Target began a blockchain proof of concept in mid-2018

Target began a blockchain proof of concept in mid-2018

US department store retailer Target Corp has revealed details of an open source blockchain project it has been working on since mid-2018 to help track its supply chain.

The Minneapolis-based company begun work on blockchain proof of concept to help manage the certification of suppliers in its own branded paper product manufacturing last year. 

In working directly with forest managers and certification boards, it learned that standing up a blockchain is simple from a technology standpoint, but difficult in deciding what data should live on the distributed ledger, according to the retailer's vice president of architecture, Joel Crabb.

In a blog post, Crabb explains Target's work on a certification blockchain was recently open sourced as ConsenSource – certificate registry blockchain application. As ConsenSource progressed, Target became aware of work by privately held global corporation Cargill in creating supply chain middleware to store data and transactions on a blockchain.

"As Target learned more about the work, Ceffort, Cargill and Intel took the project to Hyperledger, an open source collaborative hosted by Linux Foundation, and it became Hyperledger Grid," Crabb says.

A new project designed to help build and deliver supply chain solutions, Hyperledger Grid is an ecosystem of technologies, frameworks, and libraries that work together, letting application developers make the choice as to which components are most appropriate for their industry or market model.

According to a separate blog by Hyperledger, Grid intends to:

  • Provide reference implementations of supply chain-centric data types, data models, and smart contract based business logic – all anchored on existing, open standards and industry best practices.
  • Showcase in authentic and practical ways how to combine components from the Hyperledger stack into a single, effective business solution.

Target is now working directly with one of its largest food suppliers to learn and determine which data to share and how to govern a multi-enterprise, blockchain-backed distributed ledger.

"Solving distributed transactions within our own ecosystems was a hard task; imagine solving distributed transactions with several companies at once," Crabb says.

Crabb believes distributed ledgers will bring a "new form of transactional ability and data storage" to corporate enterprises – one in which the transactions are trusted and the data is verified by a group of companies working to solve problems that extend beyond their own borders.

While he acknowledges maturity in this space will take time, he says "we'll only get there when enterprise partners like Target and Cargill dive in together."

Writing in his blog, Crabb says distributed ledgers backed by a blockchain can help partners achieve consensus on multiparty transactions while adding transparency and speeding up transactions.

But he also points out the largest obstacle to implementing a distributed ledger is getting multiple companies to agree on which data are stored in the blockchain and how the system will be operated and governed.

This is why many companies – including Target – see the most potential for enterprise blockchain initiatives as open source, which requires all participants to define the governance model collectively from the outset, so companies then can focus their time working on blockchain-based solutions that will lead to greater speed, transparency and cost savings.

See also: Can blockchain transform the apparel supply chain?