IBM and shipping giant Maersk having been working together for the last year developing a blockchain-based shipping solution called TradeLens. Today they moved the project from Beta into limited availability. Marie Wieck, GM for IBM Blockchain says the product provides a way to digitize every step of the global trade workflow, transforming it into a real-time communication and visual data sharing tool. TradeLens was developed jointly by the two companies with IBM providing the underlying blockchain technology and Maersk bringing the worldwide shipping expertise. It involves three components: the blockchain, which provides a mechanism for tracking goods from factory or field to delivery, APIs for others to build new applications on top of the platform these two companies have built, and a set of standards to facilitate data sharing among the different entities in the workflow such as customs, ports and shipping companies. Wieck says the blockchain really changes how companies have traditionally tracked shipped goods. While many of the entities in the system have digitized the process, the data they have has been trapped in silos and previous attempts at sharing like EDI have been limited. The challenge is they tend to think of a linear flow and you really only have visibility one [level] up and one down in your value chain, she said. The blockchain provides a couple of obvious advantages over previous methods. For starters, she says its safer because data is distributed, making it much more secure with digital encryption built in. The greatest advantage though is the visibility it provides. Every participant can check any aspect of the flow in real time, or an auditor or other authority can easily track the entire process from start to finish by clicking on a block in the blockchain instead of requesting data from each entity manually. While she says it wont entirely prevent fraud, it does help reduce it by putting more eyeballs onto the process. If you had fraudulent data at start, blockchain wont help prevent that. What it does help with is that you have multiple people validating every data set and you get greater visibility when something doesnt look right, she said. As for the APIs, she sees the system becoming a shipping information platform. Developers can build on top of that, taking advantage of the data in the system to build even greater efficiencies. The standards help pull it together and align with APIs, such as providing a standard Bill of Lading. They are starting by incorporating existing industry standards, but are also looking for gaps that slow things down to add new standard approaches that would benefit everyone in the system. So far, the companies have 94 entities in 300 locations around the world using TradeLens including customs authorities, ports, cargo shippers and logistics companies. They are opening the program to limited availability today with the goal of a full launch by the end of this year. Wieck ultimately sees TradeLens as a way to facilitate trade by building in trust, the end of goal of any blockchain product. By virtue of already having an early adopter program, and having coverage of 300 trading locations around the world, it is a very good basis for the global exchange of information. And I personally think visibility creates trust, and that can help in a myriad of ways, she said.
Cargo shipping giant Maersk and IBM today announced TradeLens, a technology that applies blockchain to the global supply chain. TradeLens takes advantage of blockchain, the decentralized public ledger behind such tech as cryptocurrency — to enable global trade to be more efficient and secure. More than 94 companies and organizations are supporting the project in the name of transparency, information sharing, and innovation. Those 94 organizations are actively involved in or have agreed to participate in the TradeLens platform built on open standards as early adopters. The participants are made up of more than 20 port and terminal operators, including PSA Singapore, International Container Terminal Services Inc, Patrick Terminals, Modern Terminals in Hong Kong, Port of Halifax, Port of Rotterdam, Port of Bilbao, PortConnect, PortBase, terminal operators Holt Logistics at the Port of Philadelphia, and global APM Terminals network. That group covers 234 marine ports. Pacific International Lines (PIL) has joined Maersk Line and Hamburg Süd as global container carriers participating in the solution. Customs authorities in the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Australia, and Peru are participating, along with customs brokers Ransa and Güler & Dinamik. Cargo owners participating include Torre Blanca / Camposol and Umit Bisiklet. And participating freight forwarders include transportation and logistics companies such as Agility, CEVA Logistics, DAMCO, Kotahi, PLH Trucking Company, Ancotrans, and Shipco. TradeLens uses IBM blockchain technology as the foundation for digital supply chains, empowering multiple trading partners to collaborate by establishing a single shared view of a transaction without compromising details, privacy, or confidentiality. Shippers, shipping lines, freight forwarders, port and terminal operators, and inland transportation and customs authorities can interact more efficiently with real-time access to shipping data and shipping documents, including internet of things and sensor data ranging from temperature control to container weight. We believe blockchain can play an important role in digitizing global shipping, an area of the global economy that moves $4 trillion of goods every year, said Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president of IBMs global industries, solutions and blockchain, in a statement. However, success with the technology rests on a single factor — bringing the entire ecosystem together around a common approach that benefits all participants equally. Using blockchain smart contracts, TradeLens lets multiple parties engage in international trade. The trade document module, released under a beta program and called ClearWay, enables importers and exporters; customs brokers; trusted third parties, such as customs officials; other government agencies; and nonprofit groups to collaborate in cross-organizational business processes and information exchanges, all backed by a secure, non-repudiable audit trail. During a 12-month trial, Maersk and IBM worked with dozens of ecosystem partners to identify opportunities to prevent delays caused by documentation errors, information gaps, and other impediments. In one example, TradeLens reduced by 40 percent the transit time of a shipment of packaging materials to a production line in the United States. That avoided thousands of dollars in cost. Through better visibility and more efficient means of communicating, some supply chain participants estimate they could reduce the steps taken to answer basic operational questions such as Where is my container from 10 steps and five people to, with TradeLens, one step and one person. More than 154 million shipping events have been captured on the platform, including data such as arrival times of vessels and container gate-in, and documents such as customs releases, commercial invoices, and bills of lading. This data is growing at a rate of close to a million events per day. TradeLens uses blockchain technology to create an industry standard for the secure digitization and transmission of supply chain documents around the world, said Modern Terminals CEO Peter Levesque, in a statement. This initiative will generate tremendous savings for our industry over time while enhancing global supply chain security. Modern Terminals is pleased to participate as a Network Member in testing this exciting shipping industry innovation. The TradeLens solution is available today through the Early Adopter Program. TradeLens is expected to be fully commercially available by the end of this year. Maersk employs 76,000 people.