As NFTs (non-fungible tokens) become more of a buzzword, we’d like to take an opportunity to explain more about these universal data containers, or as they are known in the industrial world: “digital twins”.
A digital twin is a virtual representation that serves as the real-time digital counterpart of a physical object or process. Though the concept originated earlier, the first practical definition of digital twin originated from NASA in an attempt to improve physical model simulation of spacecraft in 2010.
This development coincided with the advent of Blockchain, and today there’s a ton of press surrounding digital twins on Blockchain, also known as non-fungible tokens (NFTs). NFTs have been created for: artwork, collectibles, even Jack Dorsey’s original Tweet.
When planning a Commercial Trust Architecture (CTA), the most fundamental building block is the digital twin. Most in this space focus solely on the digital twin for the product; but, commercial transparency involves much more than products. People – and companies – make products and provide services at various places. Products are stored in places. Products are transported in places. Services are performed at places. The connectivity of these people and places affect and influence the product.
So, it makes sense to think about, and plan for, how to create a universal digital twin that can be applied to the people, places, and products that comprise your company. What is the source of the identity of each? How are they identified? Are these identifiers based on industry standards? If so, which? Are these twins interoperable with your trading partners’ systems?
These digital twins interact with each other and as they do, they create transactions (conversions from inputs to outputs; title transfers; physical custody transfers, etc.) that need to be captured, stored, and follow the journey of a product or process. And both parties to the transaction need to retain a record of these transactions, preferably within the digital twins themselves.
For commercial transparency the universal data containers, or digital twins, must be constructed to be:
Interoperable with trading partners’ systems
Append-able with immutable transaction history
Responsive to identity and access permissions
By embracing this design strategy, companies aggregate – in one place – the data (evidence) needed to comply with regulatory disclosure requirements, provide operational visibility throughout the supply chain, and to create and sustain an entirely new customer experience.
Additionally, creating a data container that aggregates and collates both structured and unstructured data becomes very powerful in many ways:
Allowing trading partners and suppliers to contribute data;
Helping customers to evaluate a product based on their values and requirements, such as: where is this cotton grown?, what is the carbon footprint of this meat?, etc.;
Responding rapidly to regulatory and oversight bodies (e.g. for submitting Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) compliance;
Providing Cybersecurity Maturity Model Compliance (CMMC) evidence, etc.);
Gathering supply chain data/evidence to support Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) claims made to regulators, investors, and customers (e.g. supporting claims regarding child labor;
Substantiating diversity, equity, and inclusion procedures and processes);
Gaining N-tier visibility into the supply chain (e.g. “how do tier-3 suppliers meet our ingredient handling requirements?”; “what discrepancies exist between what was ordered vs. received?”, etc.).
The pandemic has reinforced how dependent we are on supply chains, which are nothing more than networks of companies collaboratively working to address a commercial opportunity. All well-functioning networks depend on collaboration based on rules, or a “protocol”. The Universal Data Container becomes the “core” of the protocol supporting the Commercial Trust Architecture (CTA) and the Commercial Trust Protocol (CTP).