Danish shipping giant Maersk Line said Sunday it has teamed with IBM Corp. in an initiative to use blockchain technology to speed the flow of data through its global supply chain, and will soon open the network up to all users.
The partners are currently using the solution in live shipments shipments before opening it up to the entire shipping and logistics industry. IBM and Maersk expect to release the trade digitization system later this year for the use of shippers, freight forwarders, ocean carriers, ports, and customs authorities, IBM said.
The effort would be a way for Maersk to trim its business costs, and for IBM to sell its cloud services. Maersk and IBM developed the solution together based on the open source Linux Foundation's Hyperledger Fabric. The solution is expected to be widely available to support multiple parties across the ocean shipping industry later this year, hosted by IBM on its IBM Bluemix cloud computing, platform as a service (PaaS) product.
Blockchain is a software technology that supports a secure, shared data network that allows each business partner to have end-to-end visibility based on its level of permission, according to IBM.
Because of that transparency, each participant in a global trade ecosystem can view the progress of its goods through the supply chain, seeing where a container is in transit, the status of its customs documents, information on bills of lading, and other data. At the same time, blockchain security means that no single party can modify, delete, or even append any record without the consensus of others on the network, IBM said.
Blockchain network users could save money by accelerating data flow, because trade documentation processing and administration can represent up to one-fifth the total physical transportation costs, Maersk said. For example, a typical shipment of refrigerated goods from East Africa to Europe can go through nearly 30 people and organizations, including exporters, shippers, and governments, tallying more than 200 different interactions and communications among them, the company said.
Applying a method for safe, secure data exchange—such as blockchain—could help reduce fraud and errors, minimize the time products spend in the transit and shipping process, and improve inventory management, Maersk said.
"As a global integrator of container logistics with the ambition to digitize global trade, we are excited about this cooperation and its potential to bring substantial efficiency and productivity gains to global supply chains, while decreasing fraud and increasing security," Ibrahim Gokcen, Maersk's chief digital officer, said in a release. "The projects we are doing with IBM aim at exploring a disruptive technology such as blockchain to solve real customer problems and create new innovative business models for the entire industry."
The announcement marks IBM's latest foray into applying blockchain technology to logistics markets, following its 2016 deal with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to use the technology to improve track and trace capabilities on food shipments in China.