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Blockchain in Transport Alliance welcomes Hong Kong-based Tigers

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Tigers, a Hong Kong-based global logistics and transportation company that specializes in technology-enabled supply chain solutions, e-fulfilment and transportation by air, sea, rail and road, has joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA).

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 trucks while providing a highly secure platform that permits faster processing and payments.

Blockchain applications in the transportation/logistics marketplace are expanding globally. BiTA is dedicated to developing best practices and standards for blockchain in transportation/logistics. The Alliance and its members are developing standards and education in blockchain technologies for the freight, transportation and logistics industries.

According to Andrew Jillings, the founder and chief executive officer of Tigers, “Tigers is looking forward to partnering with BiTA and being a member of an international organization that is developing standards for blockchain in the freight and logistics industry.” Jillings continued, “The supply chain industry is entering a digital revolution and blockchain is a key element of this. At Tigers, we are fully committed to digitalizing our business, and blockchain is a logical and natural addition to SmartHub: Connect’s suite of services, which provide clients with global visibility of their transportation, inventory levels, and e-commerce fulfilment.”

Oliver Haines, Vice President-European Region for BiTA, said, "On behalf of BiTA and its members around the world, I welcome Tigers to the BiTA Community. We look forward to the company’s contributions to the Alliance. Tigers brings expertise in current supply chain practices, which is important for the establishment of a seamless path into blockchain application.”

Tigers offers clients a full enterprise solution, from freight forwarding to inventory management, fiscal representation to omni-channel fulfillment, and the ability to trade products such as wine and luxury fashion items on the Tigers eShop. In 2018, Tigers launched SmartHub: Connect, a Microsoft Gold-certified technology platform using Microsoft Azure Data Warehouse and Firewall features for its fast-growing e-commerce fulfillment business. SmartHub: Connect is also available on a mobile application and is unique in the industry, combining freight, e-commerce and logistics in one Cloud-based portal.

BiTA Standards Council ratifies and publishes first data standard

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The Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA) Standards Council Board approved its first official standard and its first official framework as part of the organization’s mission to provide a single answer to the question, “Where is my shipment?”

The BiTA Standard 120-2019 Location Component Specification is the organization’s first data format specification. The Tracking Data Framework Profile is the first foundation document of the council, providing a roadmap for future data component development.

The pace at which these accomplishments were achieved is remarkable among data standards organizations. It typically takes about two years for data standards to be created, reviewed, ratified and published. BiTA’s first standard took six months.

Scott Friesen, Vice President of Strategic Analytics at Echo Global Logistics and BiTA Standards Council Executive Committee member, commented, "New technology can move at such high speed, and excitement about new technology even faster. However, to produce standards, and the long-term efficiencies they will produce, is more like legislation than writing code. To get this first set of standards out with unanimous support in under a year is a great accomplishment. We look forward to growing, enhancing and supporting the available standards to support the supply chain and blockchain development communities."

The first BiTA Working Groups were established in August 2018. Impressively, over the past six months, and through the talent and collaborative efforts of members spanning logistics, supply chain and technology companies from around the globe and across all transportation modes, BiTA has accomplished a major feat in its quest to create a data standard for the movement of goods. Following their submission at the end of January, a 30-day review period by the Data Formats Technical Committee commenced; the documents were scrutinized and then submitted to the BiTA Standards Council for ratification and publication.

Pratik Soni, CEO of Omnichain Solutions and the Chair of the Location Data Component Working Group, remarked, "The data standards published provide the initial framework for interoperability across a currently fragmented and siloed ecosystem that reaches across many different enterprises, systems and various protocols."

While industry incumbents see promise in blockchain, up until now there has been no consensus on the framework over which the associated applications could be built. The absence of data standards generates chaos in the ecosystem, and has contributed to the rise of proprietary blockchain networks.

Creating a common framework for the global supply chain and transportation industries is a delicate proposition, as different companies have different perspectives on what tracking and visibility entails.

Ben Kothari, Chief Solutions Architect at Ampliflex and Chair of the BiTA Tracking Document Working Group, commented on the challenges associated with standards development, "Defining terms within the standards was a problem we had to solve – some things were quite obvious like defining location tracking, but some others, for example, defining the concept of a shipment, would be a bit more difficult. All these divergent views on definitions also posed a challenge while building standards. Since we are just starting out, and there are not many legacy standards to work with, the scope of these tasks also became an issue."

“The BiTA Standards Council is focused on creating open source and royalty-free standards with a focus and emphasis on data formats and interoperability,” said Patrick Duffy, the director of engagement at BiTA. “While we are working with organizations that are sometimes competitive and run parallel with each other, together BiTA will create a common language or vernacular for global supply chain businesses – driving efficiencies by eliminating red-tape and increasing machine-to-machine processes.”

Soni added, "This achievement is largely due to the hard work, motivation and commitment of the BiTA team members. We have individuals from both small and large enterprises collaborating and working together to achieve something phenomenal. The Working Groups agreed to weekly hour-long meetings and hit key deliverables in addition to managing the deliverables for their day jobs. This dedication helped us reduce the typical timeline for standards publication."

