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Maersk adds two big shipping firms to its blockchain ledger

The three largest overseas shipping companies in the world are now using the same  blockchain-based digital tracking system, which enables an electronic ledger that all members can see in near real time.

A.P. Moller-Maersk (Maersk), which developed the TradeLens supply chain platform with IBM, said Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) and France-based CMA CGM are using the blockchain platform to track cargo ships and containers.

MSC has 471 container vessels and CMA GSM has 428 ships, making them the second and third largest shipping lines in the world behind Maersk; the latter has 580 vessels.

Since Maersk and IBM first launched the TradeLens in 2018, more than 100 shipping and cargo firms have signed on to track vessels and shipping containers via the immutable electronic ledger. The system, based on Hyperledger blockchain, uses a shared governance system through which members hold others accountable for data input and must approve of new blocks added to the ledger.

“In addition to being able to contribute and view data on the platform, CMA GCM and MSC will play vital roles as validators on the blockchain network to conduct consensus, something critical in ensuring the network’s integrity as it continues to grow in scale and complexity,” a IBM spokesperson said via email.

tradelens blockchain supply chain IBM, Maersk

The electronic shipping ledger records details of cargo shipments as they leave their origin, arrive in ports, are moved overseas and eventually received by manufacturers and others. TradeLens enables competing shippers to connect, share information and collaborate across the shipping supply chain ecosystem. Members gain a comprehensive view of their data and can digitally collaborate as cargo moves around the world, helping create a transparent, secure, immutable record of transactions.

“Digital collaboration is a key to the evolution of the container shipping industry. The TradeLens platform has enormous potential to spur the industry to digitize the supply chain and build collaboration around common standards,” André Simha, chief digital & information officer at MSC, said in a statement. “We think that the TradeLens Advisory Board, as well as standards bodies such as the Digital Container Shipping Association, will help accelerate that effort.”

Traditionally, the international shipping industry’s information systems have used paper legal documents, with electronic data transmitted via electronic data interchange (EDI) – a 60-year-old technology that doesn’t present real-time data. Shipping participants have also shared documents via email, fax and courier. Digitizing that process significantly cuts down on paper trails and processing time.

When information is entered or scanned in manually, TradeLens can track critical data about every shipment in a supply chain, the companies said.

Some shipping manifests can also be moved via an API to the TradeLens platform, giving manufacturers and others in the supply chain more timely information and improved visibility to the process.

Procter & Gamble is one of the cargo owners on the network and one of world’s top importers of raw materials, IBM said; it is using TradeLens as part of a “massive” supply chain that will benefit from a comprehensive view of cargo data as it moves around the world.

Along with freight forwarders, transportation companies and logistics firms, more than 20 port and terminal operators are using – or have agreed to pilot – TradeLens, including PSA Singapore, International Container Terminal Services Inc., Patrick Terminals and Modern Terminals Ltd. in Hong Kong.

Customs agencies such the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Customs Administration of the Netherlands are also using TradeLens.

Among the first beta partners of the TradeLens blockchain was Hong Kong-based Modern Terminals.

“Digitized documentation that can at the same time be authenticated will drive down costs and increase supply chain security,” Modern Terminals CEO Peter Levesque said in an earlier interview.

As a port operator, Modern Terminals doesn’t need to track shipments outside of its operating environment, but it tracks the status of containers coming in and out of its terminals via a Terminal Operating System (TOS); many of those terminals rely on EDI and wireless LANs and Radio-frequency identification (RFID) to monitor cargo movements. The company handles about 5.5 million shipping containers per year at its Hong Kong business unit.

As with open blockchains in other industries, including real estate and financial services, Maersk recognized the benefit of an open industry ledger allowing its competitors in for collaboration. Along with IBM, Maersk has been creating standardized APIs and a developer tool kit to enable outside innovation around the platform.

