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How to Save Time and Money with Blockchain Smart Contracts

smart contracts

How to Save Time and Money with Blockchain Smart Contracts

Manufacturing processes are growing increasingly complex — especially as the coronavirus pandemic spreads — in today’s global marketplace. With so many moving parts, it’s becoming more difficult to reliably and efficiently track actions and data along the supply chain. Blockchain-enabled smart contracts are emerging as a solution — one that provides transparency and ensures everyone along the supply chain is following the same set of agreed-upon rules.

With everyone on the supply chain sharing the same logic and data, manufacturers can automate time-sensitive processes and avoid costly dispute resolutions. Blockchain is on the rise, and Gartner predicts that 30% of manufacturing companies making more than $5 billion in revenue will have invested in blockchain-powered projects by 2023.

Implementing the technology and data infrastructure to convert processes into smart contracts can seem daunting, and companies that don’t hit the $5 billion mark will be slower to catch up.

The fear of failing after the investment can be a serious deterrent. But smart contracts save enough time and money for manufacturers that the costs of waiting might be greater than the upfront investment needed to get started.

The Value of Smart Contracts

The core values of blockchain are transparency and trust, and smart contracts play a pivotal role in providing these benefits. Taken together in a business context, blockchain-based smart contracts make it possible to avoid disputes. A smart contract is software that automates a single trusted version of an agreement between parties. They might rely on one version of data about what’s happening (or has happened) and record the results of the contract, such as funds being transferred in exchange for using a piece of equipment.

Without smart contracts, businesses working together in manufacturing have to maintain separate systems that encode business rules with slight differences. The data they use might also vary from the data other companies use, making it difficult to reconcile any issues. These differences lead to disputes that require significant time and effort to resolve.

The automation and data standards that smart contracts provide allow manufacturers to consider different ways to work with partners along their supply chain. Their partnerships can be based on performance or quality in ways that would have been impossible to implement — much less trust — without the use of blockchain and smart contracts.

How Do Smart Contracts Work?

In a blockchain system, the word “contracts” doesn’t carry the same meaning as legal contracts. Instead, smart contracts are more broadly used to encode logic that often isn’t written explicitly in a contract. Unlike traditional software, they’re used to create business logic that multiple parties can rely on and trust.

Many of us are familiar with the concept of business rules in software systems. In the blockchain world, smart contracts are the business rules shared by the users of the blockchain. Think of blockchain like a shared database: Smart contracts are the rules that define how data can be entered or changed in the shared database. Within the supply chain, smart contracts are typically the rules shared by multiple businesses in the supply chain that are also users of the blockchain system.

For most applications, smart contracts can be executable versions of traditional business contracts, or they might be new logic that coordinates long-running processes and activities across different businesses. They’re trusted because they’re created and housed on a blockchain, which means the code is typically visible to system developers, business analysts, and auditors.

Although smart contracts are triggered by some external event, such as a user’s action or a change in external data (a commodity’s price, for example), the code they run is normally approved in advance by all businesses involved. Currently, businesses are already utilizing blockchain-secured smart contracts for a range of supply chain processes.

For example, some companies combine smart contracts with Internet of Things sensors to record the movement of supplies into a manufacturing facility. Then, they automate payment for those supplies. Others record the operating conditions of a machine to determine if maintenance is required or gauge the condition of manufactured products to ensure standards are met.

Such contracts produce equipment usage records and quality control checks in real-time, and parties on all sides of the contract can trust the data. How we handle everything — from securing supplies to monitoring equipment and manufacturing products — can be improved with the strategic use of blockchain-powered smart contracts.

Being Smart About Which Contracts to Convert

As companies convert more intrabusiness processes into smart contracts, the benefits of doing so grow easier to recognize. Shipments and payment approvals can be verified in real-time, and disputes are eliminated or resolved immediately with no intermediaries. The time and cost savings are substantial.

By using these strategies to determine where to use smart contracts, companies of all sizes have a better chance at reaping the benefits much sooner:

1. Break down costs before the converting starts. The first time a company implements a smart contract, the costs of establishing the blockchain system will be relatively high. These initial costs can often be the biggest deterrent, especially for smaller, less tech-driven companies. Over time, though, the incremental costs of automating smart contracts will go down. Account for this initial cost by taking time to identify the contracts that are currently the most costly to execute.

2. Prioritize external contracts over internal ones. Not every contract needs to be a smart one. In fact, the costs of executing some processes might not justify the investment in automating them. Focus on agreements, contracts, and other expectations that are between the company and another business (or better yet, where more than two businesses are involved), and rule out internal agreements between departments. Because trust is less of an issue, internal disputes can be reconciled relatively easily. Putting them on a blockchain would just be overkill.

3. Focus on contract difficulty — not frequency. Because the goal of automation is to create less work, it’s tempting to go straight for the contracts that are executed most often. Instead, focus on the amount of effort it takes to use each contract rather than how often it’s used. High-frequency contracts might be executed with few or no disputes, whereas low-frequency ones might be costly to manage due to complex and/or unclear terms. These are much better candidates.

4. Start with material sourcing for maximum impact. To know for sure which processes can benefit most from conversion into smart contracts, look for people throughout the organization who deal with reconciliation, quality control, and/or audit support. Also, consider the data used in each transaction. Between both parties, how important is trusting that data? Material sourcing is often ripe for improvement, and trust in data is critical to the relationship between manufacturer and supplier.

The ability to create smart contracts is becoming one of the best-known benefits of using blockchain technology in the manufacturing realm. Investing in the technology might be costly at first, but getting in on the ground floor will be easier if you use it to turn the right processes into irrefutable smart contracts.

