Blockchain in logistics and transportation: Transformation ahead
As blockchain and IoT converge, the push to commercialize applications leveraging both technologies grows. The latest industry to embrace this confluence is the transportation and logistics industry. In late August, the Blockchain in Trucking Alliance (BITA) launched with 150 or so member organizations — including transportation management companies, brokers, carriers, shippers and technology vendors. BITA’s stated goal is to create standards and educate industry stakeholders about the promise of blockchain. And at last week’s Connected Fleets USA event in Atlanta, BITA co-founder Craig Fuller, CEO for TransRisk, stressed that the combination of IoT and blockchain in logistics and transportation will be a formidable one.
Blockchain “has the power to transform almost every element of this industry,” said Fuller, whose company develops products to help stakeholders in the transportation industry manage price risk. In the future, blockchain systems will work in tandem with data from IoT devices used in transportation and logistics. Business transactions surrounding the shipment of freight will be automated using blockchain-based “smart contracts,” which improve upon traditional contracts by enforcing the rules controlling the transfer of currency or assets under specific conditions. In simplified terms, blockchain systems use a chain of cryptographically protected records to expose the details of transactions to all participants and distribute records across the network of participating “nodes,” or computers, thereby eliminating the need for a central authority to maintain records, which makes processes more efficient and cuts costs.
- Accelerated payment, better security and reduction of fraud.
- Simplified claims settlement.
- Improved traceability and trackability.
- Elimination of the middleman, which cuts costs, reduces paperwork and shortens the supply chain.
- Reduction in the cost of regulations and compliance.
- Increased transparency of price, ownership and the entire process.
But there are, of course, challenges to blockchain in logistics and transportation, which Kar summarized as:
- Lack of initial knowledge, skills, expertise and trust in the technology.
- Limited easy availability of cryptocurrencies, which may or may not be coupled with a blockchain system.
- A bias toward the established infrastructure.
- Lack of a central authority to mitigate risk.
- Potential cryptocurrency volatility because no central authority governs cryptocurrencies.
To help the industry get past the obstacles and reap the rewards of blockchain, BITA is attempting to address the education gap, as well as help develop standards that are specific to the transport industry. Education is critical, Fuller said: “People don’t understand the use cases for it. They know the buzzwords, but they don’t know how it’s actually used in the market.” Fuller said he’s been on the receiving end of a number of questions about how to create commercial uses of blockchain in logistics and trucking. Questions like those are what led to the formation of BITA. “We’re bringing disparate, sometimes competitive parties together to create a common framework to solve problems. … We’re trying to bring together the folks [who] can actually have an impact,” he said.
Performance history records. Potential use cases for blockchain in trucking include maintaining accurate performance history records. When a truck enters the secondary market (that is, gets sold as a used vehicle), questions come up around how the vehicle was maintained. “In a blockchain environment, you can have a trustless record” of that maintenance, Fuller said. Because blockchain transaction records are considered immutable and transparent, parties in a transaction don’t need to have established trust with one another beforehand. “The beautiful part is, I don’t have to trust the other party, the seller or an intermediary. The data is flawless.”