“Digitization is a cornerstone of the CMA CGM Group’s strategy to provide an end-to-end offer tailored to our customers’ needs. We believe that TradeLens, with its commitment to open standards and open governance, is a key platform to help usher in this digital transformation,” Rajesh Krishnamurthy, executive vice president of IT & Transformations for CMA CGM Group, said in a statement. “TradeLens’ network is already showing that participants from across the supply chain ecosystem can derive significant value.”

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For real estate, blockchain could unshackle investment

A blockchain industry alliance has released a guide and list of use cases for deploying the technology to enable, among other things, the purchase of fractions of real estate property as digital securities on an open marketplace.

The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) used its 30-page Real Estate Use Case document to promote blockchain as a more open, transparent and traceable method of transacting in the multi-trillion dollar realty industry. The document was created by the EEA’s Real Estate Special Interest Group (SIG), which was created a year ago and has already garnered more than 50 member companies.

Among the member companies are blockchain software developers such as ApplicatureBlockapps and ConsenSys, as well as Deloitte LLC, John Hancock Life Insurance, Ott Capital Ventures, and online blockchain-powered real estate platforms Propy and Blockimmo.

Bastiaan Don, chair of the EEA’s Real Estate SIG, began developing his Swiss-based Blockimmo marketplace a little over a year ago. Like a stock market with corporations, Blockimmo users can purchase, sell or trade portions of real estate properties that have been turned into digital tokens on a global marketplace that runs 24/7.

On March 1, Blockimmo listed its first tokenized property – an apartment building with a restaurant – with a value of 15 million Swiss francs ($14.8 million). Twenty percent of the property’s value was converted to “Swiss Crypto Tokens,” with transactions  enabled through the use of the “CryptoFranc,” a stablecoin linked directly to the Swiss franc. The tokens sold to four investors.

Real estate blockchain Blockimmo

Property data hashed on the an Ethereum blockchain using an Interplanetary File System (IFPS)

Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies that, unlike bitcoin, are linked to fiat currency, such as the U.S. dollar or Swiss franc. They’re expected to become increasingly popular as a vehicle to tokenize (digitize) assets, such as property that can then be bought or traded on blockchain exchanges. For example, J.P. Morgan recently created a stablecoin to transfer funds over a blockchain network internally and internationally between institutional clients.

The EEA’s Real Estate playbook lists eight different uses for blockchain, including property identification (including listings and data); token-enabled marketplaces; token securitization; public registries detailing ownership of properties; and sales process optimization.

Along with creating a real estate exchange, blockchain has been used as a platform for conventional real estate sales. For example, New York-based ShelterZoom plans to go live this year with a platform that enables sellers and buyers to make offers over an Ethereum blockchain.

Another start-up, Jointer.io is focused exclusively on real estate tokenization. Unlike other services, it doesn’t offer one property as shares that can be purchased. It offers a number of buildings in an index, and participants can buy tokens from that index. The result is less risk and more profit, according to Jude Regev, founder and CEO of Jointer.

The real estate market is highly liquid, meaning property can be bought or sold relatively quickly with little to no loss in value. But the ability to play in that marketplace has mostly been reserved for a small number of wealthy investors, Don argued. And, it’s a complex system because of the need for a middleman (a bank) and others to enable transaction clearance and settlement.

screen shot 2019 05 23 at 1.11.04 pm 100797305 orig Blockimmo

Tokenized properties for sale on Blockimmo’s real estate marketplace.

“It’s almost impossible for a semi-professional investor to get access to it. So on one hand, by applying blockchain technology, you can enable anyone to invest because the costs to do it are so much lower, and it enables fractionalized ownership,” Don said, referring to the absence of banking fees. “That’s exactly what tokenization does; it allows someone to indirectly acquire a piece of real estate.”

“Democratization,” a term that has frequently been applied to blockchain’s ability to enable an open and transparent marketplace, it also being used by the EEA’s Real Estate SIG to describe the benefits of real estate tokenization.

“It enables anyone to own and acquire a piece of real estate. You can do that today through an investment company, but blockchain allows anyone to sell anytime. You can sell your share on a secondary market,” Don said. “And, in our case, it’s not just marketing talk. We’ve already launched a decentralized exchange for real estate tokens.”

