Last year IBM and Danish shipping conglomerate Maersk announced the limited availability of a blockchain-based shipping tool called TradeLens. Today, the two partners announced that a couple of other major shippers have come on board.
The partners announced that CMA CGM and MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company have joined TradeLens. When you include these companies together with Maersk, the TradeLens consortium now encompasses almost half of the world’s cargo container shipments, according to data supplied by IBM.
That’s important, because shipping has traditionally been a paper-intensive and largely manual process. It’s still challenging to track where a container might be in the world and which government agency might be holding it up. When it comes to auditing, it can take weeks of intensive effort to gather the paperwork generated throughout a journey from factory or field to market. Suffice to say, cargo touches a lot of hands along the way.
It’s been clear for years that shipping could benefit from digitization, but to this point, previous attempts like EDI have not been terribly successful. The hope is that by using blockchain to solve the problem, all the participants can easily follow the flow of shipments along the chain and trust that the immutable record has not been altered at any point.
As Marie Wieck, general manager for IBM Blockchain told TechCrunch at the time of last year’s announcement, the blockchain brings some key benefits to the shipping workflow:
The blockchain provides a couple of obvious advantages over previous methods. For starters, [Wieck said] it’s 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.
The TradeLens partners certainly see the benefits of digitizing the process. “We believe that TradeLens, with its commitment to open standards and open governance, is a key platform to help usher in this digital transformation,” Rajesh Krishnamurthy, executive vice president for IT & Transformations at CMA CGM Group, said in a statement.
Today’s announcement is a big step toward gaining more adoption for this approach. While there are many companies working on supply chain products on the blockchain, the more shipping companies and adjacent entities like customs agencies who join TradeLens, the more effective it’s going to be.