Without data standards, blockchain technology is irrelevant

Without data standards, blockchain technology is irrelevant (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Though blockchain as a technology has shown great promise within the logistics industry, mainstream blockchain adoption has been left wanting. This resistance to adoption comes from the need for data standardization. Without proper data standards, blockchain within supply chains would not work, as data being shared cannot be interoperable. 

Standards organization GS1 US has been active within the blockchain circuit, introducing data standards that could eventually lead companies to build their blockchain pilot projects over the data frameworks. 

FreightWaves spoke with Kevin Otto, senior director at GS1 US, to discuss how data standards are fundamental to sustaining blockchain adoption in logistics. 

“The goal of GS1 standards is to improve traceability within supply chains by transparently capturing and transferring data. The idea is to identify data captures and ultimately share that information with trading partners in a standardized fashion,” said Otto. “This is hard if companies are creating proprietary numbering systems for their items and then sharing that via blockchain. Without standardization, those numbers do not mean anything downstream.”

With its standards, GS1 is attempting to create a common global language of business that industries can agree upon, bringing seamless interoperability closer to reality. 

“Without standardization, data across the supply chain becomes meaningless. If there is a recall for a product and companies speak in different languages, then even with access to all the information, companies will have no idea what it means,” said Otto. 

In that context, GS1 standards can be utilized in a blockchain ecosystem to optimize data sharing. For example, the Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) standard allows supply chain partners to capture transactional information about supply chain events related to product movement. 

Associated trading partners get access to this information. EPCIS is in use today across various industries. It helps document the product’s chain of custody across trading partner networks when used for blockchain.

In March, GS1 also announced a guideline that would act as an educational resource, enabling supply chain visibility in blockchain implementation by leveraging GS1 standards. Otto explained that the development of the guidelines took about six months. This expedited development was achievable due to visibility data standards that already existed within GS1, which was leveraged and applied for blockchain purposes. 

“We had a large group of users that helped us develop these standards. I think it’s important to know this isn’t something that gets developed in a vacuum. You have that cross-industry discussion group, which has 100 to 150 representatives from about 95 different companies that helped us put together this guideline,” said Otto. 

This has ensured that user feedback remains consistently positive. However, the guidelines will continue to evolve based on use cases. Otto contended that the goal was to add to the document every time the industry comes up with a new blockchain use case that needs recognition. 


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