The ability to purchase a fraction of a piece of property is not new. A Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) is a fund or security that allows investors to purchase shares of income-generating real estate properties. REITs are owned and operated by shareholders who invest in commercial properties such as office and apartment buildings, shopping centers and hotels.

“Our solutions let the investors decide which property at which exact location they want to invest their money,” Don said. “Each property will have its own smart-contract and thus own token. They can choose to invest in a specific property at a specific address in New York, Amsterdam and Zurich and build up their own customized, flexible and diversified real estate portfolio of which they are in control.”

How it works

While Don describes his company’s Ethereum-based marketplace as a public or open blockchain, in reality it fits the definition of a private blockchain in that it’s governed or administered by a central authority of users who whitelist those who can participate by first authenticating their identities. Once cleared, their personally identifiable information is encrypted and stored in a cryptowallet, a piece of software that keeps track of the secret keys used to digitally sign blockchain transactions.

During the blockchain onboarding process, potential users are automatically asked questions and required to submit proof of identity (such as a copy of a passport) through a business automation application known as a “smart contract” that is intended to satisfy know-your-customer and anti-money laundering regulations, Don said. Those who complete the onboarding process have their cryptowallets whitelisted for blockchain transactions.

screen shot 2019 05 23 at 1.11.33 pm 100797306 orig Blockimmo

A tokenized property showing where it exists on a blockchain, its token identifier and the smart contract controlling its distribution.

“If I’m whitelisted, I’m able to participate in crowdfunding opportunities – for instance an interesting real estate building being offered on the blockchain platform. But more importantly, I’m also allowed to trade these tokens on a secondary market,” Don said. “The technology has to adapt to the infrastructure and regulations of the markets. And  Ethereum is perfectly able to do that today. You can program smart contracts so you stick to these laws and regulations.”

A real estate property can be divided into individual investment units each identified and embodied via a security token (via the ERC 20 or ERC 721 specifications or another variant). The tokens, which include the property’s lot number, will identify ownership, provide a mechanism for transactional processing, and serve as the property identifier to allow for trading on regulated secondary markets.

“We only offer tokenization of properties as a service, but the asset owner is in control of the tokens,” Don said. “If our company goes bankrupt, and we’ve tokenized 100,000 buildings, nothing happens to those buildings.”

“It’s early days,” Don continued, “but it’s heading in the right direction. Larger institutional investors are seeing the potential of using public blockchains like Ethereum. At least in Switzerland, even financial regulators see that it’s possible to use a public blockchain and be able to stick to laws and regulations.”

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These are the top skill sets for a successful blockchain team

As undergraduates emerge from schools with software development or business skills, companies exploring blockchain use are seeking job candidates with four specific skill sets, according to a new report from consultancy KPMG.

Those skills are needed more with each passing month; KPMG expects an increase in the number of companies exploring blockchain this year for everything from identifying new business models to piloting projects and ultimately, progressing to scalable solutions.

KPMG said, not surprisingly, that it’s seeking graduates with a solid grasp of blockchain at a high level – those who understand distributed ledgers, peer-to-peer topologies and consensus mechanisms; all are key for a technologist hoping to land a high-paying blockchain developer job.

But even more critical is an understanding of the business landscape and how to apply the still-emerging technology to a specific problem.

The nexus of tech and business acumen

“The key thing we do at KPMG is balance an understanding of how this technology works without being a blockchain hammer looking for a nail,” said Tegan Keele, KPMG’s U.S. blockchain program lead. “You have to know how to apply it and that really only comes if you have an understanding of business processes.”

Secondly, members of a blockchain team should understand the difference between a variety of technologies, including the cloud, protocols, ERPs and networks, and know  when to use different mechanisms and platforms.

“This will help ensure they can understand how blockchain interacts within an existing technology ecosystem, and how that ecosystem will impact the design of the blockchain solution,” KPMG said. “And for those who are planning to work on the development side of blockchain, some knowledge of coding (JavaScript, HTML, solidity, etc.) is helpful….”

