Supply Chain Analysis
Amazon’s supply chain may be the most innovative of its kind. It is experiential, meaning it puts the customer first and works backward. It is a vast and complex system that works in such an efficient way that it can provide speedy deliveries while also cutting down on high costs. By following a flywheel model, their low prices pull in customers and merchants, which boosts volumes, which leads to lower prices, and all this generates growth for as long as the company puts the interests of the customers first.
Materials Management Approach
Supply Chain Structure
Amazon’s strategy is to control the shipment of goods across the entire supply chain, including procurement, shipment to distribution centers, and customer delivery.
Amazon has three main model:
• Retail – inventory owned and fulfilled by Amazon, purchased from vendors
• Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) – inventory owned by third-party sellers and fulfilled by Amazon
• Marketplace – inventory owned and fulfilled by third-party sellers
As of September 2020, Amazon’s global outbound distribution network consists of 175 operating fulfillment centers, 84 sortation centers, 105 Prime Now Hubs, 651 delivery stations, and in the United States alone, there are 190 fulfillment, supplemental, and return centers combined (MWPVL International, 2020). Fulfillment centers are what Amazon calls its warehouses and their first-mile; it is here that inventory comes in from manufacturers and is shipped out directly to customers. Sortation centers are the middle-mile and where merchandise is sorted before it is sent to distribution centers. Unlike the fulfillment centers, Amazon Prime Now Hubs are closer to city centers, much smaller. They are operated by humans, not robots, who manually pick out the items for the orders. Delivery stations are the last-mile where customer orders are prepared for delivery.
Within their building types network, they also have specialized centers for non-sortable goods where Amazon workers pick, pack and ship bulky or larger-sized items such as patio furniture, outdoor equipment, or rugs. They have centers where they take in large orders of the types they believe will sell quickly and allocate them to fulfillment centers. There are also additional types of buildings that handle specific categories of items or manage goods at peak times of the year, as the holiday season.
Distribution Network and Logistics
Amazon has been increasingly relying more on its in-house delivery logistics. Challenges like fulfilling their two and one-day Prime shipping promises for their customers means that Amazon
Logistics has needed to streamline and expand its delivery services. This has led to Amazon needing to rely on both conventional and unconventional ways of delivering and transporting goods.
The typical flow of goods through Amazon’s inbound system, for their FBA and Retail, starts with overseas products arriving at cross-dock centers to be split across fulfillment centers. There are two models of inbound handling; one is where the vendor or seller manages their inbound flows, and the other where Amazon will cover the costs and collect the goods via air freight. Amazon uses both outsourced companies, like FedEx and UPS, and their internal air and truck fleets to handle inbound deliveries. Amazon has multiple airport hubs scattered across the entire USA and several thousand truck trailers to transport goods between fulfillment centers. They have even started to use self-driving trucks to haul some cargo in the US. Amazon reserves space on third-party ocean vessels to handle imported goods from China and organize its own logistics, allowing them to eliminate almost all other intermediaries on the way to the US.
For outbound logistics, Amazon uses a combination of air and ground transportation. After goods are picked and packed, they are sent to outbound sortation or delivery centers through intermediaries like UPS, FedEx, or local couriers to be prepared and loaded for last-mile delivery. Amazon’s last-mile fleet is a combination of outsourced and in-house services. Goods can be delivered by third-party partners like UPS, FedEx, USPS, local couriers, or Amazon’s in-house services. Amazon has a series of delivery solutions like their Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans, Spartan walk-in-vans, which have been ordered in 2019, Amazon Flex, which allows drivers to use their personal vehicles to deliver packages in a program similar to UBER. There is also Scout, which is an electric wheeled autonomous delivery device that travels at a walking pace on sidewalks. Amazon Prime Air is still in the testing phase but will allow customers’ packages to be delivered via an autonomous drone. By next year, Amazon will have 100,000 electric delivery vans built by manufacturer Rivian.
As for delivery locations, Amazon strives to give customers as much flexibility and as many options as possible. Besides the default option of having goods delivered to a specific address, Amazon also has services like Amazon Key and Amazon Hub. The former is a smart lock system that allows the delivery person to enter the delivery address premises, and the latter are lockers that customers can go to and pick up their package using a key code.
This entire system, from start to finish, is tied together by Amazon’s integrated solutions. Amazon relies on its internet of things (IoT) integrated system to manage all the intermediaries within its supply chain. They rely on extensive product sales forecasting and inventory management systems to quickly fulfill orders and at high accuracy while optimizing shipping to customers. Its supply chain is extensively internal, allowing Amazon to maintain complete control while also enabling an operation based competitive advantage.
When a customer places an order on Amazon.com, the website integrates with its order sourcing engine in real-time to determine from which warehouse it should ship the order. This procedure is aimed at minimizing transportation costs associated with that order.
IoT in logistics is a data-driven technology that allows data extraction from every entity belonging to a network. In Amazon’s supply chain, this technology provides the availability of a more extensive set of real-time data and the ability to analyze and improve strategic decision-making capabilities. Amazon is better able to track locations and has enhanced the supply chain’s overall visibility by tracking a shipment’s location; therefore, having a more insightful understanding of each link in the supply chain. It helps ensure the quality of goods from the manufacturing unit to the time it reaches its destination. It is also helpful in choosing the best alternative route in the case of potential disruption.
IoT improves the supply chain intelligence with its ability to capture shipments while they are en route. It helps monitor the temperature throughout the shipment and maintain the perishable foods’ quality. The system even notifies the respective personnel that there is a problem.
With an IoT powered system, Amazon can track their vehicles’ location and the staff assigned to a vehicle at any given time. It gives the company a more transparent view of how the resources are utilized and how to improve resource allocation. It can help automate vehicle maintenance and repair and ensure safety compliance with the possibility of tracking their drivers’ health. With all this information on the vehicle, the driver, and the traffic, Amazon can improve it’s fleet and fuel cost management.
IoT devices and systems allow Amazon to analyze, monitor, and even manage the carbon footprint at every level, letting the company pinpoint the process causing higher carbon emissions and then taking specific measures to make it more efficient. The data collected through IoT sensors make it possible for operations to optimize their load and choose the most efficient transportation mode for any shipment.