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Alex Rosen is the vice president of business development at Chainyard, a blockchain consulting company focused on delivering production solutions that address financial services, supply chain, transportation, government, and healthcare pain points.

modex

MODEX Day Three: Robotics & Automation Continue Maturing

In typical Modex fashion, robotics and automation were among the hot topics discussed by keynote speakers, exhibitors, and attendees. A vast array of capabilities, sizes, and industry-specific robotics could be found throughout the show floor, each showing off a new capability. It’s clear that robotics continue to evolve and show no signs of slowing down progress in meeting demand within warehouses and distribution centers.

Mike Futch, President of Tompkins Robotics made this point very clear during his session on Wednesday afternoon titled, “The Lights Out DC/FC: How Close Can We Get?”

Futch addressed the use of various technologies to address workforce constraints while improving the effectiveness and performance of the supply chain.  He identified what advancements will assist in solving bottlenecks such as facility constraints, space issues, and the current situation in unemployment. As these challenges persist, robotics continues to mature.

“There’s a limited workforce, a limited number of people that can drive the distance to enter the immediate geographic region, and these larger buildings are competing for that workforce that’s already at a low unemployment rate along with offering increased wages and siphoning workers off of others. This is a real challenge for some markets.”

“Labor is scarce and we have record-low unemployment, typically to expand capacity from a volume perspective and companies are turning to more shifts. If you already have a tight labor market and you’re adding shifts, where are the workers coming from? And this creates a bigger problem.”

The workforce is a key constraint and while workforce rates are lower than others in some places, Futch states that companies are competing to stay ahead of demand through increased wages while solving the best approach to a limited workforce.

Machines continue to do the same things a human can do but without interruptions with repetitive, difficult, or taxing work that inevitably fatigues the human body. That being said, the industry still requires a skilled workforce and robotics should not be purchased for their appeal. It’s becoming clear that a blend of workers and robotics is a more common theme for integrating such advancements over the idea that robotics will “overtake” worker’s jobs. In fact, robotics is providing a way to re-establish worker tasks rather than eliminating the worker.

“Robotics has matured tremendously from where they were a few years ago. About 5-10 years ago, the pick-and-place robots at the show could not do the things they are capable of doing now. Two years from now, they’ll have the capability to do twice as much as now. Robotics is maturing and meeting the three R’s: improve rate, improve reliability, and improve the range of products and items,” he explained. ”

In terms of a fully automated DC, Futch added that about 60-85 percent of manual tasks can be automated realistically rather than a “lights out” center.

“Beyond the pick-and-place robots, other robots are doing the same thing: creating a blur of separation between what a human can do and what a machine can do.”

artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence Market to Reach $54 Billion by 2026

According to a new study published by Polaris Market Research, the global artificial intelligence market is anticipated to reach USD 54 billion by 2026. The advancements of robots and the rise in their deployment rate particularly, in the developing economies globally have had a positive impact on the global artificial intelligence market.

Augmented customer experience, expanded application areas, enhanced productivity, and big data integration have highly propelled the artificial intelligence market worldwide. Although, the absence of adequate skilled workforce, as well as threat to human dignity, are some of the factors that could affect the growth of the market. However, these factors are expected to have minimal impact on the market attributed to the introduction of advanced technologies.

An extraordinary increase in productivity has been achieved with machine-learning. For instance, Google, with the help of its experimental driverless technology has transformed cars including, Toyota Prius. The integration of various tools by artificial intelligence has helped in the transformation of business management. These tools include brand purchase advertising, workflow management tools, trend predictions among others. For example, Google’s voice accuracy technology has a 98% accuracy rate. Furthermore, Facebook’s DeepFace technology has a success rate of approximately 97% in recognizing faces. Such accuracy in technologies is further anticipated to bolster the market growth during the forecast period.

Currently, North America dominates the global artificial intelligence market attributed to the high government funding availability, existence of prominent providers in the region, and robust technical adoption base. Also, the region is expected to continue its dominance during the forecast period. Moreover, the adoption of cloud-based services in key economies, such as the US and Canada, is considering adding to the market growth in the North American region. The markets in Asia Pacific, MEA and South America region are expected to notice a high growth during the coming years. The growth in the Asia Pacific region is attributed to the increasing demand for artificial technologies by the developing economies. Thus, the region is anticipated to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period.

 

Major companies profiled in the report include Google Inc., Intel Corporation, Nvidia Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, IBM Corporation, General Vision, Inc., Qlik Technologies Inc., MicroStrategy, Inc., Brighterion, Inc., and Baidu, Inc. among others.

Key Findings from the study suggest North America is expected to command the market over the forecast years. APAC is presumed to be the fastest-growing market, developing at a CAGR of more than 65% over the forecast period. The artificial intelligence market is presumed to develop at a CAGR of over 55.9% from 2018 to 2026. The high implementation of artificial intelligence in several end-user verticals including, retail, automotive and healthcare is projected to boost the growth of the market over the forecast period. Several companies are making considerable investments to integrate artificial intelligence competencies into their portfolio of products. For instance, in 2016, SK Telecom and Intel Corporation signed an agreement for the development of the artificial intelligence-based vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology as well as video recognition.

For More Information About Artificial Intelligence Market @ https://www.polarismarketresearch.com/industry-analysis/artificial-intelligence-market/request-for-customization
disruption

He Disrupted The Travel Industry; Now He Advises Others On Surviving Disruption

When Terry Jones began his business career as a travel agent 50 years ago, he booked his first reservation by telegram, making him feel as if he had time traveled to the Old West.

“My boss was a Luddite who refused to consider upgrading even to a teletype machine, which were in widespread use at the time,” Jones says.