That means the company looks for blockchain developers with business acumen, such as a knowledge of supply chain or procurement systems or finance processes – skills that are already taught in undergraduate programs.

KPMG also looks for a job candidate’s technical literacy, or the ability to understand  data generated on a blockchain platform and how to use it in a business context.

One of the key attributes of blockchain is its ability to span an organization and its business partners, essentially connecting multiple, disparate entities through a single, transparent electronic ledger.

“But, then you have multiple people within each participating entity looking at the blockchain and they’re all going to want to see slightly different things,” Keele said. “So understanding how to derive those insights out of the information on a blockchain is key.”

A hacker’s ability to problem solve

Those entering the blockchain development/engineering field should have the mentality of a hacker – or the ability to problem solve collaboratively in a workshop setting when a client presents a business problem.

They need to be able to think through the business objectives, implications and value “for each of the participants and then [define] the architecture and overall solution flow,” KPMG said. “It is this collaborative approach that leads to a successful application of blockchain.”

Given the lack of coursework around blockchain and its relatively new existence in the enterprise, a team must be open to exploring and experimenting by “hacking the problem” from a business and IT perspective, according to KPMG.

“I’d say at KPMG we’ve been very successful at taking [employee] skills in-house and upscaling them to deliver blockchain skills,” Keele said. “Until universities start printing blockchain degrees, that will be the pattern that will continue.”

The list of U.S. universities now offering courses on blockchain continues to grow and includes such prestigious institutions as MIT, Princeton, UC Berkeley and Stanford University.

The top blockchain jobs, according to a report last year by BusinessStudent.com, are interns, project managers, developers, engineers, quality engineers, legal consultants or attorneys and web designers.

While most techies who add blockchain to their skillset are versed in programming languages such as Java or Python, it’s by no means a prerequisite for learning the technology.

Like any emerging technology, having the right talent is paramount to driving results, KPMG’s report said.

“Blockchain projects will not succeed or scale without a multifaceted team that goes beyond technologists,” KPMG wrote. “We expect more universities to integrate blockchain into future coursework, which will help prepare both end users as well as those who will be responsible for building, deploying and managing blockchain.”

The dearth of workers for a hot field

Currently, there’s a significant lack of skilled blockchain developers, according to job search sites and research firms. That paucity of talent is one of the major stumbling blocks for companies hoping to deploy blockchain. For those with blockchain skills, the job market is red hot.

In February, the online job search site Hired reported demand for blockchain engineers was “through the roof,” with year-over-year growth of more than 200%.

Hired’s jobs report, which was in line with earlier reports from LinkedIn and jobs market research firms Burning Glass Technologies and Janco Associates, shows software engineers with blockchain skills are in higher demand than at any time in the past, with the number of positions growing more than five-fold in the past year.

While blockchain engineering is the most in-demand skill on the Hired marketplace, only 12% of those surveyed by the firm earlier this year identified blockchain as the top technology they want to learn. Fifty-one percent of survey respondents named Python as one of their most-liked languages, 49% cited Javascript and 19% named. PHP.

Another problem affecting the mismatch between the need for blockchain developers and the scarcity of available workers is the difficulty in finding places that offer training, according to Hired CEO Mehul Patel. In general, one in five software engineers is self-taught, according to Hired’s data.

“I think generally we are seeing less than half of engineers we looked at had a B.S. degree and one-fifth of them had gone through a year and a half of school. So, one-third of our engineering base are self-taught or taught through non-traditional means,” Patel said.

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Salesforce exec: Some clients just want blockchain for one purpose

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – More and more Salesforce clients are experimenting with blockchain technology, but in most cases they wind up stuck in a proof of concept, unable to move into production, according to Salesforce’s Senior Vice President of Emerging Technology, Adam Caplan.

“We haven’t seen a lot of successful wins,” Caplan said during a talk on blockchain’s role in the enterprise during MIT Technology Review’s Business of Blockchain conference here last week. “Part of the reason…is talent. Fifty-five percent find the challenge is finding the right, skilled workers. But also relevant is the technology is hard to work with.”

