By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor · March 27, 2018
In my line of work, I get a lot of e-mail, actually make that a LOT of e-mail. The topics range across all modes of freight transportation, to be sure, as well as policy and technology. One common theme in more than a few e-mails that has come in over the last several months, and even longer, centers around blockchain technology and its impact, or rather potential impact, on myriad aspects of freight transportation, supply chain, and logistics operations.
In its most basic form, blockchain technology is viewed as “an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value” according toDon Tapscott
, co-founder and executive director at the Blockchain Research Institute
On the surface, that appears to be intuitive enough to get your arms around, but when one sees the ongoing proliferation, and, again, potential, of blockchain, things quickly move to an advanced level, a level in which a lot is being asked of a technology that is still, for the most part, pretty new, while still continuing to gain traction, as well as increasing interest.
At this year’s SMC3 JumpStart conference, which was held in Atlanta in January, keynote speaker Adrian Gonzalez
, head of Adelante SCM
, explained to attendees that despite the early traction blockchain has received, it is still too early to gauge its impact.
He described blockchain as a technological platform, asking if blockchain
was a better mousetrap than what is currently out there today.
“When you look at the technology, the greatest value proposition of blockchain lies today in the supply chain for sectors like food, pharma, and high-value goods,” he said. “We are seeing some of that happening in pilot programs. My fear is that people will view it as a silver bullet solution for supply chain visibility. But the challenges related to supply chain visibility are not related to just software. There is still a lot of [bad] data and data across multiple different standards and computers, with different nomenclatures. There is the challenge of aggregating and cleansing data. Blockchain does not solve that.”
So, no, blockchain is not likely to be a technology panacea by any stretch, and that is coming from one of the foremost logistics technology experts there is, but, at the same time, it is impossible to overlook at this point. If you need further convincing, take a look at my e-mail in box.
But, seriously, over the past few months, blockchain continues to ride a wave showing no signs of crashing. Here are a few quick examples of that:
- earlier this month, DHL has released a trend report in conjunction with on blockchain technology’s potential to transform the logistics industry. The report noted that “global supply chains are notoriously complex, with a diverse set of stakeholders, varying interests, and many third-party intermediaries – challenges that blockchain is well suited to address. The report includes initial findings on a working prototype developed by DHL and Accenture, which tracks pharmaceuticals from the point of origin to the consumer, preventing tampering and errors”;
- in January, ocean cargo giant A.P. Moller-Maersk and technology powerhouse IBM announced plans this week for a joint venture (JV). IBM and Maersk said that the objective of this JV is to provide a jointly developed global trade digitization platform that is built on open standards and designed for use by the entire global shipping ecosystem, adding that it will address the need to provide more transparency and simplicity in the movement of goods across borders and trading zones;
- in July 2017, the Federal Maritime Commission held a “brown bag lunch”, where the topic of blockchain technology and its applicability to supply chain management and increasing efficiency in international trade was explored; and
- the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA) a forum for the development and application of blockchain technology standards and education for the trucking, transportation, and logistics sectors, continues to welcome new members from truckload, LTL, and parcel carriers, as well as shippers, tech startups and incumbents, insurance companies, law firms, and other industry stakeholders, according to its website
So, these are only a few examples, but you probably get the idea: one that indicates it is full systems go for blockchain within our sectors. In a business that constantly talks about the need for visibility, it stands to reason we are in the very early innings of blockchain technology, and for good reason. It will require a very watchful eye going forward to say the least.