It was a humble beginning for a man who would someday use technology to disrupt the entire travel industry and, as founder of Travelocity.com and co-founder of Kayak.com, dramatically change how we make travel plans.

These days, Jones talks a lot about disruption, not only as it applied to what he did with online travel booking, but also how all companies are at risk of being disrupted right out of business if they don’t adapt to changing times and changing technology.

Jones shares his thoughts on the subject in his new book Disruption OFF: The Technological Disruption Coming for Your Company and What to Do About It (www.tbjones.com).

That subtitle might make “disruption” sound foreboding – and rightly so – but Jones says within every disruption exists a silver lining of opportunity.

“You call it disruption, I call it innovation,” he says.

In other words, those competitors who upend the business landscape do so by being innovators and risk-takers, something that becomes anathema for too many large corporations that choose caution overexposing themselves to potential loss.

But caution, Jones says, can be the riskiest business move of all.

“You may be afraid to disrupt your organization because you’re afraid it will fail,” he says. “The irony is, your organization will fail if you do not disrupt it.”

Indeed, there exists a mounting casualty rate of once profitable companies that saw their market share dwindle as daring, savvy and previously unheard of competitors emerged to claim their thrones.

Blockbuster, Kodak, Radio Shack and Borders are among those that fell prey to changing times and advancing technology over the last decade. Blockbuster famously turned down an opportunity to buy a small, niche business that rented DVDs to customers by mail. Blockbuster executives failed to recognize the seemingly insignificant Netflix as a disrupter in-waiting.

“It’s unlikely your largest competitors will be your undoing,” Jones says. “The problem is those 5,000 to 6,000 new startups per year that are attacking the traditional world. You need to put their ideas to work and become a disrupter yourself.”

Not every corporate juggernaut ends up tossed on the business ash heap, though.

“There are a surprising number of 100-year-old companies out there,” Jones says. “And most of the ones I’ve talked to seem to have mastered the ability to shed their old skin and renew themselves when required, often quite painfully.”

One that gets a mention in Jones’ book is American Express, founded in 1850 not as a financial services company but as an express shipping business. For more than a century and a half, the company has proven itself open to change and innovation, and it boasts on its website that it has developed many new digital tools and continues to enhance its digital offerings.

“Your company may currently be strong and it may be run by intelligent executives,” Jones says. “But the question is: Are you adaptable enough to change? Even more importantly, are you proactively preparing for change? If so, you and your company are more likely to survive and maybe even thrive.”

_________________________________________________________________

Terry Jones (www.tbjones.com), founder of Travelocity.com and founding chairman of Kayak.com, is author of the new book Disruption OFF: The Technological Disruption Coming for Your Company and What to Do About It. For the last 15 years he’s been speaking and consulting with companies on innovation and disruption. Jones began his career as a travel agent, jumped to two startups and then spent 20 years at American Airlines, serving in a variety of management positions including Chief Information Officer. While at American he led the team that created Travelocity.com, served as CEO for six years, and took the company public. After Travelocity he served as Chairman of Kayak for seven years until it was sold to Priceline for $1.8 billion.

logistics

Global Trade’s Annual Logistics Planning Guide Reveals the Year’s Top Trends

Sometimes buying your business into the latest trends isn’t the best idea. Saddled with high costs and incompatible programs, trendy new technology can often make business processes more difficult for your business, not less. But there are some industries where the latest really can be the greatest, and one of those industries is the logistics industry.

Let’s face it: Logistics make the world go round. Whether it’s shipping perishables to community markets or lifesaving machinery to medical clinics, there’s a lot riding on the shoulders of logistics providers. That’s why it often pays to rely on cutting-edge technology. From tracking and tracing to locating items in your warehouse, new technology can often get the job done faster and more accurately. Plus, with the growing e-commerce market, logistics is more important than ever before as businesses push to get their products into customers’ hands at the speed of retailers such as Amazon.

So, what’s on the horizon for the logistics industry this coming year? Here’s what’s on our radar—and should be on yours—for the best (and one troublesome) new innovations and trends in logistics in 2020.

LOGISTICS IT

When it comes to logistics, information technology (IT) may arguably be the most important innovation of 2020. That’s because without a solid tracking system in place you’re not only causing potential backlogs for your workers, but you could be causing frustration for your clients, too. After all, if your customer can’t see where their merchandise is in the supply chain, they may bring their business to someone else who can. This is where an excellent Warehouse Management System (WMS) comes in. Using RFID and GPS, warehouse management systems can now monitor and trace every piece of inventory in your warehouse, providing real-time data to both you and your customer.

Other systems expected to be used with increased frequency in the new year include order entry systems and transportation management systems (TMS).

But logistics IT isn’t just what the customer sees, or even what your employees interact with. It goes well beyond that. Logistics IT also encompasses the back end of your IT solutions—not just the IT product itself but also the customer support that goes along with it.

We all know the logistics industry doesn’t just run from nine to five. When there’s a problem like a software bug or outage, is your IT provider available to offer technical support when you need it? Does your provider strive to make software updates that are meaningful to your business, and that integrate seamlessly into your other systems? Does your provider notify you when there are new versions of your system that could benefit your business? These are all signs of a good IT provider—a trend you definitely don’t want to miss the boat (or train, plane or truck!) on.

Logistics providers are using the latest technology, such as Collaborative Planning, Forecasting and Replenishment (CPFR) and Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI), to satisfy ever-changing customer requirements. DHL Express introduced a fresh TC55 technology that works on the Android platform and is simple to use, as well as the navigation skills in the global positioning system (GPS).

