IBM is developing an applications marketplace for TradeLens, which will see financial and insurance services developed atop the blockchain platform.
The tech giant is also looking to connect TradeLens with its other blockchain networks, such as we.trade.
Owned by IBM and Maersk, TradeLens has been under development since 2017, and went live with an early adopter programme last year. The global platform enables parties across the trade ecosystem to share shipping data, giving them real-time visibility of a shipment’s journey, and will also facilitate the exchange of documents to simplify trade workflows.
The attributes of blockchain are ideally suited to large networks of disparate partners: it establishes a shared, immutable record of all transactions and allows permissioned parties to access data in real time.
The system is believed to have the potential to significantly improve efficiency in shipping, an industry still largely dominated by manual, time-consuming and paper-based processes. During a trial last year, TradeLens helped reduce the transit time for shipments to the US by up to 40%, saving thousands of dollars.
The platform is now set to expand its use case. Speaking at the recent Blockchain Summit in London, Richard Stockley, blockchain business development executive of global trade at IBM, talked about the importance of connecting the physical supply chain with what he called the “facilitators of trade” such as trade finance and insurance.
Outlining the roadmap for TradeLens, he said IBM is working on an open marketplace that will allow third parties to publish services on top of the platform.
“We are developing a marketplace where different players in the supply chain can actually build services, where they can work with the connectivity to enhance trade, provide services and commercialise them,” he said.
He went on to provide examples of such applications: within counter-fraud, for example, trade finance banks could use TradeLens to verify the authenticity of documents such as the bill of lading. Meanwhile, the platform’s track and trace system could be used to automatically trigger the settlement of payments or other financial services.
“Insurance is also a very interesting place where we are having some really productive pilots,” he added. He further mentioned internet of things and artificial intelligence as emerging technologies that could be used to enhance the information disbursed on the platform.
Stockley also hinted that IBM is working to connect TradeLens with the technology giant’s other blockchain platforms.
“How different blockchain networks interact is really where we see the future,” he said, highlighting specifically IBM’s two other trade-focused blockchain solutions, we.trade and IBM Food Trust.
Like TradeLens, they are based on the Hyperledger Fabric blockchain framework.
Backed by 12 trade finance banks, we.trade is a solution for managing, tracking and financing open account trade transactions between SMEs in Europe. It gives SMEs and their banks full visibility on transaction and shipment status, digitalises the whole process from order creation to payment execution, and enables banks to provide financial services to their clients. While IBM has built this solution, we.trade today operates as an independent legal entity.
IBM Food Trust, meanwhile, is a food safety solution to create visibility and accountability in the food supply chain. It connects growers, processors, distributors and retailers, allowing them to confidently and securely share food information. The network includes the likes of Carrefour, Walmart, Nestle, Dole Food, Tyson Foods, Kroger and Unilever
Stockley’s comments come as the question of interoperability between blockchain platforms becomes ever more relevant. The rapid increase of trade solutions in this space has prompted concern about the development of digital islands that can’t communicate with one another. Some initiatives have already started to explore this issue: we.trade, for one, is working with eTradeConnect, a Hong Kong-based blockchain platform, to explore how the two solutions could work together.
we.trade’s former COO Roberto Mancone has previously mentioned TradeLens as a prospective partner, saying we.trade would “inevitably” look to partner with other solutions that fit well with its aim of creating a seamless customer journey within the supply chain.
“If you could combine we.trade as a trade and trade finance platform with other platforms which are digitising logistics or providing procurement or instant insurance, for example, it would create value for the customer,” he told GTR earlier in the year.
IBM has not revealed the timeline for the app marketplace release, nor what exactly a connection to its other networks would involve. So far, TradeLens’ focus seems to have been on expanding the network of users: the ecosystem now includes more than 100 participants, including port and terminal operators, ocean shipping lines, customs authorities, freight forwarders and logistics companies.
The platform recently announced it had added four of the largest shipping firms in the world: MSC, CMA CGM, Ocean Network Express and Hapag-Lloyd. This was seen as a crucial step in TradeLens’ journey towards becoming an industry-wide solution, after having been criticised by rivals for being too dominated by Maersk.