And that comploexity can get in the way, he said.

For example, Caplan commonly finds clients flummoxed when he tries to explain what the term “consensus” means in the context of blockchain. “If anyone has figured out how to do that, please let me know,” he said.

The best analogy Caplan’s found is comparing blockchain’s consensus mechanism to the difference between an NBA basketball game and a pick-up game. In an NBA basketball game, you have a referee who validates points scored and penalties made; in a pick-up game, the players perform the same tasks with equal, even better, accuracy – including contesting penalties. The NBA game represents a centrally-administered database, while a pick-up game represents users of a blockchain verifying each transaction placed on the electronic ledger.

For many Salesforce customers now exploring blockchain, the technology’s more sophisticated attributes – its distributed architecture, the ability to create consortiums among business partners and smart contracts applications – hold far less appeal than its simple ability to create an immutable audit trail. Blockchain is essentially a write-once, append many-database that can be shared among any number of users inside a business.

Over the past year – even during the past six months – Caplan said the conversations  he’s been having with clients has change dramatically. As the “hype” phase of blockchain has cooled, customers have begun asking what business value it can bring and what problems it can actually solve.

“I think there has been a sea change. I think the decrease in hype has helped,” he said. “Now, it’s about let’s get real, are we going to go live?”

Just give me an audit trail

While audit trails can be accomplished with other technologies, the blockchain term, Caplan said, carries a certain mystique that embodies trust.

“The blockchain word means a lot,” Caplan said. “Whether it’s for submitting data to the FDA, some financial use case, or just some internal audit or sharing data with some law firm partners, that audit trail based in blockchain is really powerful,” he said.

Salesforce clients like the idea they can get their feet wet with a simple business use case without going down a technological complex rabbit hole.

“We have some customers who say, ‘That’s all I need. I don’t care about decentralization. Let me start here. Let me get in the game here. Let me learn about blockchain. Let’s start here,'” he said.

One Salesforce customer is experimenting with blockchain to authenticate used car parts because they want to increase the value of their vehicles and make sure the parts they’re using are authentic, not cheap knock-offs that could fail. Blockchain can create an unchangeable supply chain trail from parts manufacturer to retailer.

“They don’t need a million partners or a ton of decentralization,” Caplan said.

Several of Salesforce’s clients have created proofs-of-concept to demonstrate blockchain’s ability to create a supply chain that ensures ethical sourcing of materials and anti-counterfeiting capabilities.

For example, a challenge in the cotton industry is proving it doesn’t come from slave labor in places like Uzbekistan. One retailer of high-end cotton clothing is exploring how to prove its Uzbeki cotton is sourced from the right places by tracking it from field to maker.

“They’re not sure what value it has at the end of the day. There’s probably some PR value there, there’s probably some value around making employees feel good about where they’re sourcing their cotton,” Caplan said. “There’s also a question about whether consumers would pay more for it. They don’t know yet, but…they feel like they’re in an interesting sweet spot because they sell high-margin items.”

At the same time enterprises are testing blockchain as a supply chain validator, they’re recognizing technology can only do so much. One concept they’re struggling to unravel is proof versus truth, or whether a product on a supply chain is actually what it’s claimed to be.

For example, while a blockchain ledger creates a transparent chain of transactions, each immutable and connected to the last, it doesn’t ensure someone at the manufacturer or along the supply chain hasn’t physically tampered with the goods. It simply ensures the electronic handshake has taken place between each entity along the supply route.

Caplan pointed to an enterprise customer in the liquor business who hopes to thwart product counterfeiting, which is prevalent in some regions. The company found that  even if it spends money on the assembly line to put high-quality QR codes on bottle labels (so retailers and consumers can scan for product provenance) that doesn’t necessarily validate the product, because a label – or the contents – can be replaced. 

“All of our clients who are thinking about [blockchain] who are not digital companies are really struggling with this concept,” Caplan said.

Tracking people, not products

Another salesforce client, Arizona State University (ASU), is testing blockchain as a universal record where each student owns their own transcripts for life. “And, that’s amazing, but that’s also really hard.”

