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Blockchain technology can spur seamless and efficient international trade

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Though blockchain has had its fair share of advocates and detractors in the transportation and supply chain sectors since its advent, its relevance within the market cannot be questioned. For instance, earlier this week, global container lines CMA CGM and the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) joined TradeLens, the blockchain-based digital shipping platform developed by Maersk and IBM. With this, TradeLens accounts for shipping data of over half the number of container lines that sail across international waters – a remarkable stimulus to the possibilities of blockchain. 

In April, two economists, Christine McDaniel, trade expert from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and Swedish economist Hanna C. Norberg, wrote a research paper on blockchain’s potential to facilitate a more efficient and seamless global trade, arguing blockchain can help expedite customs procedures, reduce expenses and boost both global trade volumes and economic output. 

“Blockchain technology can be used in any instance where there’s a role for a middleman or an intermediary. As trade economists, we are interested in things that can reduce trade costs, reduce barriers to the flow of information, money, labor, and capital across borders,” said McDaniel. “Blockchain is really exciting as it can facilitate international trade across three areas – trade finance, customs and the provenance of goods.”

Though blockchain can be used to render paperwork in freight movement obsolete, McDaniel pointed out that it largely depended on the desire and willingness of government agencies. “Even if you have a company that is ready to utilize blockchain, you still need the relevant government agencies to have the technical infrastructure, the willingness to adapt and a public policy environment that can help fill in the little holes along the way,” she said. “You also can’t just have one company or one government agency to adopt it, but you need enough relevant entities to adopt it. And this doesn’t necessarily happen overnight.”

Nonetheless, the adoption needs to start somewhere, and it can start with creating visibility into logistics operations, by identifying the different stakeholders within a value chain. This can be done through a unique identifier that can be attributed to every stakeholder, thus helping with provenance tracking. 

McDaniel believed that widespread adoption of blockchain is only possible once the technological infrastructure is built out. “We are talking with Maersk, and they tell us that still over half of their processes are done by hand. A lot of that is just literally checking boxes and confirming shipper identities and cargo content,” she said. 

“If every container in there had a blockchain code on it, that could be scanned and read into the application of relevant entities, where all the information would be verified as and when it was received, instead of having to go through all those verification steps,” she continued. 

Aside from being exhaustive, international trade and customs procedures can cause delays in cargo movement, leading to costly detentions. McDaniel stated that the burden of paperwork is not just laborious, but also provides opportunities for corruption. “The hardest part of blockchain is getting it started. The desire to adapt is clearly there, but it needs the government to build up its technological infrastructure, which isn’t trivial,” she said. 

When questioned about the need for promoting open blockchain networks within the transportation ecosystem, McDaniel took a more neutral approach, explaining that it is about maximizing the likelihood of people using blockchain rather than reproving proprietary blockchain systems. She trusted that once the technology has found mainstream approval, regulatory bodies could chip in with standards to streamline operations. 

Nonetheless, open blockchain standards are already being developed. The Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), a consortium of over 500 members across the logistics space, has pioneered the development of open blockchain standards that companies can use as a platform for their blockchain needs. 

“Blockchain is an exciting technology but is at its infancy. There should be no surprise seeing companies starting out with their own proprietary blockchain networks. However, to get the fuller benefits of blockchain, government agencies must enter the discussion and create regulations that will help move forward the interoperability aspect of adopting the technology in international trade,” said McDaniel.

DrayNow is newest member of the Blockchain in Transport Alliance

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DrayNow, the first real-time marketplace connecting intermodal freight with carriers, has joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA). BiTA is developing best practices and standards for blockchain in the transportation industry.

Blockchain is an open, distributed digital ledger that can record and share transactions between two or more parties efficiently, securely and permanently. Blockchain enables transportation companies to more accurately track shipments, routes and transport vehicles (in all modes) while providing a highly secure platform that permits faster processing and payments.

“DrayNow has joined BiTA because we believe blockchain is essential to future freight moves. We are excited to bring the deep knowledge and expertise of building and optimizing a freight matching platform to the Alliance,” stated DrayNow chief technical officer Tom Shawver. “We are looking forward to engaging with other leaders in the industry in order to develop the standards and framework that will benefit us all. BiTA is the leading organization establishing blockchain standards within transportation, which will result in more efficient freight movement, supply chain management and more. We are proud to be a part of the organization promoting mass adoption of this technology in logistics.”

BiTA President Patrick Duffy stated, “On behalf of the members of BiTA, I welcome DrayNow into the Alliance. I am confident that the company’s expertise in intermodal freight will assist BiTA accomplish its objectives.”