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND MACHINE LEARNING

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is another way technology is streamlining the logistics industry. Currently, the biggest benefit of AI is arguably its ability to automate many of the processes logistics providers provide every day, including repetitive tasks that exhaust human capital and don’t challenge workers. Though many workers worry that AI will someday replace human workers, currently the technology is actually assisting them.

Another use for AI in the logistics industry relates to the driving of vehicles. As many are aware, initiatives from companies like Google have in recent years invested time and resources into developing self-driving cars, i.e. autonomous vehicles. These vehicles may be manned by a human driver, but they allow the driver to take breaks from driving while still traveling. This in turn gets deliveries to their destinations quicker, a fact that is projected to save logistics providers a lot of money. In fact, according to Mckinsey, autonomous vehicles could save logistics providers up to 45 percent, a savings providers can then pass along to their clients. These savings could then be passed to the consumer in the form of lower prices or lower shipping rates.

ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS LOGISTICS

With many seaports developing green initiatives and land- and air-based logistics providers initiating a greater push for a reduced carbon footprint, 2020 is set to be a big year for reducing carbon emissions. Some land-based initiatives include more efficient route mapping, video conferencing and net-zero emissions.

Route mapping works by eliminating excess travel on longer routes. The idea is that a more direct route cuts fuel waste as well as carbon emissions. Video conferencing saves both money and the need for travel to meetings. As for net zero emissions, many logistics providers are investing in low or zero-emission vehicles and alternative fuels that emit less carbon into the air.

Logistics companies with warehousing services are also increasing their push toward a lower carbon footprint, using sustainable packaging and ramping up recycling efforts with the packing, shipping and packaging of products.

Maritime initiatives include the restoration and protection of wetlands as well as the planting of trees at some ports. Strategies also include the use of more efficient photosensitive lighting, such as the switch to LED lighting. Some ports have even switched over to the use of electric equipment instead of diesel fuel equipment, the establishment of fuel efficient requirements for ships which frequent the port and much more.

BLOCKCHAIN

If you’re in the logistics world, you’ve likely been hearing about blockchain for several years now. But what is it? Simply put, blockchain is a way of recording data which cannot be altered, using a technology called cryptology. Blockchain data is nearly unchangeable. The “chain” in blockchain refers to the chain of messages that originate from a single entry. To edit the chain, all members who posted to the chain must be willing to alter their own data to support the potentially edited data. This reduces the risk of that data being falsified or otherwise compromised along the way.

Blockchain data can be used to do everything from order tracking to payment issues. Blockchain also streamlines the way we communicate, reducing the need for time-consuming paperwork. Blockchain works in real-time, so shippers can trace every detail of their shipment as it progresses and make necessary adjustments to their route and load temperatures as needed. This can save time and money, preventing delays or rejected shipments.

Blockchain can also aid in financial decisions regarding fleet vehicles. Similar to a Carfax report, blockchain can show whether a pre-owned logistics vehicle has been maintained as well as the previous owner claims, and can help the potential buyer make decisions that could cost them—or save them—significantly down both the literal and figurative roads.

Indeed, blockchain has become so big that an organization has been founded to monitor the industry. The Blockchain in Transport Alliance, or BiTa, was founded to help advance the Bitchain industry, developing rules and regulations and providing education for new and veteran Bitchain users. The organization already boasts an impressive member list, including representatives of UPS and FedEx.

TECHNOMAX

In the maritime sector of the logistics industry, one revolutionary service that is “making waves” is TechnoMax, or TMX. TechnoMax works to streamline maritime operations by working with AI and the Internet of Things (IoT). The system provides risk and compliance data, app development, infrastructure development and data management. Some of TechnoMax’s capabilities include monitoring a ship’s emissions, analyzing cargo information and guiding navigation.

TRADE TARIFFS

Now for some bad news. With trade deals between the United States and China again delayed, there remains a lot of uncertainty among retailers and manufacturers. Though there is no crystal ball to predict the future or what it holds for these industries, the potential for raised prices on goods is of big concern. Price increases would inevitably be passed down to consumers, who could cut out or cut back on goods, causing sales to plummet. This could in turn negatively impact the logistics industry, as fewer products will be warehoused and transported.

For now, the industry seems to be holding its own, with some businesses preparing for the looming tariffs by shipping larger amounts now to avoid elevated costs later. Whether this bulking up will cause a dramatic drop in shipments in the first few months of 2020 remains to be seen.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

All things considered, 2020 seems to be gearing up to be a great year for the logistics industry, with many new technological and environmental advances on the horizon. From AI to blockchain, the industry is poised to become more efficient than ever, saving providers money which they can pass along to their clients, and in turn potentially to the consumer.

Even with the potential for steep tariffs on China (and vice versa) on the horizon, these positive advances should still make an impact on the industry in the coming year and decade.

production

The Countries Leading the Way in the Future of Production

The First Industrial Revolution dates back to the 18th century, with the manufacturing and production process evolving significantly to improve efficiency. Since then, the world has gone through a series of changes with the present-day seeing us in full swing of the world’s Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

Using data from the World Economic Forum’s ‘Readiness for the Future of Production’ report, RS Components have taken a look at the countries that are leading the way when it comes to driving production forward. The six main drivers are ‘Technology & Innovation’, ‘Human Capital’, ‘Global Trade & Investment’, ‘Institutional Framework’, ‘Sustainable Resources’, and ‘Demand Environment’. See how each country compares when it comes to being ready to produce more products, technologies, and goods here.

The 21st century is a truly digital age, with technology now intertwined and cemented into both our personal and professional lives. Over the last two decades, in particular, technology has become increasingly advanced and has seen the emergence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Complicated and impressive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, genetic engineering, and quantum computing have all emerged and are being used across the globe in a variety of industries, businesses and processes.

