Whether regarded merely as a trendy buzzword or a genuine trend to follow, the meaning of the term “blockchain” still remains somewhat vague for many leaders of the industrial sector. To help them better understand what it is all about, Paul Bonan, CEO of QWAM & CO, details in an interview the challenges of this novel method of data traceability and certification, along with the tangible opportunities opened by the blockchain for industry players.
There seems to be as many definitions of blockchain as players in this market… What would be yours?
My ultra-simplified definition would be that the blockchain is a technology of data sharing that replaces the role of trusted-third parties played in the past by banks or notaries. In the industrial world, I would distinguish more specifically two fields of application: security and smart contracts.
Let’s start with security then…
Thanks to the blockchain, you have an open and transparent trusted third party in real time. You no longer need to send letters or request a certification in writing. For instance, via a simple smartphone app, I can find out exactly where a product was manufactured and under what conditions. All such traceability data are available in real time, unlike the other current tools. This security pillar of the blockchain will provide opportunities to invent many new services and make the life of industrial operators much easier.
What about smart contracts? What does it refer to?
This is a tool that uses the blockchain data to literally “open up” the entire industry. From the end customer up to the supplier of raw materials, the entire value chain can be managed “smartly” and transparently thanks to these new smart contracts. Let’s take a simple example: you walk into a store, you scan your feet and a pair of shoes. The smart contract will record your request and convert it into a purchase order sent to the “neighborhood factory”. The factory will in turn let you know if it can manufacture this product, and if so, how, in which materials, at what price and what delivery time. Intelligence is at the core of the smart contract process.
Can the blockchain also contribute to improving the factory’s energy efficiency?
Absolutely! Two concrete examples come to mind: the first one addresses the certification process under the Energy Performance Contracts (EPC) covering the funding of new equipment with a remuneration for the related energy savings. This type of financing system is a powerful leverage to develop energy efficiency in industrial operations. However, it can be difficult sometimes to measure the actual savings precisely. It can then prove useful to turn to a competent trusted third party equipped with the right tools to quantify the savings (real-time monitoring) and certify them (via the blockchain).
My second example relates to the integrated and automated management of a chain of players via the smart contract. An industrial operator can dematerialize the maintenance of their equipment to gain nimbleness and save on costs. A machine needing technical repairs can manage the full cycle on its own and on line, from requests for quotes from suppliers up to invoicing, through contractor selection, purchase order and final work acceptance, in a fully transparent and traceable manner.
How mature are French industries on these topics?
Today, we are still in the first step of the process, namely traceability. The “artificial intelligence” dimension is not a reality yet at this time. The environment is complicated for industrial decision-makers, since many French factories are nearing the end of their life cycle. Corporate managers must renew and replace their machinery, but so many new technologies have emerged in the market that they are not sure which one they should bet on. Nonetheless, the interest of the blockchain is that it can be seen as a simplifying solution since it combines all underlying technologies (robotics, measurements, etc.).
In closing, what advice would you give to an industrial operator looking for information on these topics?
Get in touch with the France Blocktech association who organizes extremely well designed awareness and information sessions, helping attendees gain a better understanding of the impacts of the blockchain on the industrial sector via tangible examples.
About Paul Bonan (CEO of QWAM & CO)
Paul Bonan is the founder of the consulting firm QWAM & CO and provides consulting services to large French industrial groups (agri-food, energy, etc.). His firm is involved more particularly in three areas of special expertise: advice on energy efficiency, management of carbon-containing waste and Industry 4.0 blockchain.