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Maersk, IBM Launch Blockchain Shipping Supply Chain Platform

IBM and Danish transport and logistics giant Maersk have launched their global blockchain-enabled shipping solution, according to an official press release today, August 9.

The new jointly developed blockchain solution revealed 94 organizations involved and 154 million shipping events already captured. The global supply chain platform has been dubbed ‘TradeLens,’ and its dataset is reportedly growing at a rate of close to one million shipping events a day.

According to the press release, the platform is able to track critical data about each shipment in a supply chain in real time, generating a distributed, immutable record on the fly.

TradeLens’ participants now include over 20 port and terminal operators worldwide, as well as international customs authorities, freight forwarders, logistics firms and cargo owners, the press release reports.

It also counts global container carriers Hamburg Süd and Pacific International Lines as participants, alongside Maersk Line. As Forbes notes today, “collectively, the shipping companies account for more than 20% of the global supply chain market share… [and serve] 235 marine gateways around the world.”

IBM and Maersk say that the new blockchain-enabled platform is expected to bring multiple trading partners “a single shared view of a transaction without compromising details, privacy or confidentiality,” further integrating Internet of Things (IoT) and sensor data that allows for the monitoring of a range of variables, from temperature control to container weight.

The platform is said to be able to simplify a gamut of basic operational questions –– for example, determining the location of a container –– from 10 steps involving five middlemen to a single, disintermediated step.

IBM general manager and head of blockchain, Marie Wieck, told Forbes:

“We have seen a lot of skeptics talk about the validity of blockchain solutions […] I think with over 90 organizations and over 150 million events captured on the system we really are seeing proof in the pudding in terms of where people are spending their time to get benefits from blockchain.”

Maersk and IBM first staked their departure away from legacy technology platforms when they initiated a 12-month trial for what would become TradeLens back in March 2017. The trial reportedly revealed that the blockchain-enabled solution could “reduce the transit time of a shipment of packaging materials to a production line in the United States by 40 percent,” saving “thousands of dollars.”

The as-yet unnamed TradeLens was originally slated to be released by the end of 2017. Currently open to early adopters, it is expected to be fully commercially available by the end of this year.

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94 Companies Join IBM and Maersk's Blockchain Supply Chain

IBM and shipping giant Maersk have recruited a sturdy crew for their global trade blockchain platform.

Revealed Wednesday, the companies have already signed up more than 90 firms for the platform since it was spun off from Maersk in January. They have also finally given it a name: TradeLens.

Leveraging Maersk’s leviathan-like scale, TradeLens has attracted a wide variety of entities, ranging from dozens of port operators and customs authorities to logistics companies and even rival ocean-going carriers, such as Pacific International Lines, all of whom have been testing the platform.

The pilot stage now complete, TradeLens is available for participation through an early adopter program and is expected to be fully commercially available by the end of this year. 

And to drive home the message that TradeLens is an open and neutral platform, IBM and Maersk have updated their marketing strategy, now describing the project as “joint collaboration” rather than a joint venture.

“At the time of the launch, we wanted to be clear that we were not offering a bespoke Maersk- or IBM-only solution,” Michael White, head of global trade digitization at Maersk, told CoinDesk 

While Maersk and IBM remain the only two shareholders, and both invested in the technology and jointly own the IP, White emphasized it is completely open to ecosystem participants.

“It was never about a joint venture,” he said, although the Maersk press release for the launch described it as such.

But an IBM spokesperson said the original 49/51 percent ownership split will no longer apply under the collaboration model the two are now going to market with, in response to feedback from the industry.

Both IBM and Maersk will sell access to the TradeLens platform. The selling party will contract with the customer and receive all the fees and revenue rather than sharing it with the other partner, the IBM representative added.

This new model allows them to bring the solution to market faster, and be more flexible than the previously planned joint venture model, the spokesperson said.

Common tongue

TradeLens is built on the IBM Blockchain platform, which uses the open source relative of Linux, Hyperledger Fabric, and this presents a possible interplay with other IBM and Hyperledger projects.

“We have architected all of these solutions so that it’s very easy for data to be exchanged between the two different blockchains – take TradeLens and IBM Food Trust for example – if clients were to be inclined,” said Todd Scott, the vice president of global trade at IBM Blockchain.

To help foster this open supply chain ecosystem, TradeLens is pushing its open APIs for shipping as well as work being done with shipping standards bodies such as CEFACT and industry groups such as OpenShipping.org.

“On top of the bedrock of blockchain technology we are working with standards, and also have 125 or so APIs, and we are going to give all that access to the developer community so they can even create additional technologies of their own on top of it, ” said Scott.

However, not everyone will see this as such a great and gregarious invitation to the industry.