IoT technologies can also offer insights that improve forecast demand by using the data captured through IoT to understand better customer behavior, product usages, needs, and demand. It can provide more than just simple Point of Sale data, like those that can track back to the actions that drive the consumer to that point. It makes it easier for operations to decipher the consumer perspective of when the purchase was made and why it was made.
Amazon strategically locates its warehouses (fulfillment centers) close to its customers to reduce its response time.
Amazon keeps a reduced inventory, which allows them to lower inventory management costs. Instead, they keep an increased range of inventory, which helps Amazon to increase its customer base. They manage their inventory through location postponement. The inventory is centralized in one strategic location and only transported to the desired locations when the demand arises, thus reducing their facilities costs.
Amazon manages the inventory of their popular or frequently purchased goods internally instead of their non-popular products, stocked by third-party distributors who deliver the goods when Amazon requests them.
To reduce the risk of holding more extensive inventory and reducing the holding costs, Amazon handles some orders by drop-shipped inventory. It is a supply chain management method where the retailer does not keep goods in stock but instead transfers customer orders and shipment details directly to the manufacturer or wholesaler, who then ships the goods directly to the customer.
With Amazon Marketplace, third-party sellers can sell their goods through Amazon’s e-commerce platform. It allows Amazon to increase their product offering, availability, allow customers to find their products all in one place conveniently, and compare Amazon’s lower prices versus that of other merchants.
Lean and Agile Practices
Amazon is no stranger to lean and agile methodologies, and their operations are no exception. Some practices they already have in place are driven by their integrated systems, which lower costs and increase customer satisfaction by making processes more efficient and cutting out waste. One example of this is how the promised delivery date drives the selection of transportation of a package to the customer. It is calculated thanks to their digital technologies that link all processes and collect data. This data can later be analyzed to gain insight into how to optimize the operations.
Amazon eliminates ambiguity about what the workers need to do in their tasks to avoid any abnormalities and has processes to track and eliminate them regularly. They have their senior management work in customer service at least once a year to allow their executives to see events on the front line, understand problems that arise, and then help find solutions. Amazon also extends their lean principles to merchant partners who are obliged to follow strict packaging rules or risk having their partnership terminated.
They use lean practices in their inventory management to stow products and distribute goods and customer service. For defective products, they remove the entire product line when multiple defects are identified and only place them back up when the issue is resolved.
Amazon is easily the benchmark for supply chain lean synchronization. However, to continue improving, they must continue focusing on producing goods only when needed and have a low capacity utilization, which results in the production of no surplus output going into inventory. A lower inventory allows them to expose any problems and solve them, resulting in fewer stoppages. They need to focus on eliminating all forms of waste, which is any activity that does not add value or is a hindrance to the operations (Slack, Brandon-Jones and Johnston, 2015a, p.468).
Supply Chain Management
Amazon has many supply arrangements throughout its supply chain. At the beginning of 2019, Amazon adjusted its approach to suppliers by buying from wholesale suppliers, which forced vendors to shift to a third-party approach if they wanted to continue to sell on Amazon’s platform. The third-party model is more profitable for Amazon, especially when suppliers’ volumes are at a lower level. Because third-party sellers manage their sales, Amazon incurs lower overhead costs versus a first-party relationship like buying and storing products and assigning vendor account managers.
In B2B buyer-supplier relationships, Amazon has the upper hand. Amazon’s dominance and the power they have to make the suppliers’ products themselves, as they did with their battery brand outselling Duracell, gives them the power to negotiate and ask more from the suppliers at each contract renewal. For instance, Amazon tries to force suppliers to take on more of the freight cost between warehouses or buy more ads on Amazon in return for remaining a major wholesale partner.
In the end, partnership supplier relationships involve customers forming long-term relationships with suppliers. In return for the stability of demand, suppliers are expected to commit to high levels of service. These relationships are challenging to sustain and rely heavily on the degree of trust (Slack, Brandon-Jones, and Johnston, 2015b, p.433).
Impact of Outsourcing
As previously explained, Amazon has a series of outsourced partners they rely on throughout their supply chain, including FedEx, UPS, ocean vessels, and many other local couriers, depending on the country. While these partnerships provide a current competitive advantage for Amazon, they can do better with an in-house logistics operation. That is why they are increasingly building their fleet and not renewing contracts with their outsourced partners. They believe they can be more reliable, especially after incidents, like FedEx and them stranding tens of thousands of orders in warehouses during the holidays in 2013.
The benefit for Amazon to use outsourcing for their deliveries was that they could build a delivery network quickly due to thousands of courier services. However, due to Amazon’s high service standards, they cannot rely on their outsourced partners to achieve the same level of quality, therefore wanting to enhance their in-house last-mile-delivery network.
Amazon uses the same outsourced intermediaries in its return operations as its standard logistics and has to deal with millions of returns each year. While the delivery process may be the reverse of the last-mile, there are other considerations to consider, like, for example, what to do with the returned goods. Even though Amazon repackages some products and sells them as new or resells them as used, a considerable amount of products end up being sold to liquidation sites who sell them in bulk for a fraction of the original price. Amazon tries to liquidize the returned products as fast as possible to avoid paying for storage, therefore needing to sell them at a fraction of the price. However, they can recuperate some losses on the sale. They can even make money selling the returned goods to e-commerce businesses that sell the refurbished items back through Amazon’s platform.
Another way Amazon handles returns is to have the goods routed through reverse logistics centers, other items will go back to their original site, and others may go back to the manufacturer itself. Besides the default method of returning goods, customers also have the option to return products through Amazon Lockers at Whole Foods, Amazon Books stores, Amazon 4-Star stores, Amazon Hub locations, third-party locations like Kohl’s, UPS, and more.
Reverse logistics presents very similar challenges to forward logistics in coordination and efficiency through route optimization and the need for scale. This is where Amazon’s integrated platform plays an important role, as it collects and centralizes real-time data to provide insights to improve the returns processes. It continually shares and manages the data necessary to run efficient returns and reverse logistics operations.
Role of Emerging Technologies
Technology is critical in creating a competitive advantage throughout the supply chain. It helps organizations improve costs, quality, delivery dependability, product innovation, and time to market, which is the most impactful competitive advantage qualities. Companies must have the ability to integrate helpful technologies into their ERP systems and provide the organization with tools to optimize their operations and continuously refine their processes.
