When an E.coli outbreak at Chipotle Mexican Grill outlets left 55 customers ill, in 2015, the news stories, shutdowns, and investigations shattered the restaurant chain’s reputation. Sales plummeted, and Chipotle’s share price dropped 42%, to a three-year low, where it has languished ever since.
At the heart of the Denver-based company’s crisis was the ever-present problem faced by companies that depend on multiple suppliers to deliver parts and ingredients: a lack of transparency and accountability across complex supply chains. Unable to monitor its suppliers in real time, Chipotle could neither prevent the contamination nor contain it in a targeted way after it was discovered.
Now, a slew of startups and corporations are exploring a radical solution to this problem: using a blockchain to transfer title and record permissions and activity logs so as to track the flow of goods and services between businesses and across borders.
With blockchain technology, the core system that underpins bitcoin, computers of separately owned entities follow a cryptographic protocol to constantly validate updates to a commonly shared ledger. A fundamental advantage of this distributed system, where no single company has control, is that it resolves problems of disclosure and accountability between individuals and institutions whose interests aren’t necessarily aligned. Mutually important data can be updated in real time, removing the need for laborious, error-prone reconciliation with each other’s internal records. It gives each member of the network far greater and timelier visibility of the total activity.
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