As a young professional, I know the value of keeping up-to-date with new innovations, researching emerging technologies and making sure my skills align with the demands of today’s supply chain landscape. One innovation I’ve recently been researching is blockchain. Although blockchain is most often associated with the financial sector and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, the technology has far-reaching implications in supply chain management. (Learn more in the feature article, “The Rise of Blockchain in Supply Chain,” starting on page 46.) To further my investigation, I recently reached out to two individuals entrenched in the blockchain space to ask them what advice they have for leaders of supply networks who are interested in pursuing the technology.
Todd Zaionz is managing principal of T.I. Global, an investment and technology advisory company. He helps investors and organizations in the medical sector understand what blockchain is, where it is useful, where it is not and how to implement it. The central piece of advice he shared with me was to not try to reinvent the wheel. There are numerous startups out there with blockchain products already in development. These entities are looking for partners, investors and applications to test their solutions. Ethereum and Cardano are two such organizations that have developed platforms with readily available blockchain software offerings that use smart contracts and can be tailored to fit the needs of any business.
I also learned about a startup called Populous, which is using the Ethereum platform in a novel way that could have huge implications for supply chain finance: Imagine that your company has 1,000 accounts receivable invoices, on which you’re expecting payment from various retailers, but you don’t want to wait the usual 30 or 60 days. Instead, you could sell these invoices at a discount — perhaps 5 percent — and get cash now to churn inventory or invest in research and development. Populous uses blockchain technology to connect such organizations with interested parties that will purchase the invoices. This is an excellent real-world example of blockchain removing intermediaries and speeding up the flow of financial transactions.
Next, I spoke with Rajiv Ayyangar, cofounder of Cryptagon.io. His company’s solution clarifies organizations’ cryptocurrency holdings and trades by providing insight into realized versus unrealized gains, rate of return, risk profiles and so on. Ayyangar’s advice to supply chain management professionals interested in tapping into blockchain at their own businesses was to think long and hard about the end users and the use case. He encourages decision-makers to confirm that there’s a definite advantage with blockchain compared with noncrypto options — for example, a more centralized network, such as enterprise resources planning. Also, because the regulatory environment is changing rapidly, he added that it’s critical to ensure your legal team knows what they’re doing.
Essential building blocks
Since finishing graduate school, one of the toughest challenges I face is finding ways to stay informed on current events and new developments in supply chain management. I’m sure I’m not alone. Many young people neglect this important part of their professional development.
If you want to learn about blockchain — or any key emerging technology — in addition to reaching out to expert professionals such as Zaionz and Ayyangar, I highly recommend making it a priority to do some reading at least twice a week. I have set up filters in my email inbox so any articles from the sources I choose to follow are filed in a separate folder, which I have labeled “Supply Chain Readings.” This makes the content easily accessible when I am on the go or have a couple of minutes to spare.
Perhaps even more important is finding a way to engage with your new learning in order to confirm and solidify your understanding. Writing the “Career Launch” department for APICS magazine forces me to dive into challenging topics and really integrate them into a mental model that I can use in the future. APICS magazine and the Thinking Supply Chain Blog welcome volunteer contributions; you can learn more about that at apics.org/editorial.
One last suggestion is to download the APICS Dictionary app. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the key supply chain terms that you will need throughout your career. In a world where dizzying change is the new norm, it is of paramount importance to stay as knowledgeable and conversant as possible.
Rex Magadia works in transportation and logistics at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. His background is in environmental engineering. Magadia has a Master of Business Administration in global supply chain management. He may be contacted at email@example.com.