Customers of enterprise software company OpenText want to track raw materials and late shipments and manage other supply chain challenges. The company has responded by combining blockchain technology with the internet of things and artificial intelligence.

Late last year, the Waterloo, Ont.-based company, which employs AI in its software, announced a partnership with BlockEx, which makes blockchain-based tools for exchanging digital assets.

The idea behind the partnership with BlockEx, which is based in London, England, is to see whether writing supply chain transactions or events to an immutable ledger will offer a way for corporations and organizations to have more trustworthy data they can mine for strategic insights.

The value of blockchain includes its ability to validate key pieces of information such as the provenance of raw materials, payment details and shipping information.

OpenText’s recent Enterprise World event in Toronto was the first time the company held breakout sessions on how its applications could assist companies with data managed on private blockchains, particularly those related to supply chains.

OpenText isn’t alone in pursuing the use of blockchain technology in managing supply chains. IBM’s partnership with shipping giant Maersk is another notable example.

But OpenText hopes it can gain traction with the 600,000 firms its says use its Business Network to submit orders to suppliers, process invoices and perform other tasks. More than 24 billion of these sorts of transactions take place across Business Network each year, according to the company.

A Trio of Technologies 

Though no publishing date has been set, Mark Morley, OpenText’s director of product marketing, tells ThirtyK the company will outline its approach for combining blockchain, IoT and AI in a forthcoming white paper.

IoT and AI are already becoming pervasive in supply chain management, he says, with sensors attached to trucks and goods sending information to AI applications that attempt to predict potential problems. Besides the artificial intelligence capabilities of its Magellan software, OpenText also has applications to manage the data captured through sensors in IoT environments.

The value of blockchain, meanwhile, includes its ability to validate key pieces of information such as the provenance of raw materials, payment details and shipping information.

A truck carrying perishable goods to a retailer offers an example of how the three technologies could be used together, Morley says. If the truck’s refrigeration system breaks on the road, sensor data captured and managed by OpenText would recognize it immediately and record what happened. Magellan would verify the fault lay with the supplier’s vehicle. This would then be recorded on a blockchain set up with technology from BlockEx.

“That means the retailer and the supplier, whether it’s FedEx, DHL or whoever, cannot edit this information. It’s there permanently,” he says. “The retailer can then decide to use that information as a renegotiation tactic for their contract with the supplier.”

Multiple Uses of Blockchain

The combination of technologies could also streamline, and resolve disputes involving, the ordering of spare parts for machinery and invoices suppliers issue to a large company.

According to Morley, OpenText is working on the white paper before launching an official service because many of its large customers are still trying to figure out how to fit blockchain into their existing processes and OpenText wants to ensure it meets the market’s needs. There’s no lack of imagination, however. Morley says one German car manufacturer told him it is exploring 26 different use cases.

“It’s very similar to 2010, when companies were struggling to figure out where to bring in capabilities like the cloud, mobile and big data,” he says. “Today it’s blockchain, IoT and AI.”

Shane Schick
Shane Schick is veteran journalist who covers lifestyle, business and technology issues. He is the editor-in-chief of the Canada-based B2B News Network and Chair of the 2018 Blockchain Summit in Canada.