IBM advanced its status as a blockchain leader Tuesday with the launch of a supply chain platform designed to streamline flows among buyers, sellers and financiers in the pharmaceuticals space.
The Yijian Blockchain Technology Application System – built in a partnership between IBM and Hejia, a Chinese supply chain management company – seeks to eliminate some of the financing problems faced by the country's pharmaceutical retailers. Specifically, it targets the country's underdeveloped credit evaluation system, which it argues can make it difficult to raise short-term working capital.
The platform is designed to bring greater transparency into supply chain networks by tracking the flow of drugs, encrypting trading records and offering an easier means of authenticating transactions. The end goal is to reduce the time small retailers must wait to be paid after delivering medicine to hospitals – which currently can be as high as 60 to 90 days.
Overall, Ramesh Gopinath, vice president of Blockchain Solutions at IBM, said that the use case offers an ideal example of how the company's enterprise blockchain platform can smooth multi-party transaction processes.
He told CoinDesk:
"Blockchain is perfect for the kind of flow that happens between three parties. It's not a random thing, we see a pattern of this appearing again and again."
Initially, the Yijian system will be implemented on a test basis by one pharmaceutical retailer, one hospital and one bank, but plans are in place to expand in July to create a farther-reaching network.
Leng Tianhui, board chairman of Hejia, emphasized in statements that he expects the platform to be adopted far beyond just the pharmaceuticals sector in China.
Eyes on China
Yet, the Yijian platform's launch also strengthens IBM's positioning in China – it has now rolled out five different solutions in the world's second-largest economy in the last 12 months.
In March, the technology giant announced the creation of a green asset management platform designed to help companies develop, manage and trade carbon assets more efficiently under China’s carbon emissions quota scheme. Further, in January, it teamed up with the Postal Savings Bank of China to launch a blockchain asset custody system.
As far back as 2016, this strategy could already be observed, as IBM partnered with UnionPay – China's largest payment credit card processor – to roll out a blockchain platform facilitating the exchange of user loyalty points in September.
It also launched a pilot in conjunction Walmart to move China’s pork industry supply chain on to a blockchain in October.
Still, Gopinath said that IBM's focus on China is a function of the availability of pertinent use cases and local partners.
"I wouldn’t calculate this as 'OK, we have a concerted effort to do something in China'," he said, adding:
"It's more like there are all these classic, what I would call, great uses cases starting up in different places."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the name of the application, and the IBM representative interviewed.
IBM Beijing building via Shutterstock