Amazon is the leader in supply chain capabilities and has been able to integrate some of the most advanced technologies into their ERP system. These technologies allow for supply chain visibility with real-time data in handling goods and materials at any stage of the supply chain. They allow predictive strategies to anticipate patterns to proactively resolve issues before they occur, meet demands without overstocking, and minimize costs. Data can be gathered from these integrated systems to gain and produce insights and recommend growth strategies in the business’s context.
Amazon uses many emerging technological trends, tools, and innovations in its supply chain management, the biggest ones being big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Big data allows the company to control quality, cash flow, real-time deployment, warehouse efficiency, weather patterns, predictive strategies, and inventory, supply, and demand through valuable insights. Artificial intelligence and machine learning allow Amazon to optimize its supply chain through improvements in forecasting, planning, implementation, and maintenance in logistics. This is achieved by:
• emulating human performance and knowledge through tightening data security;
• applying predictive modelling to third-party logistics;
• providing full supply chain visibility to improve key performance indicators management;
• automating inventory management, shipping transactions and delivery;
• improving customer service.
Cognitive technology, a combination of big data and AI, could allow Amazon to have better control over pandemic crises. Companies can have the information they need to adjust their strategies in real-time to make better, quicker decisions. With situations like consumers’ panic-buying essential goods, vendors can have more accurate intel on consumer demand and become better able to procure at a more realistic capacity. They can have more visibility about what other vendors have in stocked to avoid the vendors themselves from panic buying.
Internet of Things
All the functional components within and across the supply chain are kept connected through the internet of things (IoT), which increases visibility and connectivity while also reducing costs. Amazon already uses this in its ERP system; however, it could give Amazon a greater competitive advantage combined with wearable mobile devices. Having their human resources wear devices such as smartwatches, Fitbits, and smartphones can introduce ubiquitous technology supply chain processes with the total elimination of labor-intensive selection of items from inventory to fulfill a customer order. It can be assumed that IoT allows Amazon’s warehouse and logistics managers to track inventory and monitor equipment securely. It can improve asset utilization, better customer service, streamline inventory and supply availability and provide safer, more reliable work environments.
5G will ensure better connectivity between suppliers, make third-party logistics more efficient through ultra-low latency and massive data capacity. It also allows for higher-level performance and new user experiences as it interconnects more easily people, machines, objects, and devices. It can extract greater amounts of data concerning location, temperature, pressure, and other critical information in the end-to-end supply chain. It will ensure uniformity of information sharing with all stakeholders and resolve issues that would otherwise be aggravated with time delays.
Amazon uses cloud computing throughout the entire supply chain, allowing them to track materials and products, get real-time updates, and inform customers of an order’s status. Cloud-based solutions enhance data storage space, integration, security, and information sharing. It allows for activities and processes to be streamlined between multiple devices and an enterprise of software users. Since they provide it as a PaaS, it can be assumed that Amazon uses their own custom-made supply chain management software. It allows them to stay ahead of mistakes, modify orders, communicate across various media channels, and automate shipping.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR)
Amazon currently uses Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR). However, these technologies could be pushed even further and become a real game-changer for Amazon’s operations, having an enormous impact on their supply chain. Their RPA allows them to cut costs, eliminate keying errors, speed up processes, and link applications. It allows Amazon to work with structured data to automate an existing manual task or process with minimal process re-engineering and avoid significant system integration projects and specific new major application deployments. It would help situations like the Coronavirus pandemic to further reduce reliance on human labor and better handle future shocks to the supply chain. Many of Amazon’s warehouses are robotized, but not at 100%. AMR could be a solution to optimize the picking process and allow the company to decreasingly rely on human resources.
Amazon is using drones and, very soon, a fleet of driverless vehicles. Both these technologies will help Amazon lower costs by decreasing the amount of human intervention and, in the case of drones, give more access to remote and hard-to-reach rural areas.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
Other interesting emerging technologies that could change Amazon’s supply chain are virtual and augmented reality. It could allow supply chain businesses to enhance employee and customer digital experiences. They allow enhanced logistics and warehousing and better purchasing choices to leverage product visualization or store layout and planning.
Blockchain is a powerful emerging technology that Amazon already uses and provides third-parties as a service. This technology can provide more traceability and security regarding invoices and shipments, which can take several months to process. It can also assist companies by managing contracts and agreements and monitoring financial transactions and products.
A significant technology that is disrupting businesses and manufacturing worldwide is 3D printing, and Amazon may have an opportunity to benefit from it. An order could be placed on Amazon, one of several roving delivery trucks could receive the order, print the 3D goods in the truck, and then drop off the ordered products inside the delivery time frame.
RFID is a well-established technology, however, it is increasingly being used to transform environments into technologically ubiquitous spaces. Amazon already uses this technology in much of its operations, however, as technology evolves, RFID can be further enhanced to integrate with new and innovative technologies. Its benefits are that active and passive RFID tags provide data on items to which they are attached. Internet-connected trackers use long-range networks to let companies track specific items throughout their delivery journeys. Satellite trackers provide location data on an item anywhere on the planet, even in areas that do not have cellular coverage. Bluetooth tags and beacons also offer tracking data in smaller, more confined areas. Near-field communication (NFC) tags, based on RFID standards, allow workers to use their mobile devices as readers for the NFC tags, which provides an advantage over RFID tags and readers.
Future Challenges and Recommendations
Amazon’s supply chain is a fluid network machine that works harmoniously thanks to its excellent management of intermediaries, infrastructure, and the advanced technology used to make all actors in the chain communicate and work together efficiently. For Amazon to continue optimizing their operations, they need to develop sophisticated operations research models and IT capabilities to implement decisions at scale, allowing operations to reduce fulfillment and transportation costs without compromising the promised delivery date to the customer.
They could significantly improve deliveries to smaller islands, like in the Azorean archipelago, which is done through local third-party delivery services. These freight transporters do not usually make many trips between the mainland and the islands, and it may take many weeks before customers receive their orders, which would have otherwise only taken a few days. They also need to invest more heavily in figuring out how to make their operations more sustainable than they are at the moment, to be able to maintain and even increase their massive brand equity and comply with present and future governmental regulations.