As a result of the new technological age, the speed, efficiency, and accuracy of production levels have improved astronomically, with less room for human error as machinery takes over, making production levels much faster and hassle-free.  

With the rise of these advancements, it is important for countries and businesses across all industries to be tapping into these changes to keep up with the future of production. But which countries are leading the way?

RS Components have produced a graphic analyzing data from the World Economic Forum’s Readiness for the Future of Production report, to reveal the countries leading the way when it comes to driving production forward. With each country analyzed by a series of metrics including global trade and investment, institutional framework, sustainable resources, demand environment, and emerging technologies, the top 10 countries leading production levels forward have been scored out of 10.

The top 10 countries driving the future of production include:

The US takes the crown as the leading country in the world driving the future of production forward. Scoring at the top of the leaderboard across all metrics excluding Sustainable Resources and Institutional Framework, the US holds an overall score of 8.16 out of 10. The US is renowned for its innovation and holds an advanced, connected and secure technological platform that allows production to drive forward in the most efficient way possible.

Singapore ranks as the second country driving the future of production and the UK sits at fourth place with a score of 7.84. Singapore sits as one of the world’s leading chemical manufacturing sites, with over 100 global petroleum, petrochemical and specialty chemical companies situated on 12 square miles of land. Singapore today sits as the world’s fifth-largest refinery export hub and amongst the top 10 global chemical hubs by export volume. Involved in these systems includes advancements in manufacturing from robots, to predictive analytics and artificial intelligence. Singapore, like the US, is a key driver in testing, experimenting and trialing the latest technologies. In addition, manufacturing continues to contribute around 20% to Singapore’s GDP.

The importance of having the right technological foundations 

In order for production levels to thrive, it is crucial that technological foundations are cemented in supply chains across the globe. For example, in a warehouse, the speed and availability of the internet is crucial when the Internet of Things is being adopted on the factory floor. In addition, it is also greatly important for businesses and industries to have strong, connected cybersecurity systems to ensure digital security is maintained to a high standard. Having the technological foundations of this, like the US, allows the nation to drive forward technologies to increase production levels.

In addition, in order to ensure these new innovations are implemented effectively, it is crucial that employees have a good understanding of the technology they are interacting with on a daily basis, as the skills required of workers will evolve with the new advancements.

Combined, industries and countries will be able to adapt rapidly emerging technologies into their production lives, which will have a global impact on both businesses and consumers across the world.

trade

Laboring for Trade

Labor provisions are an increasingly important feature in trade agreements. But do they work?

How countries treat their workers might seem unconnected to the movement of goods and services across national borders. Yet in many trade negotiations, a trading partner’s labor standards are an increasingly important concern.

The fate of the pending United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), for instance, hinged for months on bipartisan support for the pact’s provisions around labor. In fact, the Trump Administration made major efforts to woo organized labor and ultimately secured the support of the AFL-CIO, thereby ensuring the agreement’s passage through the Democratically-controlled House.

But despite the attention paid to labor provisions in trade deals like USMCA, domestic policy, not trade agreements, might be the most direct – and most effective – way to improve workers’ lot, especially in advanced countries like the United States. As important as labor provisions have become to trade agreements, available research points to a mixed record on their impacts.

More and more common in trade agreements

Trade and labor standards have been linked concerns since at least the 19th century, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). As early as the mid-1800s, European social activists were agitating for international labor norms such as an eight-hour workday and the abolition of forced labor. By the end of the century, countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand had passed laws banning the import of products made by prisoners.

But it wasn’t until the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993 that trade agreements explicitly addressed labor (technically the 1947 Havana Charter contained an article on Fair Labour Standards but did not go into effect). NAFTA included the first side agreement on labor standards, the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), which established a system of “cooperative activities” that the United States, Mexico and Canada agreed to undertake together to improve worker treatment.

The floodgates opened after NAFTA. In 1996, the World Trade Organization (WTO) adopted The Singapore Ministerial Declaration, embodying a new global consensus on trade and labor. Among other things, the Declaration included a commitment to international core labor standards while rejecting the use of labor standards for “protectionist purposes.”

Today, labor provisions are increasingly de rigeur in trade deals. By the ILO’s count, 77 trade agreements negotiated globally in 2016 included labor provisions, compared to just three in 1995. Overall, says the ILO, more than a quarter of global trade pacts reached in 2016 – 28.8 percent – addressed labor standards in some way.

 

# ageements with L provisions text

Rationale for labor provisions

Proponents of labor standards in trade agreements cite several justifications for including these provisions. The first is moral: Trade agreements set the rules for international trade, and the inclusion of labor standards reinforces the social and human rights norms valued by the international community. Some argue that rich countries like the United States have a particular duty to use their leverage and buying power to raise standards in developing nations.

Another rationale is economic. As the ILO notes, “[L]abour provisions are tools against unfair competition, the main idea being that violations of labour standards can distort competitiveness (‘social dumping’) and should be addressed in a manner similar to that employed against other unfair trading practices.” In particular, labor standards arguably prevent a “race to the bottom,” where countries compete to produce ever-cheaper goods by shortchanging their workers. Some U.S. advocates further argue that labor standards can level the field between workers in competing countries, potentially stemming the tide of offshoring from wealthier countries to lower-paying ones and protecting domestic jobs. (More on this argument below.)

A third rationale for these provisions is political. Labor provisions, especially in the United States, have become a powerful bargaining chip for competing interests, as the USMCA and other trade agreements have shown. The strength of a trade pact’s labor provisions has also become a proxy for the “fair” trade that the public increasingly wants to see; trade deals might be more likely to win public approval if its advocates can tout “tough” labor provisions that purport to protect U.S. jobs.

