25 Feb 2020

Transparency counts: making the case for enterprise blockchain consulting solutions

BY PATRICK DEGENHARDT

// Head of Marketing

Business information was always considered top secret and classified. For your eyes only. The provenance of an asset – such as a luxury item, a bottle of wine, or any object, really – was locked away in many different filing cabinets down the supply chain. Traceability was difficult. There was little value in joining the dots.

This ‘information disconnect’ has emerged as a business risk. Enterprise blockchain consulting is increasingly seen as part of the solution.

What has changed? Put simply, transparency matters more than ever before. Two major factors have combined to push providence up the agenda. Firstly, end users – the ultimate customers, i.e. you and me – are demanding it. When we buy an item, and especially a high-worth item, we want to know that it is ethically sourced and genuine. Just saying it, doesn’t make it true: brands need to prove beyond possible doubt that a diamond isn’t a blood diamond or that a bottle of Bordeaux wine isn’t counterfeit.

Brands are being held accountable for the ethical standards of their entire supply chain – so they must take steps to demonstrate compliance with the high expectations of their customers.

Secondly, climate change got real. Governments and businesses have signed up to wide-reaching shifts in behaviour, such as the Paris Agreement and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Meeting those commitments – in line with regulation or citizen and consumer pressure – means more effort towards proving sustainable sourcing of materials. With momentum growing behind the Circular Economy, how long before provenance credentials become a competitive advantage? Being responsible isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s good for business too.

How do blockchain technology solutions help?

Blockchain’s immutable ledger forms a secure digital record of an asset’s origin, characteristics and ownership. Combined with other technologies such as smart contracts, AI, IoT, nanotechnology and intelligent labelling solutions, blockchain creates a digital twin of every asset, mineral or product – capturing its unique identity – and so enabling traceability in a permanent, unalterable and private platform.

These solutions effectively turn transparency into a two-way value street. Information flows upstream, providing the next link in the supply chain information about the origin and characteristics of an asset. Eventually, the customer at the head of the chain can make their purchase on the basis of increased knowledge and a more thorough understanding of the true worth of the piece.

Information is also sent back down the chain to help all stakeholders make better decisions. The overall impact is higher clarity in the supply chain, which results in closer adherence to the aims of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, whether gender equality, decent work and economic growth, or responsible consumption and production.

Of course, it’s not just information that flows up and down the transparency street. Financial pressure upstream will encourage suppliers to demonstrate their ethical practices. Increasingly, advances in technology are empowering customers to channel money straight into the hands of those at the base of the value chain, if they so wish.

Everledger: global blockchain consultancy for global clients

We are an independent technology company that helps businesses surface and converge asset information, using a symphony of secure technologies, including blockchain. Our purpose is to contribute greater clarity and confidence in the marketplaces where transparency is a strategic imperative. By digitally streamlining our clients’ compliance processes, we help them to share the history of an asset more efficiently and accurately.

Our solutions are built on advanced technology, as well as a deep knowledge of industries, rooted in corporate citizenship principles. We work closely with our partners to increase their value – more responsibly, more sustainably and more efficiently.

Founded in 2015, we recently completed $20m Series A funding with the backing of Tencent, China’s leading internet-based services provider. This will support us in bringing more visibility to good business practices in industries that impact millions, if not billions of people in developing countries.

Last year, we also launched version 2.0 of our blockchain platform. For example, on our diamond platform, customers benefit from a ‘record viewer’ that allows them to see the lifetime story of each asset, including claims made about origin, sustainability or chain of custody, on mobile or desktop. Asset owners can view and query all their assets, through a secure portal on the ‘asset vault’. At the press of a button, they can check the ‘unique identifiers’ for each asset, and then also register and track ownership securely on our private blockchain.

Everledger has achieved certification to the ISO 27001 standard, which defines the most secure approaches for managing and protecting sensitive data. We have therefore joined an elite group (less than 2% of all registered companies worldwide) who can say their practices, policies and procedures are all compliant with this global benchmark for information security.

We don’t see transparency as the end goal. It’s not just a ‘state of mind’ or a by-product of increased supply chain information. It’s a potent force for change. With information out in the open, we believe the value of many industries will be shared by all stakeholders throughout the value chain.

Revealing the human face of blockchain consulting solutions

The World Economic Forum (WEF) describes the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a “fundamental change in the way we live, work and relate to one another – a new chapter in human development, enabled by extraordinary technology advances.” However, the WEF also warns against getting carried away. “These advances are merging the physical, digital and biological worlds in ways that create both huge promise and potential peril. The speed, breadth and depth of this revolution is forcing us to rethink how countries develop, how organisations create value and even what it means to be human.”

At Everledger, we help clients to keep the human factor at the core of their thinking. The aim of digital transformation is ever greater progress in terms of efficiency, economies of scale, speed to market and quality. But technology at the expense of humans and our planet feels counterintuitive.

Led by our CEO Leanne Kemp, our team of ‘Everlegends’ are therefore actively helping organisations like the WEF, the Global Blockchain Business Council and the OECD’s Blockchain Advisory Board to set a business environment for blockchain that will benefit the widest number of people in societies throughout the globe.

Since 2017, Everledger has committed to supporting the Global Battery Alliance, with a view to raising ever more awareness around the challenges and opportunities of a sustainable battery value chain. By establishing traceability throughout the lifecycle of high-risk products, our solutions help to support reuse and responsible recycling of materials, from portable electronics batteries and metal components to electric vehicle batteries.

At the end of 2019, we were awarded Phase 1 funding by the United States Department of Energy for two pilot programmes to trace the life cycle of lithium-ion batteries using blockchain and Internet of Things (Iot) technologies. The first pilot is a collaboration with Ford Motor Company, connecting stakeholders in its electric vehicle battery lifecycle to ensure optimal management and responsible recovery at end-of-life. The second pilot focuses on a platform to inform and reward consumers for recycling portable lithium-ion batteries and the products they power, such as portable electronics and mobile phones.

We also recently partnered with the International Trade Centre (ITC) to create a pilot platform – hosted on the ITC’s neutral site – which is capable of visualising blockchain-based supply chain data from multiple companies and sources. The simulated environment enables the cross reference of supply chain information such as product origin and characteristics, which can potentially solve numerous use cases in complex supply chains, involving many different participants.

The project was motivated by a shared belief in the trust-building potential for technology to help bring circular economy to fruition, tackle climate change and shape the global course of action toward prosperity and well-being for all.

The future is now for enterprise blockchain solutions

Blockchain is entering a new era of rapid proliferation. Organisations across the world are finding ways to harness its benefits, with $12.4 billion in projected investment by 2022.

The business community must choose wisely at this fork in the road, otherwise the technology could fall short of its awesome potential to do good in the world. Done well, blockchain is a fundamental building block of a transparent value chain, making it easier for stakeholders to stay compliant, to drive efficiencies and to create unique value propositions in increasingly competitive global markets.

But blockchain also has clear limitations – and even dangers. Leaving blockchain unregulated, at the whim of the open market, would prove counterproductive. Blockchain can help to stimulate free trade, but it could soon become a victim of commercial greed if left to run wild. Creating fractured systems, with a hyper focus on efficiency rather than transparency, risks losing the trust blockchain can create. In the wrong hands, it could be used to exploit trust, mislead and curb freedoms.

Human nature needs checks and balances. That’s why Everledger is working hard to champion transparent operating principles and open innovation models with our partners around the world.