Disclaimer: This analysis was originally written for my MBA academic report done in September 2020 for the module “Systems and operations management”.
MWPVL International (2020). Amazon Distribution Network Strategy | MWPVL International. [online] Mwpvl.com. Available at: https://mwpvl.com/html/amazon_com.html [Accessed 27 Sep. 2020].
Slack, N., Brandon-Jones, A. and Johnston, R. (2015a). Operations management. Harlow: Pearson, p.468.
Slack, N., Brandon-Jones, A. and Johnston, R. (2015b). Operations management. Harlow: Pearson, p.433.
Analysis of Amazon’s operations including supply chain structure, management, distribution, logistics and the role of emerging technologies in the company’s approach to supply chain as well as the importance IoT plays in their competitive advantage.
VeChain Review: Blockchain Supply Chain Management
VeChain is one of the foremost supply chain focused blockchain projects currently out there. They continue getting quite a bit of attention since their main-net launch from June 2018
This was the mainnet launch that saw them release their native VET tokens that have seen increasing volume across a number of exchanges. However, VeChain is not alone in its supply chain focus and there are a number of companies and projects that have launched since then
So, with so much competition, is VeChain still worth considering?
In this VeChain review I will attempt to answer that. I will also analyse the use cases for the VET token and its potential for eventual mass adoption.
What is VeChain?
VeChain is an interesting spin on the uses of blockchain technology. Started in 2015, it is focused on business applications, primarily in the logistics field through supply chain management that provides tracking, quality control, inventory management, and much more.
The mainnet for VeChain was launched back in June 2018, and the project has pushed forward strongly since, bringing many partners into the VeChain ecosystem. In fact, hardly a month passes without the project announcing a new partnership or business that’s adopting the VeChain technology.
VeChain Entire Technology Stack. Image via VeChain
It has become a part of the Price Waterhouse Cooper incubation program, is working on a proof of concept with BMW and Renault, and has recently partnered with Australian winemaker Penfolds to provide proof of authenticity for their wines being delivered to China.
Unfortunately for investors all of these strong partnerships have had little impact on the price of the VET token, which fell throughout 2018, failed to mount much of a recovery in 2019 and early 2020, and then dropped again following the March 2020 meltdown in traditional financial markets.
Also of recent concern is the December 2019 hack in which roughly $6.5 million worth of VET tokens were stolen. We’ll discuss below how the hack played out, and whether it remains a security concern at this time.
The VeChain project has continued to forge ahead nonetheless, bringing new partnerships onboard, starting new pilot programs, and growing in the business space. This hasn’t been reflected in the token price yet, but it does point to increased adoption, which should eventually be reflected in the token price.
Proof of Authority 1.0 and 2.0
VeChain runs on a Proof of Authority (PoA) consensus model that requires nodes by authorized before they can participate in blockchain consensus. Once a node becomes authorized it joins the pool of other authorized nodes and each has an equal chance of publishing new blocks and receiving rewards. Under this system the rich nodes have no advantages, and there is no requirement for nodes to compete with one another and use vast amounts of resources.
The PoA system also features efficient bandwidth usage, which leads to higher throughput for the network. This equates to a greater number of transactions per second and increases the scalability of the network.
Benefits of Proof of Authority at Vechain
Although PoA has obvious advantages, and the VeChainThor blockchain continues to operate efficiently and securely, there are remaining limitations to this consensus method. One of these limitations is an inability to prevent a node from manipulating the entire system when it has the right to add a new block.
However there are ways the blockchain can trace any misbehavior and use it as evidence against the node later. Additionally, as part of the family of Nakamoto consensus methods, PoA only gives us a probabilistic assurance that transactions are secure. This could leave the network vulnerable to large-scale network partitioning.
Because of these limitations the VeChain Foundation is working on the next generation of Proof of Authority, which they are calling PoA 2.0. This new version of PoA will give the network the stability and security needed to support the growing number of business use cases on-chain. According to the VeChain Whitepaper 2.0 the new PoA 2.0 will deliver:
- Absolute finality (or safety guarantee) on blocks and transactions;
- significant reduction of the platform’s risk of being temporarily disrupted, which will result in better stability of blockchain service;
- faster-converging probabilistic finality, which will result in faster transaction confirmation for applications.
Late in 2020 the VeChain project announced they were close to delivering the improved Proof-of Authority 2.0 and would launch on testnet in 2021. VeChain’s chief scientist Peter Zhou tweeted the following:
VIP-193 is also known as SURFACE and it is planned to improve the scalability of the VeChain network while also speeding transaction confirmations. The improved PoA implementation will give VeChain all the strong points found in PoW blockchains while also making the blockchain more robust thanks to a Byzantine Fault Tolerance (BFT) mechanism.
What’s more, Zhou has made it clear that the prototyping of VIP-200 is now complete. VIP-200 is being created to make it possible for the VeChain distributed ledger to reach BFT finality by allowing blocks to carry extra finality related messages.
VeChain Governance and VeVote
Recently VeChain has also updated its governance model in oder to meet the needs of large enterprises, regulators, and government while maintaining its ability to scale. The new system was released this past November 11, 2019, and it gives VeChain a flexible governance model that will allow for rapid changes when needed.
Example of Recent VeVote & Overview of Mechanism
The revised VeChain Governance Charter includes the following changes to the Articles of Association:
- Specified the scope of fundamental subjects that require all stakeholder voting;
- Redefined the categories of stakeholders with voting authority as Authority Masternode, Economic X Node and Economic Node;
- Adjusted the voting authority model according to the new stakeholder categorization;
- Streamlined the all stakeholder voting procedure.
In addition VeChain also introduced the VeVote platform as a way to increase governance transparency. VeVote is a decentralized voting platform and was adopted by a Steering Committee vote of 5-2 on December 13, 2019. The approval of the VeVote platform has also opened it up for use in voting by stakeholders.
VeChain describes VeVote as follows:
The VeVote platform provides an immutable, transparent and decentralized platform for stakeholders to cast their votes on important decisions based on their voting authority. The voting is done via VeVote smart contracts and the result will be recorded on the VeChainThor blockchain.
