Back in January, IBM and Maersk announced a joint company to create a more efficient and secure process for conducting global trade that leverages blockchain technology. This week, they revealed that 94 organizations have joined the blockchain platform so far, demonstrating that the buzzed-about blockchain is indeed making an impact.
The IBM/Maersk platform, called TradeLens, aims to increase efficiency and cut down on the paper trail of global container shipping—an industry that has seen little change since the container was invented in the 1950s, Reuters reported.
More than 20 port and terminal operators globally are now piloting the solution, including PSA Singapore, Modern Terminals in Hong Kong, Port of Halifax, Port of Rotterdam, and the Port of Philadelphia, according to a joint press release. This means about 234 marine gateways worldwide have or will actively participate on TradeLens.
SEE: IT leader's guide to the blockchain (Tech Pro Research)
In terms of container carriers, Pacific International Lines has joined Maersk Line and Hamburg Süd in participating as well, the release noted. Customs authorities in the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Australia, and Peru are participating, along with customs brokers Ransa and Güler & Dinamik.
Using blockchain smart contracts in the trade process allows multiple partners to collaborate in one single shared view of a transaction, which remains private, confidential, and unchangeable. TradeLens also uses artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and analytics technologies to help companies move and track goods digitally across borders.
The platform can reduce the transit time of a shipping of packaging materials to a production line in the US by 40%, saving thousands of dollars, the release noted. And through better visibility and communication means offered by TradeLens, some supply chain partners estimate that they could reduce the steps taken to answer basic operational questions like "Where is my container?" from involving 10 steps and five people, to one step and one person, according to the release.
More than 154 million shipping events have been collected on the platform so far, including data such as arrival time of vessels and containers, and documents like customs releases and commercial invoices. This data is growing at a rate of nearly one million events per day, the release noted. This means that instead of companies sharing documents via email attachment, fax, or even courier, they can go to the platform to see all critical data about every shipment in a supply chain.
"We believe blockchain can play an important role in digitizing global shipping, an area of the global economy that moves four trillion dollars of goods every year. However, success with the technology rests on a single factor-bringing the entire ecosystem together around a common approach that benefits all participants equally," Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president of IBM Global Industries, Solutions and Blockchain, said in the release. "Our work with Maersk and other enterprises in the shipping ecosystem has shown that blockchain can be used to form a strong, connected network in which all members gain by sharing important data and that together we can transform a vital part of how global trade is conducted."
IBM has made a number of ventures into the blockchain space in recent years: In October 2017, the company announced a blockchain banking solution that allows financial institutions to more quickly and cost effectively process payments across international borders.
IBM also recently partnered with part of the London Stock Exchange Group to build a blockchain tool to manage shareholder data, as well as with a number of leading food suppliers to better track contaminated food and prevent it from reaching consumers.
Blockchain has proven to be the larger value of cryptocurrencies, with implications for almost every industry. Other early adopters in industries such as finance, healthcare, and food supply are using blockchain for cases such as digital identity, asset management and tracking, regulatory compliance/auditing, distributed storage, smart contracts, and cryptocurrency/payments, according to a CompTIA report.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Since January, 94 organizations have joined IBM and Maersk's blockchain platform to make container shipping more transparent and efficient.
- Blockchain has implications for almost every industry, with early adopters in finance, healthcare, and food supply.
Alison DeNisco Rayome has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.