Retail Giant Target Secretly Sneaks Into the Blockchain Space

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by Janis Rijnieks · 3 min read
Retail Giant Target Secretly Sneaks Into the Blockchain Space
Photo: Target / Instagram

Target, the eighth largest retailer in the US, has been working on a blockchain-powered solution for supply chain management. The project called ConsenSource helps to verify whether products are sourced sustainably from certified factories.

Since about mid-2018, Target has been working on a blockchain project called ConsenSource which they recently open-sourced. ConsenSource runs on Hyperledger Sawtooth which is an enterprise blockchain platform.

Now, they have opened a new vacancy for a blockchain engineer and systems developer. In the job description, Target writes that the new blockchain engineer will have the chance to contribute to the open-source project ConsenSource as well as the opportunity to develop the Hyperledger Grid effort. 

Hyperledger Grid

Hyperledger Grid is “a supply chain-centric middleware platform for interfacing with distributed ledger databases,” reads the job description. Recently Hyperledger Grid was acknowledged by Cargill, Intel, and Bitwise IO.

Hyperledger Grid provides an ecosystem of reusable, open-source digital tools that developers can work with to build products, prototypes, and applications that address supply-chain use cases, including traceability, food safety, trade settlement and more.

Now, when Target joins the club, it looks like we are up for a large blockchain-powered supply chain with the largest cooperations in the world developing and eventually using it. This is massive for blockchain adoption.

“I’m proud that Target will support the Hyperledger Grid project, and that we’re committing dedicated engineering resources to build out components in the Grid architecture,” said Joel Crabb, the vice president of architecture.

Target’s Secret Blockchain Entry

Why secret? It’s not like they intentionally hid something it’s more how careful they were entering this industry. First, in 2016, they hired a director of product management for personalization, machine learning, and blockchain, Aarthi Srinivasan. He had also worked for JPMorgan and IBM.

After that, in 2018, a source from Hyperledger, who wanted to stay anonymous, told journalists that Target is working on a supply chain product and they are involved in the open-source Hyperledger consortium. The source also said that Target would join the Sawtooth Supply Chain project. However, Emily Fisher from the Linux Foundation, which oversees Hyperledger, explained that Target is not a member of Hyperledger, but has made some code contributions.

Why would someone want to stay anonymous? Only if there is a specific deal between parties to not to disclose any information on the subject. So you could call this a secretive entry into the blockchain space.

Another thing is that in their annual report to shareholders, Target specified that they are investing in supply chain improvements. However, the message they shared, mentioned neither blockchain nor DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology):

“The company is in the process of a broad migration of many mainframe-based systems and middleware products to a modern platform, including systems supporting inventory and supply chain-related transactions.”

What’s the main intention for this decision not to use the specific terminology? Maybe they’re scared to use these words because they are often associated with cryptocurrencies, high volatility, and speculation?

Nevertheless, the Sawtooth project is actively being developed with 5000 commits from 46 contributors on GitHub. The Sawtooth codebase was contributed to Hyperledger by Intel. It is the main alternative to Fabric, currently the best-known Hyperledger implementation which was developed by IBM. FoodTrust, a project run by IBM and Walmart, is using Fabric in a food tracking network. Also, Target along with Cargill is developing an identity verification technology. 

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