“It’s fine for them [IBM and Maersk] to say ‘we are open for everyone to join,’ but all they are really saying is ‘come and use our system,'” said Sean Edwards, chairman of the International Trade and Forfaiting Association.

Edwards, who is also head of legal at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation Europe, said getting everybody to speak together is not a new problem and the answer, he said, has been to try and create ecosystems like Universal Trade Network (UTN), only they haven’t really got off the ground yet.

Referring to other blockchain solutions aimed specifically at banks to optimize trade finance (which is related to but different than the supply chain processes TradeLens is digitizing), Edwards said the situation may become one where, just as consumers have a multiplicity of passwords and systems that we use, banks and other entities may have to be present on a number of different platforms.

“Either there are common enough standards that all the different underlying technologies can actually speak to each other, or you have initiatives that are so big everybody uses it,” said Edwards, adding:

“I don’t think somebody like Maersk is going to solve that.”

Courting HSBC

And notably, TradeLens is not the only boat in this race.

In addition to the well-established supply chain payments platform TradeShift, which connects over 1.5 million companies across 190 countries, banking giant Citigroup is in stealth with a combined trade finance and supply chain platform which will leverage not only distributed ledger technology (DLT) but also the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence.

Hence, TradeLens is at pains to come across as neutral and therefore appeal to the widest possible audience.

Speaking to potential data privacy concerns for companies that compete with Maersk’s subsidiaries, White said the Maersk side of the collaboration team is a distinct and separate entity with no involvement with the commercial activities of either Maersk Line (the shipping container business) or Damco (the logistics provider).

On top of these Chinese walls, the platform itself features privacy protections, White said. “Sensitive information from other carriers are kept on separate nodes, so Carrier A cannot see Carrier B ‘s information or carrier C’s information,” he said.

Looking ahead, another possible blockchain interoperability play for TradeLens would be some of the trade finance blockchain platforms built on IBM Blockchain and Hyperledger, such as we.trade and Batavia.

Although it’s probably still rather far off in the future, you could imagine an all-encompassing platform, so that if radio frequency identification (RFID) trackers indicate physical proximity to something, a payment can be released or a document signed, or similar.

On the subject of trade finance, IBM said banks were present among the 92 TradeLens pilot partners, but these were not being named. However, CoinDesk learned from a source in the trade finance arena that HSBC has “met with TradeLens a couple of times and agreed to reconnect post-launch.”

And both IBM and Maersk agreed a world of opportunity awaits with regard to bringing trade finance banks, marine insurers and the like on to TradeLens as the platform takes to the waves.

Maersk’s White concluded,

“We have found is there are number of industries and institutions including financial institutions and insurance companies, that are looking to take advantage of this platform.”

Shipping container image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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EY's Maritime Blockchain Insurance Tech Is Now Live

A group of companies piloting a blockchain-based insurance platform for the global shipping industry announced on Friday that the technology is now live in commercial use.

Dubbed Insurwave, the blockchain platform was developed by professional services firm Ernst & Young and software company Guardtime based on Microsoft’s Azure cloud-based technology.

As previously reported by CoinDesk, the Denmark-based shipping giant Maersk first joined the group in September of last year to deploy the solution in a pilot phase. Other notable participants in the test included insurers MS Amlin and XL Catlin.

The end goal, the group said, is to allow each party in the shipping insurance ecosystem to use a distributed ledger that would record shipment information and automate insurance transactions when needed, which touts an ability to bring efficiency and transparency.

The group expects the platform to execute over half a million automated blockchain transactions for more than 1,000 vessels over the first year of its use in a live, commercial environment.

Further down the road, EY said it also plans to extend the application to other types of business insurance, including global logistics, aviation and energy.

Today’s announcement also marks the latest effort by Maersk to actively apply blockchain technology in its operations.

Currently, the firm is also working with IBM to adopt a global trade digitization platform built on the Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 blockchain to record and transact cargo information along the global shipping supply chain.

Maersk shipping image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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IBM-Maersk Blockchain Project Adds Logistics Provider Agility

Agility, a global third-party logistics provider, has joined IBM and Maersk’s blockchain collaboration, the companies announced Tuesday.

As previously reported by CoinDesk, IBM and Maersk revealed their global trade digitization platform, built on the Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 blockchain, in January. DuPont, Dow Chemical, Tetra Pak, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and others piloted an early version of the project.

The latest participant, Agility will share and receive information about individual shipment events through the blockchain in hopes of reducing the massive cost of administration and documentation – which reportedly accounts for one-fifth of the world’s total $1.8 trillion annual shipping costs.

“Blockchain technology is going to make shipping cheaper, safer and more reliable. As early adopters, companies like Agility can help Maersk and IBM understand the needs of shippers and develop standards that will make trade more efficient,” Essa Al-Saleh, CEO of Agility Global Integrated Logistics, told American Shipper.

