IBM Blockchain Gains Traction for Shipping with TradeLens

Most everything that touches our lives takes a long trip across the ocean. With 90 percent of the goods we use every day — from toothbrushes to furniture — transported as ocean freight, you appreciate the scale and importance of the global shipping industry.

IBM’s TradeLens Gains New Shipping Partners

Blockchain is helping to modernize the shipping industry, which for years has dealt with isolated systems that require reams of paperwork to get freight from its point of origin to its final destination. Maersk, a leader in global shipping, found that a simple shipment can go through nearly 30 people and organizations.

The Z should be ideal for blockchain. It has the scalability, security, and rock solid reliability that benefits blockchain.

In an effort to transform this complex and far-reaching industry, several years ago IBM and Maersk embarked on a pilot to digitize global trade and share the resulting information. Last August they announced TradeLens, a blockchain-enabled platform that promotes information sharing, collaboration, and trust among trading partners. In less than a year, TradeLens entered production and is now operating with more than 100 participants who are tracking and sharing over 500 million shipping events and documents. The platform uses open standards, open governance and open APIs to ensure the entire industry can benefit and drive continued innovation, while at the same time providing much-needed security and data privacy.

TradeLens has now reached a major tipping point: two of the top ocean cargo carriers, CMA CGM and MSC, have joined the platform. By joining forces to rapidly expand the geographic reach and scope of TradeLens, shippers like Procter & Gamble can get a single real-time view of all of its containerized cargo, regardless of whether its cargo is carried on a Maersk, CMA CGM or MSC ship or any of the other 10 ocean carriers now on the network and also are assured that their data is not visible to their competitors.

TradeLens brings together not just ocean carriers but port and terminal operators, inland transportation providers, customs authorities, cargo owners and freight forwarders. As TradeLens grows, the benefit to all grows through greater visibility, consistent information, better collaboration and shared insights–all achieved fast and with less labor. Modernizing the shipping supply chain using this kind of technology has the potential to add billions of dollars of value creation to the global shipping industry; maybe even enough to help offset some of the President’s latest tariffs.

CMA CGM and MSC plan to bring their terminals on board and offer the TradeLens platform through open source Hyperledger blockchain technology,  along with a toolkit for developers to make it easy to build and innovate on the open platform. TradeLens is also working with to align its APIs with the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) standards.

With the new participants TradeLens is better positioned to get insight into other key requirements for continued innovation and interoperability. For example, TradeLens plans to support the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) efforts on interoperability and standards in container shipping.

At the same time, TradeLens is designed for security and data privacy, which are essential to the success of a business network that includes not just partners but competitors. TradeLens uses IBM Blockchain technology to give trading partners a shared view of transactions without compromising details, privacy, or confidentiality, ensuring  an immutable record of transactions. Perfect for Z.

Everyone in the shipping business can benefit. On TradeLens, ocean carriers can operate independent blockchain nodes for data sharing related to their contracted consignments. Access controls let data owners prescriptively determine different levels of permission for data access. Data owners also control their data even after it becomes part of the blockchain flow.

Equally important, the momentum of TradeLens demonstrates the growing adoption of blockchain, which already is used in banking, food safety, supply chain and other industries where trading systems must be digitized, shared, and secured. Today Blockchain and the TradeLens platform tracks more than 10 million events per week.

Blockchain is a team sport, and IBM and its latest partners hope that those who have been watching and waiting will now make a commitment to join TradeLens. It’s the best way transform global shipping for the industry and for themselves.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran information technology analyst, writer, and ghost-writer. Follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog, and see more of his work at

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