About DrayNow

DrayNow provides technology-driven solutions for the freight industry, with a focus on intermodal. Led by industry veterans, the company operates the first intermodal freight-matching marketplace connecting freight to available carriers. The DrayNow Marketplace is accessed through a desktop interface where users can view truck capacity in real-time, post loads, track load status and obtain electronic documents immediately. With DrayNow’s mobile application, truck drivers can get turnkey access to intermodal freight, browse loads, compare rates and details, select loads, deliver loads and get paid faster.

J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc. Joins Blockchain in Transport Alliance

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J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc., the nation’s leading provider of safety and compliance solutions, has joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), an organization dedicated to determining best practices and standards for blockchain in the transportation industry. BiTA’s members include Descartes, Daimler, FedEx, SAP and Uber Freight among dozens of other global brands. J.J. Keller will bring its extensive knowledge of safety and regulatory requirements to the Alliance and further explore blockchain-based solutions for the industry.

Blockchain technology enables companies to identify and track transactions digitally and share this information across a distributed network of computers. For the transportation industry, blockchain enables participants to more effectively track goods and freight across the supply chain. Blockchain also allows transportation and logistics companies to operate in a more seamless and transparent manner. It can also help to create new revenue streams and value for customers by enabling a system of completing transactions, tracking shipments and managing fleets.

“Blockchain technology will transform the supply chain by introducing greater transparency, innovation and efficiency,” said Chris Burruss, president of BiTA. “We are fortunate to have member companies like J.J. Keller, which has a great depth of experience in fleet management solutions and standards.  It will be a key player in helping develop blockchain standards in transportation, and ensuring those standards meet all regulatory requirements.”

In addition to offering end-to-end fleet compliance and safety solutions, J.J. Keller is an intellectual property company housing more than 20 editors and consultants in the field of transportation. These experts have an extensive understanding of DOT, FMCSA, PHMCSA, EPA and OSHA regulations and rulemaking that ensures practical applications for motor carriers’ daily operations are backed by highly accurate information. In turn, this helps operations run smoothly and avoid fines or down time.

“We see that blockchain is a key disruptive technology as the digitization of the transportation industry continues to evolve,” said Rustin Keller, president and CEO of J.J. Keller. “Through J.J. Keller’s partnership with BiTA, we’ll be able to contribute our more than 65 years of safety and compliance expertise to the development of standards that enable efficient supply chain operations while keeping safety at the forefront.”

FedEx, UPS, DHL executives see eye-to-eye on blockchain

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Executives from FedEx (NYSE:FDX), DHL and UPS (NYSE: UPS) took the unusual step of sharing a single stage and found common ground on how blockchain technology can transform the global supply chain.

“This is not a process improvement initiative. This is a breakthrough discussion. This is a different way to think about how global clearance looks in the future,” said Dale Chrystie, FedEx business strategist and blockchain fellow, during Blockchain Revolution Global conference in Toronto on April 25.

Chrystie, also chair of the Blockchain in Transportation Alliance (BiTA) Standards Council, joined Eugene Laney, head of international government affairs for DHL USA and Mahesh Sahasranaman, Principal Architect, UPS Supply Chain Solutions, in a discussion with Don Tapscott, Executive Chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute (BRI), which is based in Canada.

“This is really happening,” Tapscott said, making light of executives from the rival parcel carriers appearing together.

The three executives agreed that there is a collective interest in embracing uniform standards and getting governments on board with blockchain technology.

“This is an issue that must be looked at with a global viewpoint,” Chrystie said. “These dots are going to connect. The question is how are you going to accelerate that process.”

Customs clearance is an area where blockchain can play an important role, one that requires making governments part of the conversation. Laney pointed to the long lines of trucks at the U.S.-Mexico border as an example of where blockchain, with the use of digital fingerprints, could improve the backlog.

“How can we take all those standards and share the best way we can with each other – and share with governments that are part of that supply chain?” Laney said.

“Blockchain is a team sport; no one company today completes customer supply chain shipments by itself,” Laney remarked after the panel. “As such, there is a real need for an open and standardized version of blockchain to be shared by all shipping participants.”

Sahasranaman discussed the need to “wrangle the standards” to avoid fragmentation. “Standards bodies like BiTA and BRI help that conversation, to move it forward,” Sahasranaman said.

He continued, “Collaboration to create standards, ensure that standards are agreed upon, and further ensure those can be used as designed on the blockchain platform is essential for a multi-party supply chain environment.”

