The Maritime industry is entering a new generation of technological advances. Whether that be environmental, transportation or digital. Things are about to change
A term that has come up a lot in recent months has been ‘Blockchain’. But when I talk to people about this ground-breaking technology, that promises to revolutionize container logistics, not many people understand it.
So, what is it?
Blockchain’s store information across a network of personal computers making them not just decentralised but distributed. This means no central company or person owns the system but everyone can use it and help run it. This makes it very difficult for it to be . The people who run the system use their computer to hold bundles of ‘blocks’ (records) that can be submitted to others in a chronological chain. The blockchain uses a form of math called cryptography to ensure records can’t be counterfeited. Old transactions are preserved forever and new transactions are irreversible once added.
The blockchain is best known as the underlying foundation for the crypto-currency, Bitcoin. Digital cash you can send to anyone, this is different to normal money as there isn’t a financial middleman involved. Instead, people from all over the world help move the digital money by validating others bitcoin transactions with their personal computers.
Bitcoin uses blockchain by tracking records of ownership over the digital money, so only one person can be the owner at a time. The money can’t be spent twice like counterfeit money in the physical world can. Bitcoin is just the beginning, in the future, blockchains that manage and verify online data could enable us to launch companies that are entirely run by algorithms. This would help us protect our online identities and even track the billions of devices on the internet of things. These innovations will change our lives forever and it’s all just the beginning.
How will this relate to shipping?
Container logistics is a £3 trillion a year industry, using various IT systems and massive amounts of data-entry-type paperwork. Maersk and IBM have teamed up to start using blockchain to track its cargo. For Maersk, it gives buyers, sellers and customers an official way to keep track of the goods it hauls. Everyone involved can see where the shipment is at any point. Shipping crosstrade can have up to 30 people involved, having 200 separate interactions that all require different sets of documents.
This is usually done by countless emails, phone calls and sometimes even fax. Blockchain will allow customs officials to upload a copy of a signed document (approving the transaction/shipment) where everyone can see it. This could save up to £230 per container in terms of the labour that process documents. So, an Ultra Large Container ship that can carry 18,000 containers, could mean the savings for one ship’s full cargo would amount to £4.4 million.
The great thing about Blockchain is that no one needs permission to implement it into their business. But everyone involved would have to be ‘on board’ with the technology for it to work effectively. With a wide lack of understanding still present, this could take years to implement.
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