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Ethereum Gains Momentum for Supply Chain Applications

When it comes to proofs of concept (POCs) and pilots of blockchains for supply chain applications, Ethereum is surely in the lead as the preferred technology platform.

With its “world computer” ability to run smart contracts, Ethereum has been adopted as a natural starting point by major companies and many startups and is now receiving attention as a central part of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) through the formation of a supply chain working group.
Since its launch in July 2015 (it’s still officially in beta), Ethereum has become popular because it is both flexible and freely available for use or modification (as it is open source). The public Ethereum network is seen as an easy on-ramp for those beginning to experiment with the technology, or run a POC, ahead of spinning up a private network for a production pilot.

While maintaining a commitment to developing the public network — planned work includes changing the consensus mechanism from a proof-of-work model to one based on proof-of-stake — the Ethereum community is also putting effort into making Ethereum suitable for enterprise use by major companies.

Thus, the formation earlier this year of the EEA, kick-started by Brooklyn-based ConsenSys. The organization has a key goal of creating a specification and a reference implementation of an enterprise platform. J.P. Morgan’s Quorum platform, a fork of Ethereum with access and privacy controls, is likely to be leveraged for certain aspects of the specification and might itself evolve into a reference implementation.

The EEA currently boasts around 150 members, with more expected to join. Members include major vendors such as Microsoft and technology adopters including the likes of Banco Santander, as well as many smaller companies and startups such as BlockApps and Nuco.

Many of the EEA’s members are working with applications for supply chain provenance or trade finance. Notably, Microsoft’s Project Manifest is looking to integrate Ethereum with IoT sensors for product tracking, which is also a focus for the startup company Chronicled. Indeed, Chronicled is drilling down further by building a solution for cold chain monitoring, which ensures goods such as food and pharmaceuticals are transported in temperature-controlled environments. Meanwhile, consulting firms like Deloitte and Synechron have built trade finance frameworks on Ethereum.

Recently, the EEA has formed a number of working groups to focus on specific vertical markets and industries, and supply chain is one of them. The working group is headed by Tyler Mulvihill of ConsenSys, where he is the business development and strategy lead of the Authentick project. Authentick is launching a generic track-and-trace platform that allows a business analyst to model a supply chain and the assets that are transported through it and track those assets as they change ownership within the supply chain. 

The Authentick platform incorporates a business-friendly user interface and automatically generates smart contracts that run on an Ethereum instance, an approach that avoids the need to create smart contract code, an activity still best left to experts and one which requires rigorous testing before deployment.

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