As the world seeks a path to recovery from COVID-19, trust looms large as a critical enabler of success. If I am an employer, can I assure my employees and customers are safe? Did our supplier ship the right product? Is that new vendor legitimate? If I am a consumer, can I trust that this medicine will do what it promises? Am I spending my money in the right place?
While this new imperative for trust is being felt across boundaries—by corporations, governments, charities, non-governmental organizations and individual consumers—many organizations are struggling to build the conditions that earn trust. At a time when business models and value chains are being reconfigured on the fly, they’re seeing legacy processes and systems aimed at creating trust coming up short—too manual, too time-consuming, insufficiently scalable. For many employers these problems have been compounded by the shift to having many employees work from home, where they must connect remotely with the systems from a wide array of external parties, including customers, suppliers, regulators, healthcare providers, state and local authorities, and others.
Technology offers a solution. Using tools many organizations are already deploying as part of their digital transformation initiatives—blockchain, cloud, data analytics, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity software, the Internet of Things, and more—organizations can automate their value chain processes and eliminate the guesswork that undermines trust. In short, they can create a digital trust infrastructure, or DTI, that injects security, auditability, immutability, and rigorous governance into the processes and transactions that flow through their value chains.
Potential use cases abound—within and outside the scope of COVID-19. Government agencies could use DTIs to better inform and monitor the dispensation of loans and grants to businesses impacted by the pandemic. A maker of ethically sourced sportswear could use a DTI to build a verifiably green supply chain and assure customers they can trust that the company’s products align with their values. An organization charged with securing a COVID-19 vaccine, verifying its provenance, and distributing it in the appropriate quantities to the right locations could use a DTI to base decisions on accurate, real-time data—and automate and authoritatively document the many processes involved in that undertaking. At the same time, it could prevent counterfeit products, or vaccines from grey markets or other illegitimate sources, from entering its supply chain.
Blockchain, of course, is the foundational linchpin of a digital trust infrastructure. A distributed ledger shared by many users over a peer-to-peer computer network, a blockchain is made up of “blocks” of data, each of which is assigned a unique digital identifier. Every block is built on the one that proceeded it and must be validated by a consensus of users before it is posted, after which it cannot be altered. This creates a highly transparent and auditable trail that allows all users to trust the record it creates. In short, it delivers the elusive “single view of the truth” long prized by organizations, and eliminates the need to continually revisit and re-verify information.
But blockchain alone cannot create a digital trust infrastructure sufficient to deliver the speed, insight and flexibility organizations need. Sensors and readers associated with Internet of Things technology are necessary to identify and track physical goods and components—like tracking and tracing a serialized medication at the unit or pallet level from the point of commissioning to the point of dispensation. Sophisticated data analytics, buttressed by machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence, are required to draw faster and better insights from the data recorded on a blockchain—to provide an aggregated view of all inventory available in the market, for example, in order to plan supply and manufacturing and prevent shortages. And operating in a cloud computing environment can make it easier for all of the participants in a value chain, including suppliers, vendors and in some cases end users, to participate in a digital trust infrastructure designed as an open, brand-agnostic ecosystem.
Because most organizations are already using many of the enabling technologies, building a digital trust infrastructure not only makes sense now, it can be done now. In many cases, it should be possible to stand up a pilot program and begin scaling it within a matter of months.
It also fits the times. While COVID-19 has forced many organizations to rethink their operating models, it has merely accelerated in some instances changes that were already being contemplated. Concerns about disruptive developments, for example, and the ability of corporate ecosystems to rapidly respond to those changes, were already on corporate agendas.
To a very real extent, the current pandemic and its economic fallout have merely reinforced the hard truth that yesterday’s legacy infrastructures, as presently configured, do not readily lend themselves to the level of agility demanded in uncertain times. A digital trust infrastructure can orchestrate the various components of that infrastructure and give organizations the ability to connect with their stakeholders in a trusted environment, and quickly respond to any new disruptions that might arise. More holistically, it can protect, support and even accelerate the digital transformations many organizations see as critical to their long-term success.
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