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Blockchain comes to food

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A group of companies across the global food supply chain has announced a blockchain collaboration with IBM, intended to further strengthen consumer confidence in the global food system.

The consortium includes Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart, who will work with IBM to identify new areas where the global supply chain can benefit from blockchain.

Every year, one-in-ten people fall ill and 400,000 die due to contaminated food. Many of the critical issues impacting food safety such as cross-contamination, the spread of food-borne illness, unnecessary waste and the economic burden of recalls are magnified by lack of access to information and traceability. It can take weeks to identify the precise point of contamination, causing further illness, lost revenue and wasted product. For example, it took more than two months to identify the farm source of contamination in a recent incidence of salmonella in papayas.

Blockchain is ideally suited to help address these challenges because it establishes a trusted environment for all transactions. In the case of the global food supply chain, all participants growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers, regulators and consumers can gain permissioned access to known and trusted information regarding the origin and state of food for their transactions. This can enable food providers and other members of the ecosystem to use a blockchain network to trace contaminated product to its source in a short amount of time to ensure safe removal from store shelves

and stem the spread of illnesses.

Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever, Walmart and others are now coming together with IBM to further champion blockchain as an enabling technology for the food sector. Together they will help identify and prioritize new areas where blockchain can benefit food ecosystems and inform new IBM solutions. This work will draw on multiple IBM pilots and production networks in related areas that successfully demonstrate ways in which blockchain can positively impact global food traceability.

“Unlike any technology before it, blockchain is transforming the way like-minded organizations come together and enabling a new level of trust based on a single view of the truth,” said Marie Wieck, general manager, IBM Blockchain. “Our work with organizations across the food ecosystem, as well as IBM’s new platform, will further unleash the vast potential of this exciting technology, making it faster for organizations of all sizes and in all industries to move from concept to production to improve the way business gets done.”

New IBM Blockchain Platform

Beyond food supply chain applications, blockchains are now being used to transform processes and streamline transactions for everything from flowers, real estate and trade finance, to education, insurance and medical services.

To accelerate this adoption, IBM is introducing the first fully integrated, enterprise-grade production blockchain platform, as well as consulting services, that will allow more organizations to quickly activate their own business networks and access the vital capabilities needed to successfully develop, operate, govern and secure these networks. The IBM Blockchain Platform is available via the IBM Cloud.

The platform builds off of the successful blockchain work IBM has delivered to more than 400 organizations, incorporating insights gained as IBM has built blockchain networks across industries including financial services, supply chain and logistics, retail, government and health care.

Extensively tested and piloted, the platform addresses a wide range of enterprise pain points, including both business and technical requirements around security, performance, collaboration and privacy that no other blockchain platform delivers today. It includes innovation developed through open source collaboration in the Hyperledger community, including the newest Hyperledger Fabric v1.0 framework and Hyperledger Composer blockchain tool, both hosted by the Linux Foundation.

The integrated platform allows multiple parties to jointly develop, govern, operate and secure blockchain networks to help enterprises accelerate blockchain adoption.

Features of the IBM Blockchain Platform include:

  • Develop – For developers, easy and flexible network tools designed to bring blockchain networks up to speed in minutes. The platform also includes the first commercial introduction of Hyperledger Composer a framework that helps developers focus on the business use case and more easily and quickly map it to the application code. Developers can create standard business language in JavaScript and the APIs help keep development work at the business level, rather than being highly technical, making it possible for most any programmer to be a blockchain developer. Additionally, a variety of IBM Developer Journeys for blockchain are available featuring free open source code, documentation, APIs, architecture diagrams and one-click deployment Git repositories to fast-track building.
  • Govern – The platform offers all participating members a level of control, while preventing any one member from having exclusive control. A new class of democratic governance tools is designed to help improve productivity across the organizations using a voting process that collects signatures from members to govern member invitation distribution of smart contracts and creation of transactions channels. By quickly onboarding participants, assigning roles and managing access, organizations can begin transacting via the blockchain.
  • Operate –The platform is underpinned by an architecture that operates more than 55% of today’s global transactional systems.*** It is the first offering available to allow updates to be made to the network while it is running without any downtime. Running in the IBM Cloud, it offers unique protection from insider credential abuse, protection from malware and hardware encryption key protection. IBM Blockchain Platform provides the highest-level commercially available tamper resistant FIPS140-2 level 4 protection for encryption keys. IBM cannot access the blockchain ecosystem’s encrypted data, even under court order.

