CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
August 15, 2018
Forward Thinking

Maersk and IBM say 94 groups have signed on to blockchain platform

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Partners say "TradeLens" will help users share information among shippers, carriers, and other supply chain partners.

Maersk Line and IBM Corp. said today that 94 logistics organizations have agreed to participate in the blockchain-enabled joint venture they launched in January to promote more efficient and secure global trade. Copenhagen-based Maersk and IBM, headquartered in Armonk, N.Y., believe their "TradeLens" venture can bring together various parties to support better information sharing and spur industry-wide innovation, the partners said.

The project was announced in January when the two partners said they had formed a joint venture to improve the flow of data in global trade and transportation by applying blockchain technology to create a distributed ledger that builds a transparent and indelible record of supply chain transactions. The Kuwaiti logistics firm Agility Logistics said in February it would use the platform to manage its international container shipments, as Maersk and IBM continued working to obtain government regulatory approvals.

That work has now progressed to the point where the TradeLens solution is available through an Early Adopter Program, and is expected to be fully commercially available by the end of this year, IBM said. Partners who sign up can begin using the TradeLens platform to build digital supply chains that empower multiple trading partners to collaborate by establishing a single shared view of a transaction without compromising its details, privacy, or confidentiality, IBM said in the announcement.

The TradeLens website defines the product as a neutral industry platform that uses blockchain technologyto promote a more predictable and secure exchange of information between major industry players. That capability can break information silos, streamline business processes, and maximize asset utilization, the site says.

Parties that stand to benefit from the approach include shippers, shipping lines, freight forwarders, port and terminal operators, and inland transportation and customs authorities, the companies said. Those organizations can use the secure platform to exchange real-time information such as shipping data and shipping documents, including internet of things (IoT) and sensor data ranging from temperature control to container weight, according to Maersk.

Another potential benefit of the TradeLens platform is its support for "blockchain smart contracts" which enable digital collaborationacross the multiple parties involved in international trade. That capability is available through a trade document module of the product known as ClearWay, now released under a beta program.

Maersk and IBM say they developed these features during a 12-month trial with dozens of ecosystem partners. That trial showed that Tradelens could help trading partners to reduce the steps taken to answer the basic operational question "Where is my container?" from 10 steps and five people down to one step and one person, the companies said.

But to achieve that full potential, the platform will rely on broad industry adoption, IBM said. "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," Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president, IBM Global Industries, Solutions and Blockchain, said 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."

IBM says it is gaining traction toward that widespread use through the announcement that 94 groups have agreed to participate or are already involved. Supply chain organizations that have signed up so far include: more than 20 international port and terminal operators; the global container carriers Pacific International Lines (PIL), Hamburg Süd, and Maersk Line; customs authorities in the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Australia, and Peru; customs brokers; beneficial cargo owners (BCOs); and a list of freight forwarders and and logistics companies such as Agility, CEVA Logistics, DAMCO, Kotahi, PLH Trucking Co., Ancotrans, and WorldWide Alliance.

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