As of February 2021 there have been three proposals voted on and passed by the community and 1 proposal voted on and passed by the steering committee. Two of the three stakeholder votes were for contests and the third was to postpone the 2nd VeChain steering committee election to June 30, 2021. The steering committee vote was to update the VeChain Foundation Governance Charter.
The updated charter included the following major changes:
- Specified the scope of fundamental subjects that require all stakeholder voting
- Redefined the categories of stakeholders with voting authority as Authority Masternode, Economic X Node and Economic Node
- Adjusted the voting authority model according to the new stakeholder categorization
- Streamlined the all stakeholder voting procedure
The Sync 2 Wallet
Anyone who’s been using the internet knows what a web-based application is, whether the purpose is ecommerce, communications, or simply entertainment. And thanks to the development of the modern web browser these web apps are accessible across all types of hardware devices and operating systems.
While we would like to think that blockchain dApps are just as simple the truth is the technology isn’t there yet. Blockchain dApps for users to use specific browsers or wallets to access them, and users may need to switch the wallet or browser being used depending on the hardware or operating system being used. It’s really inconsistent and inconvenient for users.
Add to this the need to manage the crypto assets necessary for the dApp and pay gas fees, not to mention the need for a certain degree of technical savvy that’s needed when using decentralized platforms. All of this awkwardness, cost, and complexity has kept dApps as they are currently implemented from reaching mainstream adoption.
VeChain hopes to change all this with the introduction of the Sync 2 digital wallet app. The Sync 2, which was released in its alpha version in January 2021, provides the missing pieces of critical infrastructure in enabling the true mass adoption of dApp technology.
Sync 2 frees users from the restrictions of browser type, hardware, and OS and makes using dApps as simple and intuative as using any web-based app. In combination with VeChain’s native fee delegation protocols, users will no longer need to manage crypto to pay gas fees. Instead, dApp owners or DaaS service providers can fund gas fees on a user’s behalf.
Sync 2 is designed to work with all mainstream web browsers (e.g., Chrome, Safari, MS Edge, Firefox, etc), allowing dApps to be accessed by ever-greater numbers of users
It can be installed as a local app on desktop or mobile device, or used simply as a web application with no installation requirement, providing maximal flexibility and consistent user experience.
Put simply — Sync 2 is the missing jigsaw piece that enables a truly seamless dApp experience, paving the way for the mass adoption of decentralised applications by removing all barriers to entry. A first for the entire blockchain industry.
VeChain recognizes the importance of having an established business and client base, and with that in mind has been very active in creating partnerships. Through the end of the second quarter of 2019, there are no less than 31 partners which VeChain is working on pilots with, any of which could lead to a breakthrough and wider adoption of the blockchain. And they continue adding new partnerships.
A few of these partners are Price Waterhouse Cooper, Walmart China, LVMH Group, NTT Docomo, and most recently Australia’s leading wine producer Penfold’s.
Onboarding of new partners and clients is handled quite smoothly by VeChain since they operate on a Blockchain-as-a-Service model, and set up all the infrastructure for clients, including any necessary customization. It’s this model that has allowed VeChain to partner with such a broad and diverse group of industries.
The partnership with PwC has given VeChain access to many companies across China and Southeast Asia and has been valuable in spreading the word about VeChain.
Only a small selection of some of the VeChain Partners
With LVMH, VeChain is developing a system that tracks limited edition luxury goods. Pirating of these types of products is widespread, especially in China and Southeast Asia. With LVHM’s broad offerings of luxury goods, this is a perfect partnership.
VeChain has also been working with DNV GL to increase the transparency of products from the factory or farm to the consumer. In this partnership, VeChain has developed a blockchain-powered digital assurance solution they’ve called MyStory.
Using this dApp consumers are able to learn about the story behind a bottle of wine from the vineyard, to the bottler, through distribution, and to their store’s shelves. All this is accomplished by simply scanning a QR code on the wine bottle.
Another valuable partnership is the one with Chinese automaker BYD, where VeChain has been working on a proof of concept for handling carbon emission imbalances. This partnership is working on building a dApp that will track and record the emissions data of millions of cars, buses, trains, and other vehicles onto the public VeChain blockchain.
Most recently Vechain has been active in adding hospitals and tracking infection risk management in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not surprisingly these partnerships are helping VeChain grow, although it does remain smaller than major players such as Ethereum and EOS, who have more highly developed dApp ecosystems, with greater offerings of games and other applications.
The VeChain Team
The primary driving force behind the adoption of VeChain and the VET token is the VeChain Foundation, an organization founded in Singapore which governs and maintains the project, its development, and promotion. The Foundation is governed by the Steering Committee, which is elected every two years and is currently represented by the project founders.
Sunny Lu is the CEO of VeChain and one of the founding members of VeChain. Prior to founding VeChain, he was CIO at Louis Vuitton China. He has over a decade of experience working for Fortune 500 companies in executive IT positions.
From Left: Sunny Lu, Jay Zhang, Kevin Feng & Jianliang Gu
Jay (Jie) Zhang was the CFO at VeChain, and is also a co-founder of the project. Due to the hack that occurred in December 2019, which he accepted full responsibility for, he has reportedly stepped down from his role as CFO, although the VeChain website still lists him as the project’s CFO. Prior to working at VeChain he was employed at Deloitte and prior to that he spent more than a dozen years with PwC. He was responsible for the design of the VeChain governance framework.
Kevin Feng is a partner at VeChain and acts as the COO of the project. He came to VeChain with over 12 years of experience working at PwC. His expertise is in risk assurance and cybersecurity, and he was a driving force behind the development of PwC’s blockchain services.
Jianliang Gu is the CTO at VeChain, coming from TCL & Alcatel’s R&D center he has more than 16 years of experience developing mobile hardware and software. He has amassed over 100 patents in the mobile communication field.
VET and VTHO Token Economics
VeChain is the type of blockchain which uses a dual token economic model in order to avoid the cost of transactions increasing when the value of the token rises. In the case of VeChain, there is a VET token used for speculation on exchanges and governance of the blockchain. The VET token is also used for staking and the generation of VTHO tokens.