In addition to food safety, IBM is advancing other blockchain supply chain initiatives using the IBM Blockchain Platform for an automated billing and invoicing system. Initial work to use blockchain for invoicing is underway starting with Lenovo. This will provide an audit-ready solution with full traceability of billing and operational data, and help speed on-boarding time for new vendors and new contract requirements.

To complement the new platform, IBM Global Business Services offers Blockchain Services, which brings deep industry expertise from its 1,600 blockchain consultants who have helped clients deploy and integrate active networks. These consultants can apply design thinking to help enterprises conceptualize and implement blockchain enabled business models to realize optimal value. For example, during recent blockchain projects with major shipping and retail organizations, IBM consultants have been able to improve food safety traceability by 99.9 percent and decrease trade document workflow by 97percent, potentially unlocking millions of dollars in cost savings and market capital.

The IBM Blockchain Platform offers a range of pricing options, starting at $0.50 per hour, to support rapid adoption for networks of all sizes. To support blockchain ecosystems among different organizations, the cost of the network can be shared across all network members.

Strengthening Trust Across the Global Food Supply Ecosystem

In parallel trials in China and the U.S., IBM and Walmart recently demonstrated that blockchain can be used to track a product from the farm through every stage of the supply chain, right to the retail shelf, in seconds instead of days or weeks.

These trials also demonstrated that stakeholders throughout the global food supply chain view food safety as a collaborative issue, rather than a competitive one, and are willing to work together to improve the food system for everyone.

“As an advocate for greater transparency in the food system to benefit customers, Walmart looks forward to expanding on our initial work by collaborating with others to accelerate exploration on how this technology can be used as a more effective food traceability and food safety tool,” said Frank Yiannas, vice president, food safety, Walmart. “Blockchain technology enables a new era of end-to-end transparency in the global food system – equivalent to shining a light on food ecosystem participants that will further promote responsible actions and behaviors. It also allows all participants to share information rapidly and with confidence across a strong trusted network. This is critical to ensuring that the global food system remains safe for all.”

“IBM has deep experience and a commitment to business processing and security needs, which are exactly the skill sets needed to bring blockchain to full maturity for food safety and all associated transactions,” said Guilda Javaheri, chief technology officer. As a customer and partner with IBM for more than forty years, Golden State Foods is pleased to collaborate with IBM and this group of trusted food companies.”

“Safety is a key value for Kroger, and our partnership with IBM positions us to explore and test blockchain technology as a solution for enhanced food safety across our business,” said Howard Popoola, Kroger’s vice president of Corporate Food Technology and Regulatory Compliance. “Food safety is a universal priority for food retailers and companies. It’s not a competitive advantage; it benefits our customers to have greater transparency and traceability in the supply chain.”

“We’re excited about the possibilities that come with this technology and are glad to collaborate with IBM and others,” said Scott Stillwell, Ph.D., senior vice president of food safety and quality assurance for Tyson Foods. “Producing safe food is critical to our business; it appears blockchain can help provide trust not only about the origin of food, but also about how that food moved through the supply chain.”

Expanding the Blockchain Ecosystem Across Academia and the Start Up Community

To help meet the increasing demand for a skilled technical workforce trained in blockchain, IBM is making available a wide range of resources including software, training and professional partnerships free of charge to more than 1,000 universities in the IBM Academic Initiative. Offerings include six months of access to the IBM Cloud for use of the IBM Blockchain cloud sandbox to help students hone development skills.

IBM is also working with select universities including Baruch College/CUNY, Fordham University, University of Arkansas, University at Buffalo and University of British Columbia to fund research grants, develop customized curricula and host workshops and hackathons. For technologists who want more in-depth guidance, IBM has refreshed its blockchain training and educational materials on developerWorks for Hyperledger Fabric 1.0.

As interest in Hyperledger Fabric continues to grow, IBM is also working with other companies such as Boldstart Ventures, to provide support and resources that broaden access. Boldstart Ventures has launched Fabric Foundry, the first accelerator dedicated to this framework, to foster adoption.

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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