IBM Blockchain

Momentum Continues to Build Behind TradeLens: Q&A With Todd Scott

The effectiveness of any blockchain network grows as more industry participants join the platform. This week, TradeLens welcomes two heavy-hitters in the shipping world: German-based Hapag-Lloyd and Singapore-based Ocean Network Express (ONE) Pte. Ltd.

We sat down with Todd Scott, IBM’s VP of Supply Chain Solutions to discuss the impact of this latest addition to the broader TradeLens ecosystem.

What value does TradeLens bring to Hapag-Lloyd and ONE ?

Digitizing the movement of cargo over waterways is an imperative for the shipping industry and something Hapag-Lloyd and ONE have long been committed to. I think as more partners have signed on and bolstered the platform’s underlying value proposition, the decision to come aboard became that much easier.  There's no debate whether there's an industry challenge that exists. And there's no debate that blockchain designs could help. So now every company has to make a decision. What step do I take, and which platform will I invest in?

Hapag-Lloyd and ONE now join a number of rivals on the platform, but at the same time, many of their customers work with each of these carriers. How does TradeLens enable competitors to work together?

They're competitors when they’re trying to sell containers, but when it comes to trying to solve this industry challenge of too much paper and inefficiency, they are collaborators. Think of them as working cooperatively to solve this challenge. One of the benefits of blockchain we often refer to is being able to help companies do business together that might otherwise have very little trust. Blockchain as a technology allows them to conduct business with one another to build trust. I believe that IBM plays a significant role in helping convene these ecosystems, both in tackling the technical hurdles, as well as defining an equitable system of governance.

And one of the real benefits comes for the carriers and their customers - the cargo owners. Using a consistent platform no matter which shipping line your cargo container sails on can greatly simplify supply chain processes for these large companies such as Proctor & Gamble, it can make it easier for ports and customs authorities as well now that systems can be more digitized.

What does this new addition mean for the broader TradeLens ecosystem?

I do think that it's a turning point. The whole value of a blockchain solution is to be able to have a large number of participants using the same platform. When you have a large number of carriers, ports and customs authorities, it creates that much more value for banks, freight forwarders and cargo owners. I think that’s an incredibly powerful value add.

What would you say are TradeLens’s greatest differentiators today?

TradeLens is about more than just visibility of containers or storing documents. It’s about the entire supply chain process, from booking to clearance to payments. We have built a solution that is based on a wealth of input from the industry, not feedback from carriers, but also feedback that we're receiving from beneficial cargo owners as well as ports and terminals and customs authorities around the world. We are steadfast in our commitment to open standards. And we make it easy for people to join the platform. You can join simply by providing EDI data, or by interfacing through APIs. Irrespective of the technical skills a company might have, we are providing them options.

What do you think is the role of TradeLens in fostering a network of networks and helping engender blockchain interoperability in the industry?

I think our role will continue along the path that it's already on. We began working with the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) early on. We made commitments to open and UN/CEFACT. From the beginning, TradeLens was always going to be an industry platform based on the standards most important to the broader ecosystem, whether we’re talking about beneficial cargo owners, ocean carriers or ports and customs authorities around the world. In service of that, the APIs we've created, which are public and can be openly accessed, will enable third parties to write interfaces that can exchange data with TradeLens, which is very important for carriers.

How can the industry have confidence in the technology?

The data speaks for itself in terms of our numbers. We think it is very important for participants to try out the technology first, spend time with the platform, and conduct a proof of concept in their own organization. The partners and clients on board today have each had the opportunity to dig into the code, looked carefully at how it was designed, what its capabilities are, and what our roadmap is.

They’ve signed onto our platform so we must be doing something right. We encourage companies to come check it out for themselves.