IBM, Maersk launch TradeLens blockchain shipping platform

The joint effort has been in beta and is now processing 154 million shipping events a day.

IBM and Maersk said their blockchain shipping platform has more than 94 corporations, carriers, ports, customs authorities, banks and logistics firms using or planning to use the system.

The two companies last year said they would collaborate on a blockchain venture designed to boost efficiency in shipping and the supply chain. In what equates to a big beta program until general availability later this year, TradeLens is refining its processes for more adoption.

Nevertheless, IBM said TradeLens is gaining production scale. The platform supports 154 million shipping events captured, 25 marine terminals, 11 million container trips and 5 million shipments.

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In addition, more than 20 ports are using TradeLens around the world. Blockchain technology is being used to swap contract, customs and other data in real time confidentially. Maersk and IBM have added a trade document module.

The companies said a 12-month beta has been able to cut down on documentation issues while speeding up transit time.

Marie Wieck, general manager of IBM Blockchain, said the lessons from TradeLens are roughly the following:

  • The primary return is a 40 percent reduction in shipping times.
  • IBM and Maersk have found that EDI systems haven't been enough to aggregate events, documents and shipping data in a way that adheres to privacy and governance models.
  • The initial goal of TradeLens was to eliminate paper documents, but IBM and Maersk have had to track paper and data at the same time. Paper documents are scanned into the system depending on the maturity of a partner's system.
  • Standards are still being refined. Land-based and ocean shipping have different standards and last-mile handoffs to logistics firms vary.
  • IBM added that it is accepting more early adopters for TradeLens and working with standard groups such as openshipping.org to align APIs with standards in progress.

As for the on-boarding to TradeLens, Wieck said it varies based on the enterprise. "We have digital on boarding and virtual guided on-boarding," she explained. TradeLens is cloud-based and will be delivered as a service based on what role a company has in the shipping ecosystem.