ILO chart of provisions in agreements

Carrots, sticks and helping hands

While becoming increasingly complex, labor provisions tend to fall into several basic categories. First, so-called “promotional” provisions aim to encourage countries to raise labor standards by defining a set of commitments and detailing a variety of “cooperative” activities countries might do to discuss, implement and monitor these obligations.

For instance, in the CAFTA-DR agreement involving the United States, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, the United States agreed to finance an array of “capacity building” activities aimed at improving countries’ infrastructure around workers’ rights. These projects, according to the ILO, included “increasing workers’ awareness of their labour rights, increasing the budget and equipment of labour ministries and labour judiciaries, training labour officials, and setting up centres providing legal assistance to workers.”

While these types of provisions could be considered “carrots,” agreements can also include “sticks” in the form of “conditional” provisions requiring a trading partner to meet certain obligations before a deal is ratified. The United States’ trade agreement with Morocco, for instance, required Morocco to raise its minimum working age from 12 to 15 and to lower the maximum number of hours in its workweek from 48 to 44 as a precondition to ratification.

Text graphic weak enforcement criticism of NAFTA

Other “sticks” include provisions calling for sanctions if a country’s commitments aren’t met and specifying the mechanisms for policing and enforcement. Among the processes detailed would be who is entitled to file a complaint and how disputes will be settled (e.g, through arbitration). Among the chief complaints of NAFTA’s critics was weak enforcement, which is one reason why this issue became a major sticking point in negotiations over NAFTA’s successor, the USMCA. For instance, while more than 40 labor complaints were filed under NAFTA, none have so far led to sanctions, a result that many labor advocates wanted to see remedied.

Impacts on workers’ conditions and on trade flows

Research on the impacts of labor provisions in trade agreements is relatively scant. For one thing, measuring the direct impacts of these provisions on workers’ circumstances is hard to do. What research there is, however, shows that labor provisions can benefit workers in developing countries, especially if they have the support of wealthier trading partners in building capacity for creating and implementing reforms.

In a 2017 survey of existing research, the ILO found that labor provisions in trade agreements can provide a modest boost to workforce participation in some countries, particularly among women, and even help ease the gender gap in wages. According to the ILO, the average workforce participation rates in countries subject to labor provisions is about 1.6 percentage points higher than in countries without such obligations. “One possible explanation for this effect is that labour provision-related policy dialogue and awareness-raising can influence people’s expectations of better working conditions, which in turn increase their willingness to enter the labour force,” says the ILO.

In certain circumstances, conditional labor provisions can dramatically benefit workers. In Cambodia, for instance, according to the ILO, labor provisions included in the Cambodia–United States Bilateral Textile Agreement helped reduce the gender gap in Cambodia’s textile sector by as much as 80 percent between 1999 and 2004. “These results are partly due to the incentive structure of the agreement, which tied export quotas to compliance with labour standards, but also to a monitoring programme (Better Factories Cambodia) that was implemented with the support of the ILO and backed by the social partners,” the ILO found.

What the evidence does not show is that higher labor standards in developing countries dampens the flow of trade by raising the price of goods produced. In fact, research shows the opposite – countries subject to labor provisions often see a slight increase in their exports. According to a 2017 analysis by the World Trade Organization (WTO), labor provisions can benefit low-income countries by “increas[ing] demand for products by concerned consumers” in richer countries, thereby leading to more trade. (Consider, for instance, the growing consumer demand for “fair trade” coffee.) Similarly, the ILO finds that countries entering trade agreements with labor provisions see a slightly greater increase in the value of trade compared to countries without such provisions.

L provisions no substitute for domestic action

Both the WTO and ILO analyses caution, however, that the countries seeing the biggest impacts on their workers also enjoyed strong domestic support for labor reforms. While entering a trade agreement with labor provisions might have helped catalyze important shifts in domestic policy, the agreements themselves are no substitute for domestic action. In fact, in places where domestic enthusiasm for labor market reforms are weak, the impacts of labor provisions have been minimal.

One case in point is Guatemala, where the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan trade unions filed a complaint in 2008 alleging that Guatemala was failing its obligations under CAFTA-DR. After nine years of procedural and other delays, an arbitration panel convened under the auspices of CAFTA-DR in Guatemala failed to find that Guatemala had breached its obligations under the agreement, despite the lack of progress on systemic reforms and widespread reports of anti-union violence.

No replacement for domestic policy

The inclusion of robust labor provisions in trade agreements reinforces international norms for just worker treatment. It can also promote much-needed reforms in nations with weak standards and help protect workers from exploitation.

Wealthy countries should not, however, count on labor provisions in trade agreements as a principal mechanism for protecting domestic jobs.

For one thing, as we’ve written elsewhere on this site, companies’ decisions about where to put their factories depends on many factors other than the cost of labor, such as proximity to markets, intellectual property protections, tax and regulatory considerations, and the skill of the workforce. Second, labor provisions in trade agreements are, at best, a highly indirect way of leveling the playing field between workers from one country to another. Third and most significantly, the biggest future threat to a worker’s job might not be a lower-paid worker in a maquila but a robot.

While apocalyptic forecasts of automation’s impacts are no doubt overblown, there’s little question that advances in automation will prove immensely disruptive in coming decades. For instance, one 2018 analysis by Price Waterhouse Cooper predicts that nearly 40 percent of U.S. jobs could be susceptible to automation by 2030.

Ultimately, the best protection for workers are domestic policies that prepare workers for disruption and smooth their transition in the event of displacement. These policies can include better and more robust adjustment assistance for displaced workers; bigger government investments in career and technical education, particularly for incumbent workers; greater coordination among governments, businesses and schools so that workers have the right skills to fill gaps in the workforce; and increased public support for research into innovations that will lead to more jobs.

