Isn’t it odd that our products are deaf and dumb? They can’t tell you anything about themselves, you have to ask their spokesperson. Was this vehicle stolen? Ask the police. Have the taxes been paid? Ask the tax authority. What materials have been used for its production and how do I recycle it? Ask the manufacturer (who likely can’t tell you). To untangle all information from an object or product, you need to ask a dozen or more organizations. Each entity with its own customer service, data architecture, and (lack of) data standards. All holding different states of the world and – sometimes literally – speaking different languages. Duplicatory, inefficient and unconnected.
People can reveal information about themselves, but somehow products can’t. At least, not yet.
A copernican revolution
So how do we unlock information from products? Or, as we like to suggestively ask Warren Brandeis, “what if this jacket could talk?”. The concept is simple (but not easy), and requires a shift in thinking. Product information and provenance should be available at the product level, not locked in silos across the globe. Call it a Copernican revolution, with information orbiting around products rather than the product information orbiting around a multitude of organizations.
This shift in thinking, called a decentralized product passport, means less fraud, more efficiency and less hassle. How? Let’s look at the concept and some practical examples.
A single source of truth without a single source
A product passport is a place where all data around an object is kept. Organizations and people can read and write to the passport based on their rights. Data points follow the same format, they “speak the same language”. With a decentralized architecture, information can be stored tamper-evident and a provenance trail is built “automatically”. An object can contain unverified and verified data (“a verifiable credential”). The latter is verified by or added by a trusted entity such as the government. Data sovereignty is built-in, you can always see and control who accesses what data. Above all, data points are tamper-proof, providing a trustworthy foundation. With this basis, it is obvious to see that automated and algorithmic actions can be connected to the object. This can even mean that the object makes decisions autonomously – for example, an EV can drive itself to the garage to get its periodic check and even pay for the transaction.
This shift, to a single source of truth without a single source, is not merely a nice-to-have, it is a building block – mind you: not a cure-all – in a shift toward much-needed changes. Providing, for example, the basis for true pricing (pricing in externalities such as emissions, land use, and resource depletion). Also setting up companies to comply with existing and upcoming regulations for example the CSRD and (upcoming) supply chain acts (such as the Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz and CSDD) and giving transparency to consumers about the truth of products.
How does this work in practice? Let us look at some examples.
Whilst investigating a specific process related to fraud around vehicles, we mapped the processes and the wider system. We found that the main leverage point was the establishment of the value of a vehicle, currently based on self-declaration. Vehicles have many data points related to them but they are locked in silos and not shared. Being able to (more) objectively establish the value of a vehicle using data and algorithms solves a big part of the problem.
The concept we created and are helping to further develop is a decentralized Vehicle Passport. The passport holds pointers to the data, but stays with specific organizations. The Vehicle Passport will also be able to hold credentials based on events in the lifetime of the vehicle. For example, the annual mandatory check of the car. The Vehicle Passport is owned and controlled by the owner of the vehicle and is handed over to the next owner in case the vehicle gets sold.
Passports do not only apply to products and people, also to entities. For a client we helped develop the concept of a company passport, the central question in this case was: how can we make establishing a company easier and fully digital? The main issue we found in the system was that the same information needs to be provided over and over again by the organization; by using the verification of one trusted party to be used by another party we simplify and speed up the process of setting up a company. The concept is currently being developed and will be rolled out in The Netherlands.
These are just two of the myriad of examples in which a decentralized product passport can fundamentally change an industry. Interested to know more? Reach out to us through www.warrenbrandeis.io or through our LinkedIn page.