I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Antony Welfare from our Oracle UK office. Antony is our Innovation Strategy Director focusing on the Finance, Supply chain and HR industries. He is also the author of The Retail Handbook – a #1 Amazon Bestseller. Antony shared his insights on trends, opportunities, and the role of transformative technologies like Blockchain in retail industry. We plan to feature more industry experts from across the company in future blogs like this one, so let us know the industries you’d like to see featured next in our blockchain blogs.
Here is an excerpt from our talk:
JC: Antony welcome, What are you seeing in retail in terms of transformations and the key trends?
AW: Thanks for having me, Jay. In terms of where retail is currently, e-commerce and mobile shopping have taken off and have more than reached maturity in most western markets. So, I think that this is now leading to the next generation of interactions and digital transactions. The key technology advances and technology support that Oracle offers to retailers are around AI and Blockchain. I think that there are many parts of retail that can benefit significantly from blockchain such as payments, loyalty programs, supply chain etc.
For example, if you look at payments, I know crypto currencies are not in a good place at the moment, in terms of regulation and acceptability, but eventually transactions and payments via a blockchain will happen and retailers will benefit massively from speed, trust and immutability. More importantly, it will take out the middlemen and reduce the cost of processing transactions.
Then you have areas facing the customer, where there can be applications in the form of loyalty cards and loyalty programs. Blockchain, due to its’ trust nature, and because of the fact that it is used where trust is not well established, provides a platform that is open to all participants. So, for example, with air miles within a closed blockchain, every participant can see the transactions (should they be granted access).
The next area which I think is the most important in retail is in the supply chain. If you take a cotton shirt as an example – blockchain can track where the cotton plant grew, track that cotton extract through to the mills, to where its first made into a shirt, and then through the supply chain however it travels around the world. Luxury retails will benefit massively, because you would know that its genuine Armani shirt, it’s real and it’s made by them thereby reducing counterfeiting.
The other side in traceability is when things go wrong, and traceability is needed quickly. So, if you imagine, there is a food scare and issue around mangoes, the retailer would be able to track in 3-4 mins and be able to get to factories and farms quite quickly to find out what's happened and where things went wrong. Whereas at the moment, it will take them days and obviously there will be more issues which happen, and more food gets contaminated.
Don't forget, for a retailer, efficiency in a supply chain is one of the biggest issues at the moment because that’s where most of your cost is. Being able to track products from start to finish, understand where they get delayed in the process, where something happens, is really beneficial to make things even more efficient which would result in higher customer satisfaction.
JC: How is Oracle involved with our retail clients to enable them to realize the potential of Blockchain?
AW: We built our blockchain platform using open-source Hyperledger Fabric from the Linux Foundation, which is the main enterprise-class blockchain platform available at the moment. Hyperledger supports large transaction volumes with the partners in the network. For businesses like Tesco, Carrefour or Walmart, building one blockchain for their supply chain will just not work. If you are using Hyperledger and a common language, you can build a number of different blockchains based on the same language, process, and protocols so that they are different parts. Then, you piece those together.
So, for any retailer, we can go in now and look at specific use cases and we could actually work with them to build the blockchain on top of their existing system and then you can start to scale from there. I think the most important part that we as Oracle can offer retailers are –
Our global resources. If the Proof of Concept (PoC) works and if that is what the retailers want, then we are probably one of the only providers that can actually go out and build it to the scale that they would need, in a reasonable space of time.
Blockchain sits on top of Oracle products or different databases etc. and so it can sit on any sort of data, processes, systems, etc. that are already in place in retail. So, they don't need to have the latest Oracle. Of course, it would be great if they run Fusion and thus can get the better benefit of cloud infrastructure.
JC: How can AI, ML, IoT and Blockchain be force multipliers for the retail sector?
AW: If you have a Blockchain integrated into the supply chain, you can see where the products are at any stage. If you think about it at the moment, big global retailers like Tesco, have to forecast based on a number of different things, some of it crosses with AI, and if they knew where in the supply chain products were and at what stage of manufacture then they could speed up, slow down or stop it at any stage.
Blockchain with IoT is also a great opportunity. For example, in wine-growing regions, a number of farmers are growing grapes in different parts. Some of them may only grow grapes, or some of them may own the vineyard where they actually make the wines. It is a very small ecosystem, but it is an ecosystem of a number of different parties who may not share the data as much as they should. The cost of IoT device is so small now that farmers can pop the IoT devices across the whole vineyard and make sure that at any stage of the day or night that the water, pH level, sunshine, etc. is exactly what they need to make their grapes the best grapes and into the best wines.
If you put that IoT information on a Blockchain, then you can share this with everyone in the network and they could understand what’s happening, where it’s happening and move the resources in a very short space of time. The farmer could be growing grapes for cabernet and because of the way the weather is gone, the IoT devices told him that the pH level is gone too high, and that may mean that his grapes are better suited to be harvested later. Using IoT devices with Blockchain, the winemaker will know what type of wine to make with a particular batch of grapes.
JC: What is your message to retail companies that are sitting on the fence and would like to better understand how Oracle Blockchain Platform can transform their business?
AW: My view is that Blockchain will give a competitive advantage to retailers who will adopt it sooner, thoroughly and properly. As with any new technology, the people who adopt first, often are the people who move forward quicker. The way Amazon appeared was that they chose to play with internet retailing (specifically books) and later on became a global disruptor of retail and have been, and will continue to be, for many years.
Blockchain is going to transform retailers in a number of ways which I already discussed, and more. If a retailer still thinks that they should wait for a year or two, other retailers will have moved forward. It’s a competitive world out there especially with the likes of Amazon, who will be looking to make the supply chain more efficient, track products better, give better customer service.
There have been studies that have said, that people believe the efficiency gains in back office could be around 30-40% in terms of blockchain and that is on top of the benefits you get from moving to cloud and integrating your services faster anyway. I think there is real opportunity to be at the front of this and to test these things out and to implement them quickly with somebody like Oracle where we can actually do this, and you will see benefits coming through in a fairly short space of time. Once PoC has proven exactly which use case is the best one then rolling these out with Oracle Blockchain Platform, an enterprise-grade, managed service Platform is going to give efficiency, better customer service and a better understanding of products and supply chain.
Retailers should be running into the office today to sign up to gain 30% efficiency in any supply chain. If they join the party now, they will be getting benefits sooner rather than later and also have the competitive advantage of being ahead of the competition.
JC: Thank you for sharing your insights with our readers, Antony.
AW: My pleasure, Jay.
Retailers will realize advantage sooner if they start on the Blockchain path now and join a partner like Oracle for the long haul. If you are a retailer and would like to learn more about how Oracle’s industry experience and expertise with building Retail enterprises blockchain solutions can be useful to you, visit us here and feel free to contact us by leaving a message below or through the website. Oracle's decades of retail experience and partner ecosystem trained in Oracle blockchain are standing by to help you. With Oracle, you get peace of mind enterprise-grade blockchain platform, which gets you to market quickly and easily and gets ahead of your competition.