The VTHO tokens are used to pay for network transactions, with the default transaction fee equal to 21 VTHO ($0.006719 as of February 20, 2021). Users can increase the number of VTHO paid for a transaction in order to increase its priority on the network. VTHO tokens can be purchased from exchanges, or they can be generated by holding VET in a wallet.
Both tokens are drastically different in terms of the function they serve, total supply, and inflation.
By using a dual token model such as this the network fees are kept separate from the potential volatility in the price of the VET token, which in turn makes the blockchain more suitable for business and enterprise uses.
Users who choose to hold VET in a wallet will generate VTHO over time, which enables them to make transactions for free in essence. One side effect of this is that it should increase demand for VET as the network usage grows.
Besides generating small amounts of VTHO it is possible to generate much larger amounts by running nodes to help support the network. There are three types of nodes in use, and each requires a substantial amount of VET.
These nodes participate directly in consensus and require a minimum of 25 million VET. In addition, the owners of authority nodes must be able to prove they are able to make a significant contribution to the VeChain ecosystem as well as passing stringent KYC measures.
Benefits of Authority Nodes on the Network
Authority masternodes are awarded 30% of the daily VTHO usage.
There are three different types, and while they don’t participate in consensus, they do provide network stability. Economic nodes receive a portion of VTHO generated by a pool of 15 billion VET set aside for this purpose.
The economic nodes also receive VTHO based on their VET stakes. The three types of economic nodes and staking requirements are the Mjolnir Masternode (15 million VET required), the Thunder Masternode (5 million VET required), and the Strength Masternode (1 million VET required).
These are nodes that supported VeChain in its early stages of development. They receive the VTHO generated by a pool of 5 billion VET set aside for this purpose. It’s no longer possible to create new X Economic nodes.
The VET Token
VeChain conducted their ICO on August 17, 2017, raising 200,000 ETH with tokens priced at $0.0008 each or 1 ETH = 3,500 VEN. Note that I said VEN and not VET.
The original tokens were ERC-20 tokens, but these were swapped for the native VET tokens at the ratio of 1:100 after the VeChain mainnet went live on June 30, 2018. At the time the VEN token was worth $1.62, making VET tokens worth $0.0162 each.
The all-time high also occurred while the VEN token existed and was $8.28 on January 23, 2018. That would be equivalent to $0.0828 for VET. The VET token only ever reached an all-time high of $0.06044 on February 13, 2021.
Price dropped following the swap to VET and dipped under $0.010 in August 2018, but recovered to trade between $0.010 and $0.015 until dropping again in November 2018. The all-time high for VET occurred during this period and was $0.019775.
Price remained below $0.01 until July 2020, although it nearly recovered that level in June 2019 and again in February 2020. Since July 2020 the VET token has been climbing strongly alongside the massive rally across nearly all altcoins. After hitting its all-time low of $0.001678 on March 13, 2020 the VET token has reached $0.057 as of late February 2021
Buying & Storing VET
There are a number of markets for the VET token as it is listed on quite a large range of exchanges. These include the likes of Binance, VCC Exchange, and LBank. There is strong volume on these exchanges which is more than I have seen for other coins of a similar market cap. While the trading volume for the token was once highly concentrated on just two exchanges that has changed and it is not actively traded on a number of exchanges, which helps with liquidity.
Taking a closer look at the individual order books it appears as if they are pretty robust. For example, below are the Binance BTC / VET order books. They are quite deep and there is a reasonable amount of daily turnover.
Once you have bought your VET tokens you are going to want to take them offline and store them in a wallet. We all know the risks that come from keeping tokens on large centralised exchanges.
Given that these are the native VET tokens, you don’t have too much choice for storage. We actually have a post on the best VeChain wallets. Perhaps your best bet for storage ought to be a secure hardware wallet.
While the threats from blockchain projects are currently minimal, there are players in the traditional technology sector that do pose a real threat already.
One of these is IBM, who have partnered with the shipping giant Maersk to create a global shipping management blockchain platform. This platform has attracted great interest already and has nearly 100 companies on-board, including ocean transport companies, logistics companies, ports, and others.
IBM Digitizing Global Trade with Maersk. Images Source
IBM has also begun work with Walmart and Unilever to uncover new areas of the supply chain that can benefit from blockchain technology. With its technological dominance and global reach, IBM is a threat that can’t be overlooked.
SAP is also entering the blockchain logistics space and is working with shipping and pharmaceutical companies to create a blockchain-based supply chain tracking system. SAP is another huge global player with massive resource and an extensive customer base to draw upon.
The most recent addition to traditional competition is coming from the world-famous auto manufacturer BMW. It’s interesting to note that BMW was one of the early partners of VeChain.
BMW Part Chain overview. Image via BMW
It has plans to roll out its blockchain supply chain solution to 10 of its suppliers sometime in 2020. Named “PartChain”, it was designed to ensure data transparency and trace-ability for automotive components throughout the supply chain.
This will be beneficial in the complex supply chains employed by BMW, where components are sourced from multiple international suppliers. Eventually BMW hopes to create “an open platform that will allow data within supply chains to be exchanged and shared safely and anonymized across the industry.” In the long-term they hope to bring tracking all the way to the raw materials used to create automotive components.
With all of that however VeChain maintains its lead in the space as of early 2021. There haven’t been any major developments reported from IBM, SAP, or BMW.
VeChain Opportunities and Threats
While VeChain is targeting several different markets, its core focus remains on the supply chain and logistics industries. It has also been developing its smart contract functionality and has its eyes on delivering Internet of Things solutions.
The focus on the supply chain industry makes sense, as this is a massive, multi-billion industry that can benefit immensely from the addition of blockchain technology.
VeChain has already forged several partnerships with luxury brands to develop blockchain tracking systems that will serve to maintain the authenticity of products, whether that be luxury handbags, premium wines, or the service history of automobiles.
One key to these tracking systems is the VeChain NFC chip. This tiny chip can be embedded in any product, and consumers are then able to scan products with their smartphone to confirm their authenticity. Counterfeiting of luxury goods is a huge problem globally, with some estimates claiming global counterfeiting affects some $1.2 trillion in goods annually.