Sahasranaman pointed out after the discussion that “The supply chain panel between UPS, FedEx and DHL should stand out as an example – that organizations regardless of how hard they compete, must seek to collaborate in areas that would maximize benefits from this technology to all supply chain participants.”

Chrystie stressed the need for blockchain standards to be open source. “We don’t think you get to a global supply chain blockchain without doing that [open source standards],” Chrystie said. “We need to come to get to agree how we can do that.”

Laney stated after the panel that, “DHL Express has mastered tracking and tracing single supply chain transactions, but it can be challenging for some companies to fully manage their goods from production to final delivery. Along with other key elements, such as IoT and RFID tags attached to packages, blockchain would improve visibility, not only for shippers but also for customers who could watch in real-time as parts move through their manufacturing lifecycle.”

Laney also commented on the use of blockchain to solve significant issues. He said, “Governments often ask manufacturers and their supply chain participants to ensure that dangerous and counterfeit goods can be detected and stopped. We see the application of blockchain as a way to help us solve these issues to secure transportation networks and stem the tide of counterfeit goods.”

Tapscott applauded the three executives as “wonderful examples how you need to think big, have integrity and be considerate of the interest of the global economy when you set out to embrace new technology.”

Tapscott said after the discussion, “To fully realize the potential of this second era of the internet, companies will need to coordinate and collaborate on a scale they’ve never done before. The BRI’s goal is to bring industry leaders together, inform them and inspire them to work together and achieve this blockchain revolution. I know BiTA shares that goal as well.”

Sahasranaman complimented BRI and the panel, stating, “This event was unique starting from the stage layout of the event, the broad topic areas that covered – different industry groups/sectors, governance, standards and technologies and the overall content with engaging discussion.”

In summary, Tapscott stated, “Blockchain Revolution Global had many ‘firsts,’ and bringing together UPS, DHL and FedEx on a single panel was one of the most exciting. It really speaks to the leadership and vision of these companies that they can acknowledge this new paradigm, and work together to build a common framework for the future.”

Datapace is latest Blockchain in Transport Alliance member

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Datapace, a blockchain-powered data marketplace with technical and policy-based data verification that has access to a worldwide network of sensors, has joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA). Datapace is headquartered at Bell Labs in Villarceaux, France.

Blockchain technology is game-changing and transformational, benefiting companies and organizations that need accountability, scale, trust and security in their business processes, especially those that involve external collaboration and interaction in the transportation, logistics and supply chain marketplaces.

The technology enables users to identify and track transactions digitally as well as share information across a distributed network of computers. For the transportation and logistics industries, blockchain provides the opportunity to more effectively track goods and freight across the supply chain. Blockchain also will allow transportation and logistics companies to operate in a more seamless and transparent manner. It can also help create new revenue streams and value for customers by enabling a system to complete transactions, track shipments and manage fleets.

“Datapace is excited to become a member of BiTA,” said Datapace CEO and Co-Founder George Saleh. “BiTA is promoting the value and potential of blockchain and educating the industry about the technology while also harnessing the expertise of its members to develop best practices and standards,” Saleh continued. “We sincerely hope that Datapace will contribute to the BiTA community. As a company, Datapace is dedicated to unlocking the enormous value of data. Datapace has a decentralized marketplace platform, access to precise granular, localized weather data from a dense global network of telecommunication base stations sensors, and blockchain and smart contracts technology that can be utilized to enhance performance across the entire supply chain and transport systems,” Saleh explained.

BiTA President Chris Burruss said, “On behalf of the members of the Blockchain in Transport Alliance, I welcome Datapace into the BiTA community. With its blockchain-powered data marketplace, Datapace provides the secure and automated exchange and monetization of the internet of things (IoT), digital and other kinds of data. The expertise of Datapace’s staff will be welcome as BiTA continues to develop standards and promotes blockchain use cases.”

Datapace offers blockchain powered secure transactions and automated smart contracts to sell and buy data streams. The Datapace data marketplace can be used to stream data from any source – IoT devices, physical assets, autonomous cars, drones and many more. It enables companies to integrate third-party data and monetize it through the same marketplace.

Datapace was founded in 2017 as a startup at the NOKIA Digital Innovation Accelerator by Saleh and Drasko Draskovic, two Nokia professionals. Datapace is the intersection of their interests, experience, technology preferences and passions.

Saleh was working on five continents on telecommunication technologies, while Draskovic was involved in hardware and software open source projects in the IoT domain. Their initiative coincided with the establishment of NOKIA’s sensing-as-a-service platform, providing additional key features and a powerful differentiator for Datapace.