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On this episode of IT Visionaries, a couple of members of the ICIX team gathered around the table for a discussion about how they are helping to bring blockchain to the enterprise. Joining the discussion are Matt Cromar (LinkedIn), Vice President of Product and Elliott Yama (LinkedIn), Vice President of Marketing, both of whom have long histories in the tech industry and have been working with Salesforce to create a blockchain platform that is built for the enterprise. They discuss some of the challenges and advantages of moving to the blockchain, and they also get into what other exciting things are happening at ICIX.
Best Advice: “As a product guy, when you have an idea for something that’s going to go into your piece of software, figure out as soon as you can, how long it takes you to take that idea all the way through, building it, coding it, getting ready for it, letting your customers know about it, and then ultimately releasing it and then getting your customers to adopt it and start using it cause a really important metric to understand.” —Matt
“It’s all about clarity. Figure out what’s the business problem you’re trying to solve and don’t get distracted.” —Elliott
What is ICIX? — (5:30)
At the core of what ICIX does is building trust with trading partners. And they do that by building a business network based around transparency. Using the Salesforce platform, ICIX created a network to connect large retailers and large brands throughout the entire supply chain so that there was a way for both parties to collect, monitor and share necessary business information in a fast and efficient way.
“What we are at our core is what we call a business network.” —Matt
“If you think about automating those data exchanges between the trading partners and that consumer goods company, that creates a great deal of efficiency simply because now you can get to market faster.” —Elliott
Where does blockchain come in? — (11:20)
A lot of the elements of blockchain have been built into ICIX’s system already. For example, the transparency aspect of being able to see and monitor all the verification documents, business documents, and trading partners, is similar to the functionality of a transparent blockchain. What ICIX is hoping to use blockchain for is to bring similar transparency to other parties. ICIX collects first-, second-, and third-party data that is of value and interest not just within those parties, but with consumers, government agencies and more. Using the blockchain, ICIX is hoping to provide access to the data to outside parties in a way that doesn’t give up sensitive information but provides others visibility into the products they are buying. Matt and Elliott explain that this visibility is especially important to the current and next generation of consumers, who are looking for proof that the companies they buy from are doing the things they say in the right way.
“We operate on kind of what we call first, second and third-party data. First-party data is all the information that I have in my information systems about my company and my products and my trading partners.That might be my product descriptions, images, things like that. Data is information I have about my trading partners. So it might be… some document that they’ve signed that says that they don’t produce cotton from Uzbekistan because Uzbekistan is a place where there’s evidence of child labor being used. So that’s some second-party data that could gather and say, okay, good, these guys are good, they’re not on my naughty list. And then third party data is what we get from what we call verifiers. These are labs, these are United Labs. Any piece of electronic equipment, if you pick it up, it usually says inspected by UL or SGS or ITS, these different labs are basically the pioneers out there and doing the inspections to basically verify that.” —Matt
“We think blockchain is a great way to disseminate, pull the pieces out that the consumer cares about and make that stuff available externally to the system and use blockchain as a way to build trust.” —Matt
“When you think about the millennial generation as consumers, they have forced corporations to be accountable for the things that they do. But the generation behind them, Gen Z, they’re looking for proof. Show it to me. And so that’s where we see the potential for blockchain and supply chain.” —Elliott
“The new generation just demands it. They just won’t buy your stuff. So you’ll start to notice if you’re not transparent pretty quickly when your stuff is bought over someone who leads with their transparency. And that’s where we really are starting to shine, is helping the companies understand that mindset and then be like, look, we can help you put all this data together in a very logical way so you can not only make the claim, but you can prove it.” —Matt
ICIX use cases — (17:00)
Hanes is one of ICIX’s customers and they offer a good use case in looking at all the steps in a supply chain that goes into delivering things like hoodies or t-shirts. Companies like Hanes have to do a few types of tests, regulatory (government-mandated) and company quality standards. Each test has certain steps within it, and at every step you need verification that you have completed the step satisfactorily. Verification and documentation that used to be done on paper was set up to be done electronically, drastically increasing the efficiency of the system. Automating every step of the supply chain and loading that data into the system is how companies can stay in business and work quickly while also giving partners and other agencies the ability to see their documents and verification in real-time with just a few clicks.
“Most of us don’t know what happens with the products that we get. It’s not an easy process to track. It’s a really hard process to track and our system helps you to not only initiate those requests, to capture that data, but then also it lets the labs and the verifiers verify that data so that you can avoid problems.” —Matt
“It’s not just one Hoodie, right? It’s, it’s 1.5 million shop keeping units, right? And if you think about the amount of information that’s required just to bring that product into a single market, but I might be actually selling into 150 markets globally. So now you’re talking about information on a scale that goes beyond what humans can do unaided. So this is really the problem that software solves. It’s, how do you, how do you automate those information exchanges? How do you automate the compliance verification order to be able to sell that product into a given market? And how do I speed the process so that I get through customs quickly?” —Elliott
The question of full transparency versus maintaining proprietary information — (27:00)
Because of the nature of blockchain, people were worried that if companies put their customers’ information onto the blockchain, everyone would be able to see everything. What ICIX wants to move toward is permission-based, controlled access on the blockchain.
“We absolutely believe that there’s a great place in enterprise software for permission-based, controlled access application of blockchain technology. We’re definitely not the whole one long chain with every piece of data opened to all free for all. We don’t believe that that’s applicable to business.” —Matt
The future of blockchain in the supply chain — (34:00)
In the future, especially in a cashless society, everything we buy could be itemized and sorted by credit card companies, store loyalty systems and the like. If that information gets put onto the blockchain, when something like a recall happens, people could be automatically notified that a certain product they bought should be returned, replaced, etc. Cases like this are where Matt and Elliott think that blockchain could play a huge role in the future. The fear of many retailers, though, is that when they put product and buying information onto the blockchain, the brands will be able to see exactly who buys what and figure out a way to cut out the retailer altogether. This is one of the problems that could be difficult to solve in the future.
Another problem is the idea of permission and how, when and what kind of permission we as consumers are going to share. Matt predicts that our phones will be the main point of permission and access
“A lot of the big retailers are very concerned about disintermediation, right? They see the potential that if their suppliers start to get a relationship with you and me who buy the actual product, then there’s a potential that that retailer isn’t needed anymore. Right? So fear is a great motivator for buying software.” —Matt
How ICIX has changed — (53:00)
ICIX’s is a true SaaS platform that is boiled down to building a trust-based relationship between two important pieces: product and trading partners. Today, ICIX is using blockchain in conjunction with Salesforce to help build more trust between those two partners. And, according to Matt, building trust is the best place to start for anyone else looking to start bringing blockchain into their enterprise.
“If you can figure out some way to use blockchain to enhance your trust score, if there is one, then I think that’s a great place to start. You know, customers, they don’t come to us and say, I want a blockchain solution. They come to us with a business problem and then we go and look at it and figure out the best way to do that. And sometimes blockchain can help with that. We’re starting to introduce that now that we have the tools to do it.” —Matt