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IBM Cloud-Based Blockchain System Targets Food Safety

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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IBM has rolled out an enterprise-ready blockchain offering, as well as collaborations aimed at developing blockchain for food safety and automated billing

IBM has introduced what it called the industry’s first enterprise-ready blockchain offering, along with support services, a collaboration aimed at introducing the technology into the food supply chain and an initiative intended to boost the workforce trained in Blockchain.

Blockchain is a decentralised ledger system that became popular with the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, and has since been applied in areas as diverse as finance and healthcare.

Open source technology

The IBM Blockchain Platform, available via IBM’s cloud, is based on trials conducted with more than 400 organisations in areas including financial services, supply chain and logistics, retail, government and health care.

It includes technologies developed through open source collaboration with Hyperledger developers, including the Hyperledger Fabric v1.0 framework and the Hyperledger Composer collaboration tool, and has been tested to address business and technical requirements around security, performance, collaboraiton and privacy, IBM said.

Cloud SecurityThe platform is powered by IBM’s mainframe architecture, popular in areas including the insurance and finance sectors, and includes features aimed at preventing credential abuse and the theft of encryption keys. To complement the offering IBM’s Global Business Services has rolled out blockchain services backed by 1,600 blockchain consultants.

Pricing begins at 50 cents (39 pence) per hour in order to allow even smaller networks to adopt the platform. Costs can be shared across all network members in order to support systems involving a number of organisations.

Food safety research

The company announced a deal with a number of major companies in the food supply chain, including Neslté, Unilever and Wal-Mart, which will aim to identify areas where blockchain can be used to help make food products more easily traceable.

Drawing on previous IBM pilots and production systems in related areas, the collaboration is intended to reduce the time it takes to, for instance, identify the source of a contamination.

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In theory, blockchain could allow all participants in the chain, from growers to consumers, permissioned access to trusted information on the origin and state of food involved in a particular transaction, IBM said.

“This can enable food providers and other members of the ecosystem to use a blockchain network to trace contaminated product to its source in a short amount of time to ensure safe removal from store shelves and stem the spread of illnesses,” the company stated.

“Blockchain is transforming the way like-minded organizations come together and enabling a new level of trust based on a single view of the truth,” stated IBM Blockchain general manager Marie Wieck.

NetworksIBM said it has worked with Wal-Mart to complete parallel trials in China and the US demonstrating the use of blockchain to track a product from the farm through to the retail shelf. The tracking data was available in seconds rather than days or weeks, IBM said.

Automated billing

In a separate deal, IBM announced an initiative aimed at applying blockchain to an automated billing and invoicing system, beginning with a collaboration with Lenovo. The deal aims at providing an audit-ready system providing traceability for billing and operational data, and IBM said it could help speed up the process of bringing in new vendors and contract requirements.

The company said it is making resources available to boost the availability of technicians with blockchain experience.

IBM said it plans to make software, training and professional parterships available free of charge to more than 1,000 universities, with offerings including six months of free access to the IBM Cloud for use of the IBM Blockchain cloud sandbox for students being trained in blockchain development skills.

IBM recently announced a deal with PSA International, a Singapore firm that operates ports in Asia, South America and Europe, to develop proofs-of-concept using blockchain to automate the flow of documents between trading partners.

A partnership earlier this year involved collaborating with shipping giant Maersk on a live trial that automated documentation processing using blockchain-based smart contracts.

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