This is not to say that the energy spent on negotiating labor provisions in trade agreements isn’t time well-spent. What policymakers and the public need to know is what these provisions can — and can’t — do.

__________________________________________________________________

Anne Kim

Anne Kim is a contributing editor to Washington Monthly and the author of Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection, forthcoming in 2020 from the New Press. Her writings on economic opportunity, social policy, and higher education have appeared in numerous national outlets, including the Washington Monthly, the Washington Post, Governing and Atlantic.com, among others. She is a veteran of the think tanks the Progressive Policy Institute and Third Way as well as of Capitol Hill, where she worked for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN). Anne has a law degree from Duke University and a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

AI

Ethics And AI: Are We Ready For The Rise Of Artificial Intelligence?

No job in the United States has seen more hiring growth in the last five years than artificial-intelligence specialist, a position dedicated to building AI systems and figuring out where to implement them.

But is that career growth happening at a faster rate than our ability to address the ethical issues involved when machines make decisions that impact our lives and possibly invade our privacy?

Maybe so, says Dr. Steven Mintz (www.stevenmintzethics.com), author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior.

“Rules of the road are needed to ensure that artificial intelligence systems are designed in an ethical way and operate based on ethical principles,” he says. “There are plenty of questions that need to be addressed. What are the right ways to use AI? How can AI be used to foster fairness, justice and transparency? What are the implications of using AI for productivity and performance evaluation?”

Those who take jobs in this growing field will need to play a pivotal role in helping to work out those ethical issues, he says, and already there is somewhat of a global consensus about what should be the ethical principles in AI.

Those principles include:

Transparency. People affected by the decisions a machine makes should be allowed to know what goes into that decision-making process.

Non-maleficence. Never cause foreseeable or unintentional harm using AI, including discrimination, violation of privacy, or bodily harm.

Justice. Monitor AI to prevent or reduce bias. How could a machine be biased? A recent National Law Review article gave this hypothetical example: A financially focused AI might decide that people whose names end in vowels are a high credit risk. That could negatively affect people of certain ethnicities, such as people of Italian or Japanese descent.

Responsibility. Those involved in developing AI systems should be held accountable for their work.

Privacy. An ethical AI system promotes privacy both as a value to uphold and a right to be protected.

Mintz points to one recent workplace survey that examined the views of employers and employees in a number of countries with respect to AI ethics policies, potential misuse, liability, and regulation.

“More than half of the employers questioned said their companies do not currently have a written policy on the ethical use of AI or bots,” Mintz says. “Another 21 percent expressed a concern that companies could use AI in an unethical manner.”

Progress is being made on some fronts, though.

In Australia, five major companies are involved in a trial run of eight principles developed as part of the government AI Ethics Framework. The idea behind the principles is to ensure that AI systems benefit individuals, society and the environment; respect human rights; don’t discriminate; and uphold privacy rights and data protection.

Mintz says the next step in the U.S. should be for the business community likewise to work with government agencies to identify ethical AI principles.

“Unfortunately,” he says, “it seems the process is moving slowly and needs a nudge by technology companies, most of whom are directly affected by the ethical use of AI.”

_________________________________________________________

Dr. Steven Mintz (www.stevenmintzethics.com), author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior, has frequently commented on ethical issues in society and business ethics. His Workplace Ethics Advice blog has been recognized as one of the top 30 in corporate social responsibility. He also has served as an expert witness on ethics matters. Dr. Mintz spent almost 40 years of his life in academia. He has held positions as a chair in Accounting at San Francisco State University and Texas State University. He was the Dean of the College of Business and Public Administration at Cal State University, San Bernardino. He recently retired as a Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo.

machine learning

How Machine Learning Is Transforming Supply Chain Management

Supply chain management is a complicated business. A lack of synchronization or one missing entity can interrupt the entire chain and result in millions in losses.

In a market environment where businesses are continually striving to cut costs, increase profits, and enhance customer experience, disruptive technologies like machine learning offer a window of opportunity. By exploiting the enormous amount of real-time data and leveraging the cloud power, it improves decision making, process automation, and optimization. It can create an entire machine intelligence-powered supply chain model. It also helps companies improve insights, mitigate risks, and enhance performance, all of which are crucial as the global supply chain war wages on.

Gartner recently announced that innovative technologies like blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI)/machine learning would significantly disrupt existing supply chain operating models. In addition to advanced analytics and Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning is considered one of the high-benefit technologies. This is because it allows dynamic shifts across industries and enables efficient processes that result in significant revenue gains or cost savings. 

So, it is no surprise then that, in another industry update, Gartner predicted that at least 50% of global companies would be using AI-related transformational technologies in supply chain operations by 2023.

There are three key ways in which these transformational technologies empower businesses:

Monitoring: By connecting equipment, products, and vehicles with IoT sensors, companies can monitor goods and operations in real time.

Analyzing: Advanced analytics convert data into actionable insights and help businesses understand the reason behind specific incidents and how they impact the business.

Acting: Valuable insights as a result of data crunching help businesses address planning challenges and automate processes to improve efficiency.

So, adopting machine learning in supply chains is critical for companies to stay competitive in the long run. However, what aspects of the supply chain will be impacted by machine learning? Let us find out.

A Myriad of Benefits to Supply Chains

If you get the algorithms right, the benefits of using machine learning are innumerable. The algorithms can predict supply trends based on human behavior, resulting in personalized customer service with lower inventories and better utilization of resources. We take a look at several such benefits of machine learning below.

