Jonathon Martynski l Palladium - Nov 13 2020
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Using Blockchain to Monitor Supply Chains

Photo Credit: Chuttersnap

Palladium's Jonathon Martynski is presenting at this year’s virtual Global Health Supply Chain Summit (17-19 November), with the theme 'Resilience in Supply Chains'. The presentation will cover his team's use of blockchain systems to monitor supply chains through crises and COVID-19 restrictions. 

Imagine you’re part of a rapid-response logistics team, providing life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical goods to a complex and remote location affected by a humanitarian disaster. Travel and personnel movement is cumbersome if not prohibited, normal supply-chain routes and supplies are disrupted and volatile, and the urgent need for access to life-saving equipment is rising.

Now add COVID-19, and the disruptions the pandemic has wrought on supply chains to this already complicated scenario. Desperation for PPE and supplies has increased the likelihood of misappropriation, and lockdowns are inhibiting movement of personnel to get ‘eyes-on’ in-country. These factors have created a supply chain crisis in dire need of accurate and reliable monitoring methods.

This is the situation regularly faced by Palladium’s Humanitarian Stabilisation and Operations Team (HSOT). The team works within the first days and weeks in the immediate aftermath of humanitarian crises to provide life-saving goods. Serving in a fourth-party logistics (4PL) capacity, the team procures goods from global or regional manufacturers and identifies freight forwarders to move the goods to the ‘first port of entry’ – be it an airport, seaport or major city.

From there, the team leverages local logistics partners and other stakeholders to incrementally store and move the goods until they reach the last mile beneficiaries. This 4PL approach relies on the team’s effectiveness as a service integrator; orchestrating the movements of goods throughout the supply chain and navigating a complex ecosystem of stakeholders to reduce risk and achieve the best value.

HSOT is wholly reliant on its partners to provide accurate transactional data to demonstrate transparency, accountability, and ultimately establish end-to-end chain of custody. Given that the relationships with many of these partners are new and rapidly established during a sudden disaster, trust and confidence in the reporting is often lacking. This is especially true in developing logistics in markets that may not have the appropriate technology, systems, processes, and workforce to perform to an international standard, only increasing the need for HSOT to develop effective performance monitoring.

Monitoring in-country logistics ensures accountability, allowing HSOT to identify and clear bottlenecks and build the capacity of local partners. The greatest challenge the team faces during the monitoring process is verifying the data from local partners and confirming that the handoff between stakeholders has occurred.

Applying Technology to Improve Logistics Tracking

HSOT has engaged with various systems to address this challenge, including testing a blockchain-based system to track movements in a supply-chain. The trial showed that offline functionality and flexibility in the system were key to ensuring that it could function adequately in complex situations. This led to the decision to trial an innovative product called ‘Sealr’.

Sealr allows users to take photos or videos through an app, which uses AI to verify that the photos haven’t been faked or altered. Users then upload verified images onto a secure blockchain, making them an immutable record of proof of time and location of the goods in the image, along with any identifiable details, such as quantity, quality, batch or expiry information.

"The greatest challenge the team faces during the monitoring process is verifying the data from partners."

HSOT initially piloted the system when providing PPE to the World Health Organization for medical staff after the Beirut port explosion in August. Personnel along the supply chain, including Palladium staff, partners and receiving organisations, all used the app to upload images of the goods as they moved from the UK to the airport, to the forward staging hubs, and to numerous destinations.

Photos were taken and uploaded by receiving partner staff at various stages in the supply chain through the Sealr app on mobile phones. HSOT then monitored and verified receipt of goods at the port of entry, tracked it to a forward staging hub, and identified when and where PPE was delivered to clinics and hospitals.

This system makes it possible to ‘outsource’ the monitoring and tracing of goods and movement. When used in a response, it provides HSOT with the confidence to know exactly where and when goods are received without the need for personnel on the ground cross-checking the information provided. It's especially beneficial in complex scenarios involving conflict, lack of connectivity or pandemic.

The Future of Blockchain and Logistics

This type of technology could be used for years to come to monitor the usage, life-span and deterioration of goods in a location, providing valuable data on the quality and life-cycle of a product. It could be used to aid tracking of batches and expiry dates of medical goods or food products in the event of a recall or used to identify the progress of individual barcodes or QR codes on products in the field.

There’s also an opportunity to monitor the efficiency of each link in a complex supply chain. Knowing the exact amount of time that certain goods have been held in a particular warehouse, or precisely how long it takes to get from one staging hub to another, helps to identify where the bottlenecks lie in what can be an otherwise chaotic and opaque web of movements.

Of course, a system is only as good as the data you put into it – and the people who use it. In the Sealr system, the AI and blockchain can generate accurate feedback when supplied with images taken throughout the supply chain, but the quantity, frequency and subject of those images are determined by its users.

As always, technology might be the door to opportunity, but people are the key to opening it.

Hear from Jonathon Martynski and his team at the Global Health Supply Chain Virtual Summit on 19 November 2020. 

Palladium manages the implementation of the Humanitarian and Stabilisation Operations Team (HSOT), a program funded with UK Aid from the British people. HSOT provides the UK government with capacity and specialist expertise to support effective responses to sudden-onset disasters, crises, and complex emergencies around the world. To learn more, contact