Another area of strength for VeChain has been in the medical space. It’s tracking technology is now in use by a number of hospitals and other medical facilities. It is also making inroads into the food industry, as its tracking technology can be used to authenticate the freshness of highly perishable products such as seafood.
Oddly, the biggest threat competitively for VeChain is not other blockchain projects, although there is some competition from that direction, but rather from traditional companies.
In the crypto-space VeChain is up against competition from IOTA in the Internet of Things space, and from Waltonchain in supply chain management. But the adoption of these two projects remains low, and until we have a blockchain project that can scale a working case it isn’t likely there will be a leader in the blockchain space.
VeChain Development & Roadmap
There is no doubt that the VeChain team has been active making partnerships and rolling out updates, but how much of these work is actually reflected in the code?
Given that VeChain is an open source project it may make sense to go into their public code repositories. This can give you a good idea of just how much work is being done on the protocol.
Hence, I decided to dive into the VeChain GitHub and take a look at the coding activity in their repos. Below is the commit activity on two of their most active repos over the past year.
Commits over past 12 months for Select Repos
As you can see there has been a fairly low level of activity. This is below average for some of the other projects that I have covered. There are a further 35 repositories out there although these also have low levels of activity.
Looking forward, there are quite a few things that one can look forward to. While there is no official roadmap that has been laid out, you can glean some information from this blog post.
For example, the developers are actively working on cross chain interoperability of VeChain. They are currently still working on “technical preparations” for this technology. This interoperability could no doubt increase the adoption of VeChain.
Then, there is further studies that are being done on the eventual implementation of anonymous transactions. This will be through the use of Bulletproof technology that has already being popularized on the likes of Monero (XMR). Of course as of February 2021 the most highly anticipated upgrade to VeChain is the launch of PoA 2.0.
There’s no doubt that VeChain has been one of the most successful blockchain projects in terms of generating partnerships. With pilot projects ongoing for nearly 3 dozen companies VeChain is beginning to see some successes. If it can build on those it could see increased adoption.
The project is well-thought out, with good governance, and a unique economic model that works very well when taking into account the needs of large organizations and enterprise customers. It also hasn’t faced the scalability issues common at many blockchain projects, although that could be due to lack of adoption.
It’s also been able to successfully get past the December 2019 hacking issue, which could have been a major concern for the VeChain community.
With all the successes VeChain has had, there is still the threat of competition faced from large traditional technology companies such as IBM, BMW,and SAP. Investors are understandably worried that VeChain will be buried by these mammoth companies. The VET token has been able to make strong gains during the altcoin rally of 2021, but if VeChain can’t establish a dominant position in the logistics space soon investors could lose their optimism for the project.
The coming year will be a crucial one for VeChain. If it can get PoA 2.0 launched it will have the means to attract more high-profile clients. It remains ahead of the major traditional companies working in this space, but maintaining that momentum will be key to keeping VeChain in the lead.
Featured Image via Fotolia
Disclaimer: These are the writer’s opinions and should not be considered investment advice. Readers should do their own research.
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Secure Your Medical, Personal and Financial Records with Emergency ID Bracelets
Imagine you’re in a foreign country, lying on a comfortable chaise lounge on a beach. Your purse is snuck behind the armrests while you fall asleep. The moment you wake up, you find out that someone made away with your purse. In one fell swoop, you lose access to your passport, phone, credit cards, medications, immunizations records, and even emergency contact information.
Although such brazen incidents of theft don’t happen to everyone, they’re quite frequent. If you’re the unfortunate victim, you’ll be in a real spot, depending on the value of the items. Only if you had the photographs of all these important documents and stored them somewhere safe, like in the cloud, would you be saved. But more often than not, it can be tricky to find fast and reliable Internet while traveling to reach your documents in the cloud.
Emergency ID bracelets are a new category of smart wearables, which can provide insurance against theft or robberies and medical emergencies, such as someone experiencing chest difficulties while outside their home. During CES 2021, we spoke to Wayne Citron, founder of Illinois-based SelfSafe, which has pioneered a secure USB-based emergency ID bracelet that does not depend on Internet access to help restore your digital life. Available at a very low cost and for a lifetime purchase, this innovative product can secure your medical, personal and financial records on the go.
Why Do We Need an Emergency ID Bracelet?
The first obvious question we asked Wayne was why anyone would need to carry an emergency bracelet in the first place. Wouldn’t a smartphone, smartwatch or any other wearable device provide the exact same backup? He clarified that most such apps and gadgets have been limited in their scope to healthcare use alone. While they give you a summary of your medical records, they weren’t designed to address other aspects of your life which are impacted during an emergency.
Says Wayne: “To my knowledge, very few wearable devices currently are ‘all-encompassing’ in their applications during an emergency. By that, I mean financial, personal info such as passports, insurance data, and so forth. With SelfSafe, all this information is written out very concisely and clearly in the software. The flash drive we use has [a] very high level of encryption security, is water-resistant and durable. This makes it a very reliable emergency backup wearable.” He mentioned that most emergency bracelets are very affordable, which is better for data recovery.
All the SelfSafe device really requires of you is to have access to any laptop or PC you can quickly find to latch onto its USB outlet. Once done, you enter a password to update or erase your data on the fly.
Wayne argues if your passport is stolen or missing abroad, all you need to do is access the SelfSafe folders and recover the passport page images and passport number. Such recovered data can then be used to contact the embassy of your country, and it may help expedite the reissuing of your passport since there are so many reliable and verifiable details.
Wayne also gives an example of how a White House reporter friend of his recently went for a vacation to the Galapagos Islands with her family, only to have their personal belongings stuffed into various wallets for emergency access. They later reported that a strap-on emergency ID bracelet such as SelfSafe would have been more convenient while traveling.
How can these devices integrate with smart homes? Wayne mentions the example of ADT® Security Alarm Systems, a smart home security provider which protects the homes of their clients from attempted burglaries and robberies. It is possible that such smart home providers can offer a cheap emergency ID bracelet as a giveaway to protect the homeowners when they’re outside.
There’s an additional product use case among insurance companies. If the clients can save the photographs of all their valuables in an emergency bracelet folder, it’s easier for them to claim insurance on the items that go missing in the event of a fire or major accident.
What If the Emergency ID Bracelet Is Stolen or Broken Into?