Brings Real-Time Visibility Which Improves Customer Experience

According to a Statista survey, visibility is a significant organizational challenge for 21% of supply chain professionals. Visibility has been a buzzword in supply chain circles for more than a decade now and every technology so far has promised to improve visibility in some way. But, is machine learning contributing anything here? 

The combination of IoT, deep analytics, and real-time monitoring is improving supply chain visibility, helping businesses achieve delivery commitments and transforming the customer experience. By examining historical data from various sources, machine learning workflows discover complex interconnections between various processes along the value chain.

Amazon is a prime example as it is using machine learning to enhance its customer experience by gaining an understanding of how product recommendations influence customers’ store visits.

Cuts Costs and Reduces Response Times

As per Amazon’s regulatory filing in 2017, their shipping costs increased from $11.5 billion in 2015 to $21.7 billion in 2017. And, it’s not just Amazon. Many other players are struggling because of rising shipping costs. In fact, in one survey, more than 24% of supply chain professionals expressed that delivery costs are the biggest challenge for B2C companies.

By applying machine learning to handle demand-to-supply imbalances and trigger automated responses, businesses can improve the customer experience, while minimizing costs. Operational and administrative costs can also be reduced by integrating freight and warehousing processes and improving connectivity with logistics service providers.

Machine learning algorithms’ ability to analyze and self-learn from historic delivery records and real-time data helps managers and dispatchers optimize the route for each vehicle. This allows them to save costs, reduce driving time, and increase productivity. 

Machine learning can also be used to detect issues in the supply chain before they disrupt the business. Having an effective supply chain forecasting system means a business has the intelligence to respond to emerging threats. And, the faster a business can respond to problems, the more effective the response will be.

Streamlines Production Planning and Identifies Demand Patterns

When it comes to machine learning’s role in optimizing complex supply chains, production planning is just the tip of the iceberg.

Sophisticated algorithms are trained on existing production data in such a way that they start identifying future buying, customers’ ordering behavior, and possible areas of waste. This helps businesses tailor production and transport processes to actual demand as well as improve their relationships with specific customers.

For example, by anticipating and acting on the specific needs of your customers before they even arise, businesses can establish themselves as reputed brands capable of recognizing customer needs. 

There is so much volatility in global supply chains that it will be challenging to forecast demand accurately, without technologies like machine learning. However, reaping the full benefits of machine learning might take years. So, businesses should plan for the future and start taking advantage of the machine learning solutions available today.

Investing in machine learning and the related technologies today means increased profitability and more resources for your business tomorrow. Businesses that can use machine learning in their supply chains will have better plans, resulting in less “firefighting” and fewer inefficiencies.

 

FinTech

FinTech: 5 Automation Trends That Are Impacting the Industry Right Now

The FinTech industry is rapidly moving toward automation as a source of efficiency. The move to specific tools and software programs increases speed and accuracy of processes. It also keeps employers on their toes as they need to quickly evolve and learn. Many of these programs previously required specialized training and adaptability.
Automation helps with repetitive procedures and simplifies complicated tasks. It increases accuracy and safety measures, while minimizing human error. Expectations indicate that the FinTech industry will extend its tech integration significantly over the next four years.


Here are 5 automation trends that are impacting the Fintech industry right now:

1. Human Resources Management: This used to be one of the least automated components, but now software like Workday and 15Five are building platforms to assist workflow with related systems that support employee management. Finance companies increasingly recognize that their people are the most valuable resource and need to be managed more thoughtfully as well as efficiently.

2. Mobile: Finance companies now consider mobile oriented tech as part of the core work-flow. The industry relies heavily on its ability to get work done efficiently. FinTech continues to utilize software which speeds up communication and productivity. Mobile used to be considered a security risk by the financial industry. Now it is considered a way to enhance productivity as well as provide more flexible workflow for employees.

3. Customer Support: More automation is taking over customer service. This support has advanced tremendously with certain software programs that include internal systems to support customers. Software systems such as Fresh Desk and Zen Desk are cutting down on the head count needed for customer service departments in some companies. But more importantly these new systems are improving the customer experience and the lives of the people working in those departments.

4. Billing/Invoicing: Payments systems like Stripe, invoicing and billing systems like Freshbooks, and more advanced ERP systems Netsuite are examples of programs that continue to reinvent the way FinTech is automating business functions. Although many companies are still at least partially stuck in the past of creating manual invoices and payments, these automated systems are increasingly taking over. Both the customer and the vendor win with greater automation in this area. Vendors cut costs and get paid faster. Customers benefit from this greater efficiency of vendors with lower prices or higher value delivered for their purchases.

5. Accounting: Xendoo, Zoho, Quicken online and other systems automate are automating the accounting, bookkeeping, and tax filing functions of businesses. Traditional accounting software, and human bookkeepers and accountants, still have an important role to play in this area, but the accounting business is rapidly changing as well due to technology. The number of people involved with these activities is likely to shrink dramatically as automation takes over more of these functions. Ultimately businesses and their customers will benefit from this via lower operating costs that allow for better value to be delivered rather than spent on administrative functions like accounting.

It is crucial for companies of all sizes to be knowledgeable about this trend and keep their business updated as automation continues to reinvent Fintech industry jobs. You have to be able to adapt quickly to these changes. Our previous ideas and habits of doing business are changing, and we have to keep up with those changes or be left behind by competitors who will adapt more quickly

Automation is impacting Fintech employees in a variety of complex ways so it’s critical for employees to have a greater understanding of and training on different software systems to ensure they keep up with the automation and benefit from it rather than viewing it as a potential threat to their jobs. There is no way to stop technology. All of us need to work hard to stay on the right side of its inevitable progress.