ASU has banded together with regional community colleges on the project and is sharing transcript records. The benefit is if a community college student transfers to ASU, their pre-certified transcripts automatically come with them, as do the credits for courses completed. Conversely, when students graduate from ASU, the community colleges that have access to those same records can award a degree as well, attaining higher graduation rates and receiving more state funding from that.

Yet another client – this one in the concert ticketing business – wants to be able to share data with music fans, venue area hotels and ticket resellers. Worried that fraud and high brokerage fees could hurt their reputation, the ticketing agency hopes to use smart contracts to limit how long a reseller can hawk a ticket and cap the price they charge.

“Plus, you’re sharing all this information back [with the source of the tickets] so you actually know who’s coming to your concert, who is coming to your venue. So, you can cross-sell, upsell, and engage them with CRM – unlike today, when you may not have any idea who is even coming to your venue,” Caplan said.

Using blockchain for business collaboration

Others see the distributed ledger technology (DLT) as key to an open collaboration with business partners, even those with opposing goals.

For example, some of Salesforce’s oil industry clients have been testing blockchain’s ability to create a network over which performance-based contracts can be carried out. Each player in the oil extraction and refining process has a different role. One company supplies the equipment for drilling, another supplies the employees, while a third company handles the sale of the oil.

The company that sells the oil wants to do so as fast as possible. But the companies that supply the oil rigs or employees have an incentive to move slowly, because the longer equipment and workers are on site, the more money they make.

“So, [the company that sells the oil is] looking at performance-based contracts on blockchain to align incentives through smart contracts where bonuses can be paid based on speed,” Caplan said.

One mistake clients say those marketing blockchain as a business solution make is focusing on the technology rather than on how it can solve business problems or grow revenue.

In attempting to assist clients with blockchain deployments, one thing Salesforce often does is avoid actually saying the word “blockchain” too much. “We get stuck in this lingo, this verbiage with deep technical guys… and you kind of get away from the business problem,” Caplan said. “So, we’re trying to say, let’s step back and let’s really think about what blockchain means from a business perspective, what problems are we really trying to solve?”

When to use blockchain

Blockchain backers need to keep it simple when explaining what the technology can offer, Caplan said. For example, it should be considered when it involves multiple external partners, partners whose transactions you want visible – and your current process doesn’t allow for that.

Many of Salesforces clients have created innovation teams, but they get so focused on the technology that the business side is often left out of the process. The result: innovation teams with very smart people that don’t necessarily have a problem to solve.

“It’s the classic case of technology looking for a use case, looking for a problem,” Caplan explained. “So, we are really trying to hone in on … [whether] the current process isn’t working. What problem are we really trying to solve? Is this a real use case or is this an experiment we’re playing with here?”

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FCC eyes blockchain to track, monitor growing wireless spectrums

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The need for new Wi-Fi spectrums is expected to grow as infrastructure becomes increasingly more connected through IoT sensors, leaving U.S. government agencies in need of a database that can dynamically record and monitor their use.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants a spectrum track-and-trace technology to be open-source, distributed and secure, so not surprisingly, it has been to explore the use of blockchain ledgers.

“If you think about a world of the Internet of Things with 50 billion devices and wireless functionalities and input to all of them, we should figure out how we can have a real-time market for those spectrum inputs instead of this clunky system we have today with these exclusive-use licenses,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told attendees of MIT’s The Business of Blockchain conference here last week.

The total number of connected Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and devices is expected to leap from 21 billion this year to 50 billion by 2022, according to recent data from Juniper Research.

Blockchain runs business automation applications known as “smart contracts” that could offer a standardized method for accelerating data exchange between IoT devices.

As a distributed ledger technology (DLT), blockchain databases use a peer-to-peer computer model to share the same information in near real time across a limitless number of nodes. Everyone allowed onto the chain has access to the same information, so the process of tracking spectrums would be transparent.

Using an open, distributed ledger to track radio wave spectrums would also give the FCC a better sense of how they’re being used, something the agency doesn’t have today.