The past few weeks have seen an acceleration in production from BiTA and its Standards Council. At the February 27th meeting of its Board of Directors, BiTA also elected its first Standards Council Chair, Dale Chrystie of FedEx, who in conjunction with BiTA members, will seek to drive faster and more comprehensive publication of data standards throughout 2019.

Arlen Stark, BiTA Chief of Staff, commented, “I’m very proud of our membership, who in partnership with the BiTA team and IEEE/ISTO [a federation of member alliance programs that support accelerated technology standards development and market adoption], have accomplished in less than a year what normally takes two or three years.”

France's GT Solutions joins Blockchain in Transport Alliance

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GT Solutions, a French transport solutions provider, recently became a member of the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA).

Applications of blockchain technology within transportation and the supply chain are growing at an exponential rate, but so are the hurdles to incorporating such technology with existing platforms.

 Matthieu Sarrat, GT Solutions’ Director of Operations stated, “GT Solutions is excited to partner with other BiTA members.” Sarrat continued, “GT Solutions sees tremendous value in our BiTA membership. The BiTA Community is at the forefront in establishing new blockchain standards, and these efforts will pave the way for blockchain expansion and exploration. The results will be better track and trace solutions, supply chain transparency and the use of smart contracts.”

Oliver Haines, Vice President-European Region for BiTA, said, "GT Solutions is the latest member of BiTA, and we look forward to the company’s contributions to the BiTA Community. With interest in blockchain technology growing rapidly, there is a need for increased standardization in the global freight, transportation and logistics markets. GT Solutions brings expertise in current industry practices and standards, which will be critical to establishing a seamless path for blockchain applications going forward.” Haines added, “Recognizing the immeasurable potential to advance operational efficiency within the supply chain, GT Solutions is well-positioned to help by aligning the company’s deep knowledge of transportation and logistics with the newly formed standards.”

GT Solutions is a family-owned business that was founded in 1946. The company is headquartered in the city of Bassens in the Aquitaine region of France. GT Solutions operates in dedicated trucking, freight forwarding and distribution for a wide range of industries, including automotive, building materials, live animals, refrigerated products and pharmaceuticals. It has 2,000 employees and 1,500 trucks.

BiTA blockchain standards bring the industry closer to seamless shipment tracking

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Today, the technology of blockchain has gained a firm foothold in the logistics and supply chain industry. Several blockchain pilot programs have been initiated across the ecosystem by companies that are looking to improve transparency and visibility in their supply chains – a sign of healthy cynicism to have front-row seats on the blockchain bandwagon.

Though this could be assumed to be an extension of the eternal fascination that companies have towards increasing operational efficiency and the decisive fear of missing out (FOMO) factor on futuristic technology, it is essential to define blockchain’s capabilities within the industry, rather than to fall back on bland rhetoric of textbook merits and theoretical possibilities.   

The Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), an association comprised of hundreds of stakeholders within the transportation and logistics sectors, was founded to comprehensively answer a simple question that has puzzled the industry for a very long time – “where is my shipment at?”

The idea of BiTA is to create a set of open blockchain standards – a framework that would act as a springboard for companies within the industry to develop blockchain-related applications. “Logistics processes are no longer within an enterprise or just within a few partners – they now span a whole network of participants across the transportation and supply chain industry. And the current systems and standards of these networks were never designed for the scenarios or are quite antiquated to cope,” said Ben Kothari, Chair of the BiTA Tracking Document Data Component Working Group.

To monitor the real-time movement of a shipment through blockchain, it is critical to define a whole array of components within supply chain entities, while also initiating stable relationships between different parties. Defining the core set of entities and creating contracts that they will work on is instrumental in helping businesses manage operations in a more streamlined and efficient way.

Kothari contended that defining every element within a transaction was critical to see progress, and that BiTA was on track to create deeper and richer definitions for entities over the course of this year. BiTA standards will help businesses understand, at a broader level, what the processes look like, the entities that operate within these processes, and the smart contracts or agreements that are built on top of them – helping companies operate without friction in a network.

“Once the definitions emerge, we’ll be able to create a foundation in terms of how these entities help in conducting transportation business, thus eventually answering the question of where a shipment is in real-time. Shipments traverse across multiple carriers, modes and channels, and creating industry standards are integral to addressing the tracking problem” said Kothari.   

Kothari explained that BiTA standards are relevant to the industry, as it was the first of its kind in the blockchain space, standing alone without banking on antiquated and legacy standards. BiTA has created a niche within the shipment tracking segment by focusing on solving issues related to transportation, rather than making the standards generic to suit every industry.

“There are several standards that are very broadly defined, thus ending up losing focus on the specific set of problems that need to be solved. BiTA comes into the picture with a laser-focus on the transportation industry, which makes it distinctive,” said Kothari.

