A University of Missouri College of Engineering team is proposing a new way to use blockchain technology to streamline supply chains.

Blockchain is a decentralized database that allows multiple stakeholders to access and share information in a secure, transparent manner. Users can provide information to the decentralized database; however, they cannot tamper with data once it’s recorded.

“Supply chains are complicated and involve many entities, from the person making a request to people fulfilling requests to billing and support,” said Praveen Rao, an associate professor with joint appointments in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Health Management and Informatics. “There are so many different actors in the supply chain, it can be frustrating if it is done manually. For this paper, we focused on cloud asset provisioning, which is an unsolved problem.”

Rao pointed to supply chains that became critical during COVID-19. At the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals were scrambling to locate masks, ventilators, available beds and other supplies. More recently, health care providers have had to work with separate suppliers to access vaccines quickly and in ever-changing conditions.

While there are only a handful of companies supplying vaccines, thousands of hospitals, nursing homes and health care providers have to access the various brands from different providers. A decentralized (or cloud-based) blockchain system would streamline the process, making it easier for medical professionals to locate, request and track supplies. A hospital could also use the database to report unused supplies, allowing another medical provider to request them.

“With a decentralized system, you don’t have a central authority looking over everything — which can be OK, but is not secure,” Rao said. “With the help of blockchain technology and decentralization, you can make a whole supply chain secure and trustworthy.”

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