Al-Saleh said that blockchain technology can streamline shipping by showing the status of documents like customs forms and bills of lading, thus helping to reduce the time it takes for shipments to clear inspections. Migrating shipping information onto the blockchain could also help facilitate more comprehensive risk analysis.

Other blockchain-based shipping initiatives are underway, including those relating to trade finance, product provenance, and the consolidation of administrative processes. However, as American Shipper points out, the emergence of a multiplicity of projects may be detrimental in the end, as they risk developing simultaneously, but separately, potentially created a fractured system much like the existing one.

Shipping container image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Have breaking news or a story tip to send to our journalists? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.

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Shipping Blockchain: Maersk Spin-Off Aims to Commercialize Trade Platform

Global shipping giant Maersk wants to wrap the world in a blockchain.

With access to a shared, trusted record of transactions, Maersk executives say, the world’s shipping companies would save money and be able to better compete on enhanced services. And the company has developed a blockchain using IBM’s Hyperledger Fabric open-source software to do just that.

Yet one roadblock still remains: finding a way to sell a collaborative system to a bunch of competitors.

So Denmark-based Maersk and IBM have decided that by spinning off the project into a standalone entity, they might have more success in attracting Maersk’s rivals to the solution.

Announced today, the yet-to-be-named joint venture is awaiting final regulatory approval, but the idea is that a well-rounded advisory board (which is still being established) would help ensure transparency and a level playing field among participants.

Unlike a typical startup situation, though, the technology behind the venture has already been widely tested, with pilot users including some of the largest companies in the world.

DuPont, Dow Chemical and the food packager and processor Tetra Pak have already experimented with an early version of the platform. Plus, custom agencies in the Netherlands and U.S., and ports in Rotterdam and Houston, have all taken part as well.

According to the joint venture’s CEO, Michael White, the new entity is essential given the variety of potentially competing counterparties involved.

“This is not a bespoke Maersk system,” White, who was previously the president of Maersk Line in North America, told CoinDesk, adding:

“This is going to be an industry-wide, open platform solution for all ecosystem participants.”

Prime participation

Within six months of receiving regulatory approval, White expects the company to make its services available for wider use.

Among those interested in using the entity’s blockchain solution are General Motors, Procter & Gamble and Agility Logistics, with additional participation from customs and government agencies from Singapore, Peru and China.

Also, the global terminal operators of APM Terminals in New Jersey and PSA International in Singapore are slated to use the platform to boost collaboration between their users and improve the way they organize their terminals.

According to IBM Global Industry senior vice president Bridget van Kralingen, the venture is part of a bigger effort by the supply chain ecosystem to capitalize on “untapped” resources.

“Our joint venture with Maersk means we can now speed adoption of this exciting technology with the millions of organizations who play vital roles in one of the most complex and important networks in the world, the global supply chain,” she said in a statement.

The spin-off is the latest development by Maersk since it completed its first live blockchain trades in May and revealed a pilot project in Singapore in August.

In September, Maersk also outlined plans to deploy a maritime insurance product using blockchain.

According to White, the first two services the new company will offer are being designed to provide end-to-end shipping information and to digitize and automate trade paperwork.

“Being able to run a global business more efficiently is important,” White said, concluding:

“The opportunity that the customers see in helping to identify and close key gaps in real-time access to events and to document availability is real. It’s palpable.”

Maersk cargo ship image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Interested in offering your expertise or insights to our reporting? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.

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Shipping Giant Maersk to Deploy Blockchain Maritime Insurance Solution

A joint venture between shipping giant Maersk, Microsoft, accounting firm EY and blockchain firm Guardtime aims to apply blockchain technology in the field of marine insurance.

Built using Azure – Microsoft’s cloud-based platform that recently revealed a new blockchain framework – the new effort will see the creation of a shared database that logs information about shipments, as well as potential risks, in order to help ships comply with insurance regulations. The database would also insure that this information is transparent across what is a complex network of variables.

Notably, the project has already been trialled, and Maersk plans to use it in real-world applications, along with insurers MS Amlin and XL Catlin, according to Reuters.

EY told CNBC that securing marine insurance data with blockchain was necessary due to the “complete inefficiency” of the industry.

Mark Russinovish, chief technology officer at Microsoft Azure, explained further: 

“Marine insurance is a prime example of a complex business process that can be optimized with blockchain.”

Reuters reported that the platform is already built and is planned for deployment in January.

This isn’t Maersk’s first exploration of blockchain tech. The shipping firm conducted its first blockchain-based cargo-tracking trial in partnership with IBM back in May. IBM has also signed up with a major port operator in Singapore to work with a regional shipping firm to test a new blockchain-based supply chain network.

Container ship image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Have breaking news or a story tip to send to our journalists? Contact us at [email protected].