve the supply chain, particularly during this pandemic situation. The IBM blockchain-based network also addresses the challenges of identifying new suppliers, efficiently onboarding them, and evaluating their inventory availability in real-time, thus allowing hospitals to make it available and redirect supplies where they are needed the most.


Treshock explained that Rapid Supplier Connect leverages IBM blockchain network and Chainyard’s Trust Your Supplier identity platform both, and a combination works to validate and authenticate information about suppliers. “Trust is built into every transaction, as everything is recorded on the IBM Blockchain, which is a private, permissioned network”, he explained.


Payments Settlements and Financial Transactions 


Treshock further mentioned about financial transactions illustrating that there is no cryptocurrency element involved, and the Rapid Supplier Connect complements current supply chain networks and their payment systems.


Other organizations supporting the blockchain network include Dun & Bradstreet is contributing its identity resolution and firmographic data and supplier risk and viability scores. While RapidRatings is providing financial health data on suppliers, and KYC SiteScan will provide “Know Your Business” due diligence report access.


Blockchain Technology and Challenges  


While many companies have proof-of-concept projects with blockchain, widespread adoption has been slow. This is due to government regulations and companies needing to agree on governance and business models.  Nadia Hewett, the World Economic Forum’s project lead for blockchain and distributed ledger technology, pointed out that many organizations are uneducated when it comes to deploying blockchain solutions, and for many supply chains, upstream partners are located in less developed industrial and technology bases.


The blockchain-based platform can offer greater visibility into the supply chain and can create a permanent audit trail along with every link in the chain. “With Rapid Supplier Connect joining the network is expected to take buyers and suppliers approximately 30 minutes, with industry and technical support provided by IBM’s operational support center to assist with onboarding and getting value from the network”, the report suggested.


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