Audience Participation Comes Full Circle at Opening Session

Print this Article | Send to Colleague

This first gathering of minds at ProMat 2019 was opened by Brett Wood, President of MHI and President & CEO at Toyota Material Handling North America, who set the stage for Harvard Business School’s  Karim R. Lakhani  with his introduction:  “They always say surround yourself with smart people. I am going to be standing next to one in a few minutes!” 

Lakhani started his presentation with a call for audience participation. It seemed fitting, as it is many of the attendees who will also have to actively participate in the implementation of the presentation’s topic for it to work: blockchain. 

Lakhani’s asked the audience if they thought blockchain would impact their companies or businesses in the next five year, 10 years or never. Not surprisingly, the five-year mark had the most people raising their hands. “There’s been a ton of hype around blockchain,” explained Lakhami, “even economists are covering it!” 

As high-tech and new as blockchain and bitcoin are – introduced in October 2008 – “technology keeps coming over and over again, and we can learn from the past,” he said. The concept that blockchain uses is referred to as a ledger. Anything that is happening is part of the ledger, he explained, which can then be opened and distributed across the world.  This is one of the greatest pros of blockchain and also one of the biggest fears: “Are all my secrets going to be given away?” 

This was one of the topics addressed by panelist David Cecchi, Senior Director of Enterprise Data at Cargill Corp.  He said the solution is along the lines of posting specific information to the ledger, but not everything. For example, not seeing the specifics of the transaction – such as costs and terms -- but just seeing there was a transaction. 

Panelist Leanne Kemp, Queensland Chief Entrepreneur & C3PO First, CEO, Founder, Everledger , agreed with the idea of having some data that isn’t shared, and some that is. “Use the chain as a halo-type effect,” she said.  Note, however, that the ledger would only consist of what is entered, which prompted a cautionary note: “It doesn’t know the truth,” said Cecchi.  What’s shared may be different from the truth. 

The transparency and traceability of it, however, is already leading to massive changes in some industries, such as food and diamonds. Cecchi said that Cargill now has “turkey traceability.” It allows the end consumer to track a turkey. “There is a code on the turkey. If you type it in, it shows the full provenance on the bird and the farm.” And, Kemp shared some first-hand experiences she’s had in the diamond industry, which has long been paper-trailed and full of verbal contracts and handshakes for much of its business dealings until fairly recently.  Now, using the blockchain concept, they are able to trace diamonds. “We have over 2 million diamonds where we created a digital twin,” said Kemp, explaining that diamonds are like snowflakes. 

The third panelist, Michael J. Reed, Director—Blockchain Program, Intel Corp., emphasized how blockchain is a group effort. “There are a number of ways to get involved outside the four walls of your company. It is a team sport.” 

Which brings us back to participation. “Blockchain is a distributed network protocol for business transactions,” explained Lakhani. So for it to work, businesses have to participate in researching it, testing it out internally and giving it the opportunity to be a brand new ledger for business activities. It is a project that has the potential to be a game-changer, especialy in material handling.


Back to PROMAT

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn