Every day, billions of little-noticed items make our lives easier, more enjoyable, and more convenient: items like the racks that hold houseplants at retail stores; portable toilets at an outdoor concert; and the countless bins, totes, and pallets that carry items from one point to another around the world.
These humble items are so prevalent in modern life that leasing and managing them is a massive global industry in its own right. Organizations with complex supply chains may have millions of these returnable or rental assets, representing billions of dollars in value. Tracking these assets effectively is essential if companies want to avoid paying penalties for losing them, minimize rental fees, and otherwise optimize their utilization and return on investment. Accurate, real-time information about these assets is key.
Real-time accuracy of assets is what TrackX delivers. At TrackX, we develop software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions for tracking returnable and reusable assets such as beer kegs, intermediate bulk containers, chemical containers, and plastic pallets. We’re constantly innovating our offerings to better serve our customers in industries as diverse as transportation, food and beverage, brewery, healthcare, high tech, hospitality, mining, agriculture, horticulture, manufacturing, and government.
Recently, we integrated Amazon Managed Blockchain in our Global Asset Management for Enterprises (GAME) platform. The decentralized ledgers in blockchain help improve tracking of returnable and reusable assets across a complex network of stakeholders, which are often distributed globally. Building traditional, centralized applications would have meant that our stakeholders were unable to work independently. Also, setting up a blockchain network of our own would be time consuming and cumbersome. As CEO of TrackX, I see tremendous opportunity for blockchain technology to transform global supply chains. The GAME platform along with Amazon Managed Blockchain is helping make that potential a reality.
Unfortunately, companies face numerous obstacles that can prevent them from getting the details they need to properly manage a reusable or rental asset fleet. Even the most basic insights can be lacking for any number of reasons: unreliable tracking, error-prone manual processes, and the difficulty of verifying arrival and departure records—to name just a few.
Companies often try to “solve the problem” by purchasing and carrying additional returnable assets to prevent shortage, increasing the labor and/or hours associated with inventorying, tracking and managing the assets, and hiring extra customer support resources for inefficient service processes (product recalls, inaccurate shipments, etc.). However, throwing additional resources at the problems only serves as a temporary, bandage approach to ensure continued efficient operations of the supply chain. Gaining more automated returnable asset visibility and increasing the sharing of information throughout the supply chain are the only way to address the root of the business challenge to maximize the return on asset investment.
Automating visibility and enabling better information sharing is the best way to address our business challenges. Our GAME platform delivers turnkey item-level tracking, workflow processing, event management, alerting, and analytics. It uses data from IoT and auto-identification devices including RFID, GPS, BLE, sensors, and cameras to provide real-time visibility and control of assets and to deliver meaningful intelligence that helps optimize business processes.
Enter blockchain. By enabling transactions to be completed without recourse to a central authority and by making accurate, immutable data available to all stakeholders at all times, blockchain technology has the potential to not only speed up but also add significant value to the processes of tracking and reconciling returnable and reusable assets.
Blockchain is not without its own challenges, of course. Manually building your own blockchain network for this kind of application would be complex and daunting, requiring labor-intensive infrastructure deployment and management from each party in a returnable asset relationship.
Amazon Managed Blockchain breaks through these barriers, allowing us to quickly create private blockchain networks that enable our customers to monitor and maintain accountability of assets throughout the entire supply chain. That’s because Amazon Managed Blockchain handles the infrastructure, so we can focus on the business logic that delivers value to our customers.
With the TrackX GAME blockchain extension, asset information is added to the decentralized ledger. This provides supply chain partners with a shared, unalterable, common view of the history of asset accountability and conditions. Permissioned blockchain frameworks (such as Hyperledger Fabric, which is available in Amazon Managed Blockchain) works well for supply chain applications because parties have control over who has access to data. Combining these capabilities with IoT automation ensures high-quality transaction data with little or no human intervention.
Smart contracts are another key element of this blockchain solution. In returnable and rental asset management, execution of shared business agreements such as settlement of asset deposits or rental fees may be implemented as smart contracts and executed as asset accountability changes. For example, smart contracts may automatically adjust assignment of assets to proper party upon IIoT-driven proof-of-delivery/transfer or digitally signed mobile transactions to ensure proper demurrage and invoicing. For returnable transportation items (RTI) operations implementing a deposit-refund model (e.g., brewery, rental equipment), the smart contract can automatically reconcile deposits and execute refund transactions.
As our world grows ever more complex and interdependent, the importance of returnable assets will only increase. These items provide critical supply chain infrastructure in an as-a-service model that is key to ROI and efficiency. We see blockchain as a critical element in boosting cost-effectiveness, accountability, and visibility in this industry. Amazon Managed Blockchain enables us to bring the power of this technology to our customers without requiring them to become blockchain experts—transforming how assets are managed and delivering products and services to consumers faster than ever before.