GS1 Blockchain Discussion Group Kickoff Meeting

Stock photo of actors reenacting the GS1 US discussion group meeting.

I attended the GS1 US Blockchain Discussion Group kickoff meeting on November 28-29 out of curiosity.  Fortunately it was held in Chicago so I didn’t need to travel very far.  Just a simple commuter train ride from home each day.  Any farther and I might not have attended, but I was glad I did.  It was great to have the opportunity to hear discussion of such an advanced topic among old friends and a lot of people I didn’t know from other industries.

As you know I am very interested in blockchain, not just as a general technology but because of its potential for enabling some applications that were inconceivable without it.  That’s true of applications in every industry, but particularly every kind of supply chain.  Some really interesting and exciting things are going on right now in the pharma supply chain with blockchain at the core.  I’m planning to write about one of those things in the near future.  I’ve already written a little about the technology as it might be applied for meeting the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA).  See:

The GS1 US kickoff meeting was fairly mind-expanding because there was about equal representation between the pharma and food supply chains, with consumer packaged goods represented in the minority.  It was great to hear ideas from people who are trying to solve similar problems, but in a different supply chain.  While similar, there are differences in the problems which means the solutions are different in sometimes subtle, sometimes significant ways.  About 70 people attended the event.  The call-to-action described the plan this way:

“This discussion group will bring together stakeholders from various industries to discuss blockchain basics, how blockchain can support supply chain imperatives, what needs industries currently have to address to enable widespread adoption, and the critical role of GS1 Standards to effectively leverage this technology.”

GS1 US treated the kickoff meeting like a scoping exercise.  How can GS1 and GS1 US help their members capitalize on the new technology?  What can GS1 and GS1 US contribute?  Standards, of course, but what standards?  Guidelines?  Yes, but for what, exactly?  Interoperability?  Yes, definitely—all kinds.  The facilitators wanted the attendees to help them figure out how to meet the needs of their members.  The technology is so widely applicable that it was hard for the assembled group to come up with a definitive list, but I think GS1 US was able to extract some very good ideas.  In future meetings they will likely refine the list and drill down to define more detail.

It’s just a “discussion group”, meaning that this group will not likely come up with anything more tangible than a list of ideas.  For the best ideas GS1 or GS1 US will probably spawn new mission-specific work groups to pursue the work necessary, whether standards development or guidelines.

I did not take detailed notes of the proceedings, and this essay is not intended to be a recap of the meeting.  GS1 US will probably publish something about it at some point.  Look for that if you want the full notes.  If fact, the notes I took were just a series of interesting topics I want to research and write about in future RxTrace essays.  Interestingly, none of those have anything to do with blockchain.

They are all GS1 topics though.  For example, I want to write a simple explanation of exactly what EPCIS is.  I noted that because GS1 US continues to have people ask them for a better description than they can find on GS1’s website, GS1 US is hoping to write their own better explanation.  I want to take my own stab at it because GS1 and GS1 US have had difficulty in the past creating simple explanations for their own standards.  I remember writing my own explanation for what a GTIN is a few years ago because the explanation on GS1’s website was so bad (see “Anatomy of a GTIN”).  So let’s make it a competition.  Let’s see what GS1/GS1 US can come up with and what I come up with.  You can decide which is better and we’ll all benefit.

Some of my other topics are to explore some interesting ideas I heard others express during the meeting or in the many side conversations I was involved in during the breaks.  These include:

  • The wide variation in adoption of the GLN in pharma;
  • The EPCIS Query interface (there are actually two components);
  • Use of EPCIS in a 3PL context:  The meaning of the “where” dimension;
  • Differences between the application of GS1 standards between the food and pharma supply chains;
  • GS1’s newest standard:  the Digital Link.

Watch for those starting in January.