How Blockchain Can Enhance Transparency, Traceability and Trust in Procurement Processes

September 12, 2023
By Charlotte de Brabandt, DBA

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of 10 articles about advanced technologies and what they mean to procurement. Articles will run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month in Inside Supply Management® Weekly, Institute for Supply Management®’s (ISM®) e-newsletter. For more, see de Brabandt’s Technology column, “The Coming Consequential Differentiator That Is AI,” in the September/October issue of Inside Supply Management®.

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Supply management is a complex and interconnected process involving multiple stakeholders, transactions and data exchanges. Ensuring transparency, traceability and trust in procurement processes is vital for organizations to optimize efficiency, mitigate risks and build strong relationships with suppliers.

In recent years, blockchain technology has emerged as a game-changer, offering unprecedented capabilities to revolutionize supply management. This article, the first in a series of 10, explores how blockchain’s potential can benefit organizations.

Enhanced Transparency

A significant advantage of blockchain is its ability to provide transparency in supply chain operations. Traditional systems often suffer from information asymmetry and a lack of visibility into the movement of goods, leading to inefficiencies and increased risks.

With blockchain, every transaction and interaction can be recorded on a distributed ledger that is accessible to all authorized participants in the network. This shared view of the supply chain ensures transparency by eliminating information silos and providing real-time visibility into processes, including procurement, manufacturing, transportation and delivery.

Blockchain also enables end-to-end traceability and provenance of products throughout the supply chain. By recording each transaction of the blockchain — including details such as origin, production, quality checks and ownership transfers — organizations can establish an immutable audit trail.

This traceability feature is particularly beneficial in industries where product authenticity and compliance with regulations are crucial, such as food, pharmaceuticals and luxury goods. Blockchain’s tamper-proof nature ensures that the information cannot be altered retroactively, ensuring the integrity and accuracy of product history.

Among blockchain’s other advantages:

Streamlined procurement processes, by eliminating intermediaries, reducing paperwork and automating transactions. Smart contracts — self-executing contracts with predefined rules encoded on the blockchain — can facilitate secure and efficient procurement transactions. These contracts can automate key procurement activities, including POs, delivery verification, invoicing and payment settlements. Smart contracts help streamline the procure-to-pay process, reduce manual errors, accelerate transaction speed and enhance efficiency for both buyers and suppliers.

Improved trust and collaboration. Blockchain’s decentralized nature, combined with its transparency and immutability, can foster trust and collaboration among supply chain participants. In traditional supply chains, trust is often built on relationships and intermediaries. However, blockchain eliminates the need for intermediaries by providing a secure and transparent platform for peer-to-peer transactions.

Smart contracts on the blockchain enable automated verification and enforcement of contractual terms, reducing the need for trust-based relationships. By leveraging blockchain, organizations can establish trust, enhance supplier relationships, and foster collaboration through shared data and processes.

Enhanced supply chain security. Supply chain security is a critical concern for organizations, particularly in mitigating risks associated with counterfeit products, fraud and unauthorized modifications. Blockchain provides an indisputable and auditable record of each transaction, making it extremely challenging for malicious actors to tamper with the data.

By storing product information, certifications and ownership records on the blockchain, organizations can ensure its integrity and reduce the risk of counterfeit goods entering the market. This enhanced security not only protects brand reputation but also safeguards consumer safety.

Challenges and Considerations

While blockchain technology holds immense promise, several challenges need to be addressed before there is widespread adoption by supply management organizations. These include scalability, interoperability, data privacy, standardization and regulatory considerations. Organizations must also carefully evaluate the cost, technical complexity and readiness of their supply chain ecosystem before implementing blockchain solutions.

Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize supply management by enhancing transparency, traceability and trust in procurement processes. Through its transparent and immutable ledger, blockchain provides real-time visibility into supply chain operations, improves traceability, streamlines procurement processes, fosters trust and collaboration, and enhances supply chain security.

As organizations recognize blockchain’s transformative power, its adoption is poised to reshape the future of supply management, driving efficiency, sustainability and competitive advantage in procurement processes.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/Yuichiro Chino)

About the Author

Charlotte de Brabandt, DBA

About the Author

Charlotte de Brabandt, DBA, is the Boston-based head of IT partner management and governance U.S. at ZF Group. The Megawatt winner among the 2017 ISM® 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars, she is a member of Institute for Supply Management®’s Thought Leadership Council.