Even with tailor-made standards for the transportation industry, there have been differing opinions on the need for “openness” in such standards – such as the proprietary blockchain platforms that the maritime industry is witnessing through TradeLens, a joint venture between Maersk Line and IBM.

Kothari insisted that creating proprietary blockchain-related applications – though are valuable to the blockchain movement at-large, is not solving the issue with transparency across the ecosystem. In the end, a proprietary blockchain network owned by Maersk would be hard pressed to serve the container line’s interest, thus defeating blockchain’s promise of equal ownership and transparency among network stakeholders.

“When you restrict participation in a blockchain program, what you essentially have is a distributed or point-to-point messaging platform. That does not add any new value to the system. All you create is another siloed environment that works on integrating and translating different messaging platforms and protocols,” said Kothari. “With proprietary programs, you will not be solving any problem, but will only end up introducing an extra component to the problem.”

BiTA’s roadmap this year involves building on the foundation it laid out last week through its blockchain standards. In essence, the overall intention is to progress to the point where the industry would see sense in permanently phasing out legacy EDI systems and depending on blockchain-based solutions for tracking shipments.

Bumble Bee Foods is tracking seafood across global supply chains through blockchain

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Bumble Bee Foods, North America’s largest branded shelf-stable seafood company, has announced that it will use the SAP cloud platform blockchain to trace the movement of yellowfin tuna from the Indonesian ocean to the consumer’s cart. The seafood behemoth has traditionally shown interest in understanding the environment from where it sources its fish, with blockchain being its latest tool of choice.

In many ways, looking for visibility in supply chains is a valid concern – several small-scale fishing operators catch the tuna off the coast of east Indonesian islands, thus making it vital for the company to take stock of the situation and maintain quality to the very last fish that goes through its supply chain. “We’ve been doing traceability for a long time, and we decided to leverage new technologies to make it even more secure,” said Tony Costa, chief information officer at Bumble Bee. “Quite frankly, we’re just scratching the surface on the capabilities of the technology in our supply chain.”

The issues related to the international seafood trade scene is telling. Oceana, a marine conservation non-profit, recently published a U.S.-based report on the extent of seafood fraud. The U.S. is particularly vulnerable as 90 percent of all the seafood consumed within the country gets imported – often from the farthest corners of southeast Asia. What is even more worrying is the scant frequency of fraud inspections – less than one percent of total seafood imports are inspected for fraud/mislabeling.

“Despite growing concern about where our food comes from, consumers are frequently served a completely different type of fish than the one they paid for. As Oceana’s nationwide study and others demonstrate, seafood may be mislabeled as often as 26 to 87 percent of the time for commonly swapped fish such as grouper, cod and snapper, disguising fish that are less desirable, cheaper or more readily available,” said Oceana in its report.

Oceana concluded that mislabeling was found in 17 of the 46 fish types that it tested, and that 44 percent of the grocery stores, restaurants and sushi venues the non-profit organization visited sold mislabeled seafood. “With more than 1,700 different species of seafood from all over the world available for sale in the U.S., it is unrealistic to expect the American consumer to be able to independently and accurately determine what they are actually eating,” said the report.

Blockchain’s relevance in this logistics quagmire is evident. Not only is the ecosystem extremely opaque with regard to product sourcing, but also is bogged down by labeling errors that could either be genuine or fraudulent.

Bumble Bee customers now will be able to readily access the complete origin and history of the company’s yellowfin tuna products by using their smartphones to scan a QR code on the product package. This leads SAP’s blockchain platform to display information about the fish-to-market journey, including the size of the catch, point of capture and the fishing community that caught it, as well as valuable insights to verify authenticity, freshness, safety, fair trade fishing certification and sustainability.

This move should help Bumble Bee hold the loyalty of its customers and tighten its supply chain by reducing mislabeling and identifying fish producers who do not meet the company’s quality standards. The retailers who will stock Bumble Bee’s first batch of blockchain-traced tuna include Albertsons, Hy-Vee, Price Chopper and Safeway.

It is also interesting to note that Bumble Bee and SAP have collaborated on a private distributed ledger called Multichain, developed at Coin Sciences, a U.K.-based startup. The word ‘private’ is key, as it would mean that unlike the usual trait of blockchain platforms distributing equal ownership across all stakeholders in the network, the Bumble Bee blockchain would allow the seafood company to exert a broader control over the data being transferred.

Though such a blockchain platform would be beneficial to Bumble Bee and its customers, it would be better for the blockchain logistics ecosystem to encourage open, decentralized blockchain networks, because that would lead to the development of more blockchain platforms and applications. Pursuing that goal is the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), a consortium that is looking to make open blockchain applications in transportation, freight and logistics a reality. BiTA is doing this by bringing hundreds of stakeholders together to build a framework for open blockchain standards, which it expects will act as a bedrock for the development of several blockchain platforms.

Then again, any blockchain platform at the moment is definitely a positive. Use cases like the Bumble Bee tuna-tracking platform will help expand blockchain’s reach and foster the growth of similar solutions in the logistics space.