An Ounce of the Blockchain Concept in Action is Worth a Ton of Theory

My previous post,  To Blockchain, or Not to Blockchain, That is the Question was all about deciding whether Blockchain seemed to offer your business a benefit.  We know it offers lots of benefits.  We know the theory.  How do we realise those benefits?  Let’s see it in action.

We are going to examine a working non-tokenised case study at scale:  TradeLens

We will review how the Blockchain concept has been utilised, who benefits, and how return on investment is achieved.

Maersk have collaborated with IBM, and have launched TradeLens.  The system uses the Blockchain concept to co-ordinate supply chain and provide visibility of shipments. Shipping is an extremely complex regulatory landscape, difficult to provide updated tracking information, and is very time-sensitive.

In Diagram 1, across the top, listed are the parties involved. (i.e. these are the parties, who have access to write information to the network.)  The “the columns” in our “order” row, in our spreadsheet analogy. It includes, customs, ports, ocean vessels etc.  You can also see the journey itinerary.

Diagram 1: From TradeLens, the participants and various events

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Then you can see all the various documents required to be submitted for a single order.

The various parties submit their documentation, in various formats (defined by TradeLens) to the TradeLens Blockchain Business Network.

Only if all those parties, submit the correct documents will the order be completed, and paid.  So how is this different from existing systems? 

  • TradeLens provides real-time visibility of the shipment.
  • TradeLens can only be written to or appended by the various parties, according to the shared business logic, via the smart contracts (“Macros” in our spreadsheet example).
  • The participants have no privilege to amend the business logic, as it is built into the system.
  • There is no central data store, as specific parties, choose to host nodes (where copies are stored)
  • TradeLens, uses separate channels (“Worksheets” in our spreadsheet example) to segregate Ocean carrier data.
  • TradeLens, uses standard format for the documents, working alongside industry to amend these as necessary.

It provides the traceability, for provenance, customs, and delivery purposes.

TradeLens, is secure and neutral, so that any number of ocean carriers, not just Maersk can use it.  The inter-operability aspect is developing as needed, to relate to other Blockchain technology.

Diagram 2 shows how only participants hosting nodes, are allowed to interact on that Ocean carrier’s channel.

Diagram 2: Channels, and node interactions

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For those of you who like systems diagrams, here’s how the parties will interact with existing systems, via the various channels.  Like existing systems, extensive use of APIs, ensure it can be accessed by many different services, provided with credentials.

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For the user, an application called Shipment Manager, can be used to add users, view consignments, and manage subscriptions. It’s similar to a delivery tracking system.  Subscriptions are automated notifications of “events” regarding the consignment by organisation, terminal, country.  For example, a local carrier at Southampton, could subscribe to the Southampton terminal, to be notified of orders to Southampton as soon as the order, or the necessary customs documents have been uploaded.

With this increased traceability, efficient utilisation, customs transactions, tracking of hazardous materials, can all be improved.  As you can see, tracking shipments, has been transformed.

Great. How can the Blockchain concept, help MY business?

Let’s looked at what has happened here, in a very simplistic way. A technology company (IBM) has partnered with a global shipment company (Maersk) to develop a neutral industry wide solution.

Was it expensive?  Yes.  So how do they achieve a return on investment?

  • Maersk could commercialise the Subscriptions for the local carriers on their channel.
  • Maersk benefit from more efficient, and automatically regulated shipments, of course, so they have huge efficiencies.
  • Other ocean carriers, can host nodes, using different channels on the same industry wide network. Note that Maersk, aren’t the only ocean carrier, to use it.
  • Other ocean carriers use it, but on different channels, “worksheets”.
  • IBM benefit from the network being in their cloud, and the “nodes” or participant’s “copies” of the spreadsheet, can also of course benefit from being on the IBM cloud.

What next?

Can we apply this model to another industry? Let’s say the Insurance world.

A technology company would like to partner with an insurance industry participant.

The technology company, then would provide a neutral industry wide solution, where the business logic, is baked into the system, and insurance policies could be provided to people with assurance of people’s authenticity, and compliance with any regulation. There are hundreds of different insurance companies, with complex “business logic” for each region, area.   If a system was built for various, regions or types of insurance, then the channels could be added, for various differing cases.

Again subscriptions, could be commercialised, and again the tech company could benefit from the provision of the core technology.

Summary

In this article, “An Ounce of the Blockchain Concept in Action is Worth a Ton of Theory”, we have reviewed a working non-tokenised, scaled example using the concept.  We have seen a single implementation, that has provided a neutral solution beneficial for the whole industry, that has a successful commercial return on investment.  You can find out more about TradeLens here.

Look out for Article 3: Difficulties in Implementing the Blockchain Concept are Just Things to Overcome, After All. It’s all about a tokenised scaled implementation of the Blockchain concept.

Any questions, or comments are welcome.  If you are interested in utilising the Blockchain to impact your industry, contact me at B2E, to trial our starter kit, which will provide you with a custom technical roadmap, for a business solution.

The author wishes to thank TradeLens for giving permission for the publication of this case study.

About the author, Aruna Koya

Aruna Koya is a B2E Principal who has spent 20 years working in the IT industry, starting as Software Developer then Department Head & Delivery related roles, progressing through to Director level.

Her most recent projects have seen her working to design and develop Blockchain solutions using Hyperledger, in the private, permissioned format for Enterprise solutions.