Quite naturally, our next concern was regarding what should one’s response be when an emergency ID bracelet is lost or misplaced, or someone rips it open from your wrist. To this, Wayne agreed that such a situation can jeopardize the security of your information. But there is a U.S. government-approved 256-bit AES Cipher Block Chaining (CBC) mode encryption which the hacker has to decrypt first before he or she can access your sensitive information. “The odds of them getting into your sensitive information is extremely small,” added Wayne.
Wayne further insisted that if we had to evaluate the merit of emergency bracelets by these extreme scenarios, such as hostage situations, then no wearable or smart device would be considered safe enough. The most practical use cases of such devices are for people who remain outdoors for long periods of time: travelers, athletes, salespersons, commuters, and of course, people with medical emergencies.
If you thought you could easily carry your digital life in a smartphone or smartwatch, there are limits to their effectiveness. Even in this Internet of things age, having an offline backup to your real-world information on your wrist gives a whole new meaning and purpose to wearable devices. In the US, agencies such as FEMA recommend people prepare for emergencies by storing their important documents in a “removable flash drive.” This makes these emergency ID bracelet solutions right on schedule.
While there are several emergency bracelets online which use data backup to the cloud, they may not be the best solutions. Rather, Wayne insists on “having a simple solution for a high-tech problem.” We are inclined to believe an offline solution like SelfSafe would check off all the criteria of a successful smart wearable solution.
Reckoning and Remedy for Retail: How 5G and IoT Can Advance the Retail Industry
For every retail sector, from clothing to electronics, keeping pace with ever-evolving consumer expectations has been a major challenge. Consider purchasing options alone. Today, retailers must be prepared to accept everything from cash and credit cards to mobile and smartphone payments—or risk turning away a customer.
The State of Retail
In 2018, Customer Think reported that nearly 50 percent would cancel an order if their preferred option weren’t available. That was before online ordering, curbside pickup, and home delivery became essential for survival. Now, with the pandemic drastically changing consumer behavior, retail faces a reckoning like never before.
It’s important to note that pre-COVID physical stores in the U.S. had been struggling for years not only to increase foot traffic but also to adopt new technologies such as self-serve kiosks, digital signage, and contactless payment, all of which were arguably more commonplace in Europe, Asia, and Australia than in America. However, at the onset of the pandemic, retailers that found themselves on a list of “non-essential” businesses faced a real reckoning. It was time to adapt and change.
While the world went through a series of stops and restarts in 2020, technology has continued to advance. And that’s the silver lining heading into 2021. In addition to more touch-free and multi-channel options providing the retail sector with a remedy until the coast is clear, the rollout of 5G will undoubtedly usher in an entirely new era of consumer personalization, engagement, and enhancement.
In fact, 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are already a factor in delivering the speed and connectivity needed to enable innovative new retail applications elevating the customer experience and arming retailers with valuable insights driving better decision-making and ROI. Below are just a few examples that give a glimpse into the present and future of retail.
Self-Serve Convenience Stores
Enabled by AI, computer vision, sensors and machine learning, self-serve stores allow customers to walk in, take what they want and walk out without scanning a single item, waiting in line or making a payment at a terminal. Though launched in China and South Korea about five years ago, the first public self-serve convenience store was opened by Amazon in 2018. To enter, consumers download an app and hold it over a gate scanner. Once inside, every item they pick up or return to a shelf is automatically detected and tracked in a virtual cart. When shopping is complete, the customer simply walks through the scanner gate and out the door, with Amazon Go sending the receipt to the shopper’s phone.
Such unmanned stores are probably part of retail’s future considering consumers’ distaste for long lines. In December 2019, Wirecard polled adults worldwide, asking which retail technologies they would be interested in using. More than half (61%) were at least somewhat interested in unmanned stores, with seven in 10 indicating interested in a scan-and-go app that would allow them to purchase products on their own.
Temporary Pop-Up Shops
Like self-serve kiosks, pop-up stores have become an increasingly attractive option for retailers, particularly during the pandemic. Whether testing new products, trying to reach more customers, or just entering the market but hesitant to establish hard-wired roots at a volatile time, pop-up shops provide retailers with a competitive edge thanks to the flexibility in location and size.
At their core, however, pop-ups need fast, reliable, and robust wireless connectivity for a range of technology, including PoS (Point of Sale) systems, as well as critical functions, from data backup and inventory management to everything in between. Solutions like Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service and wireless edge routers, for example, are unlocking the power of LTE and 5G to create a secure, nonstop vast area network (WAN) edge that connects everything inside the store or out, wherever a customer transaction takes place.
Many retailers that sell clothing have put traditional fitting rooms on pause for safety reasons while some have been experimenting with augmented and virtual reality for years to provide a more immersive experience. In 2015, Ralph Lauren installed high-tech fitting rooms with smart mirrors in its Fifth Avenue shop in New York. Since then, other brands have taken in-store tech like this to a whole new level.
The Adidas’ flagship store in London is a great example. Opened in 2019, the four-story, 27,000 sq. ft space on London’s Oxford Street was designed using over 100 digital touchpoints powered completely by green energy, each focused on inspiring creativity and delighting shoppers. Executive board member Roland Auschel, who is responsible for global sales, stated, “We’re confident with the new Adidas LDN store we have created an unrivalled experience for shoppers, our most digital store ever, a hub of creativity and innovation for the city and the very best expression of our brand all in one amazing blockbuster destination.”
Creating an immersive environment equipped with LED screens and “mood” flooring, Adidas invites visitors into product experiences and interactive challenges and changing rooms outfitted with smart mirrors that let a customer try on items without ever removing or adding a single piece of clothing.
Increasing consumer trust in the digital shopping experience will be critical as we move into a new year and a new decade. At the core, 5G and IoT technologies will be critical in ensuring the shift to more immersive, engaging, convenient, and touch-free experiences, not to mention transparency in the chain of custody and supply chain integrity.
As current circumstances hold, we can safely assume retail will never look, feel or operate the same. For retailers determined to emerge from 2020 stronger and more resilient than ever, that’s good news, as long as they have access to the myriad options that will gratify and satisfy consumers—and help them thrive in times of uncertainty.
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