“We have this registry from all of these licenses, but on a day-to-day basis we don’t actually know with great clarity what’s being used and what’s not being used,” Rosenworcel said. “So if you put this on a public blockchai,n you’d have this record of where demand is for what airwaves.”

Knowing which frequencies are being used, and which aren’t, could change the way wireless technology is developed, including how antenna systems and chipsets are fashioned to make them more effective based on location.

The FCC’s current process for issuing new wireless licenses is to hold an auction, one at a time and only occasionally. For example, the agency recently held an auction for the 28GHz spectrum licenses for 5G networks in the U.S. The time consuming and administratively complex process of running the auction cost the FCC millions of dollars. More complex spectrum auctions can cost tens of millions of dollars to administrate, Rosenworcel said.

“There’s a lot of software involved and verifying financial and technical data. We take in bids, and manage those bids and issue licenses,” she said.

Radio spectrums today are scarce, and Rosenworcel described the current system for issuing new ones as a process that creates more scarcity, as they typically go to big wireless companies who have exclusive rights.

In 2015, the Obama administration began putting forward ideas about sharing airwaves; when one Wi-Fi network is not being used by a service, for instance, another could pick it up.

The idea was to develop a hierarchy of rights and spectrum bands. For instance, the U.S. Department of Defense uses the 3.5GHz band for military radar communications, but does so only occasionally. The idea would be to allow other entities to use that band when it’s free. The FCC would create secondary rights for licenses and tertiary rights for Wi-Fi use.

“So we just started moving away from this binary system of exclusive versus Wi-Fi and came up with this newer system where we thought maybe we can be more creative about how we distribute airwaves because we can make this resource less scarce,” Rosenworcel said.

What the FCC and other agencies need to figure out, she said, is a way to have a real-time marketplace for new spectrum inputs, where licenses can be issued dynamically on the fly and artificial intelligence can be used to enable devices to opportunistically identify the best spectrum to use at a given moment.

“If they can prove that, we can be much more efficient with all the devices around us and we’re going to change spectrum policy” from one largely defined by scarcity to one that can handle abundance, Rosenworcel said.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is currently holding a Spectrum Challenge where participants are asked to demonstrate a protocol governing how the radio frequency (RF) spectrum should be used moment to moment. The results are due out later this year.

The FCC has mainly conducted its exploration of blockchain to manage new spectrums as a “thought exercise,” but it has held discussions with legislators on Capital Hill and with Silicon Valley executives, Rosenworcel said.

“We’ve seen engineering organizations like IEEE start working groups to talk more about dynamic spectrum access and the use of blockchain,” she said. “And then we’ve even seen the International Telecommunications Union, which is a U.N. organization to address communications, start to address this intersection, too.”

Rosenworcel believes an FCC-managed blockchain-based dynamic ledger that can track spectrums is still five to 10 years away; in the mean time, testing is being conducted using conventional databases. If those databases work well, blockchain may not be needed in the U.S. But blockchain could still be considered a tool for economies abroad that have no central authority to track airwaves.

A distributed blockchain ledger may also be needed because of the sheer volume of transactions created by a world where infrastructure is connected – making databases obsolete simply because of the size of dynamic data stores needed.

“This might be something we could do at a lower cost,” Rosenworcel said, referring to blockchain over traditional databases. “Spectrum exists all around us; it’s not confined to the United States or our economy, and the power of making those airways work for connectivity is something that can change economies, it can change agriculture, it can change healthcare.

“Can we come up with more effective ways to push them out to market innovators not just domestically but worldwide?” she asked.

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Microsoft touts its first managed blockchain service: JPMorgan’s Quorum

Microsoft today announced its first Azure-based, managed blockchain platform using JPM’s Quorum enterprise-class distributed ledger technology.

Since 2015, Microsoft’s Azure cloud service has allowed users to install a number of blockchain platforms, including Enterprise Ethereum, Hyperledger Fabric, R3 Corda, and Quorum. That service only offered provisioning and setup. Now, however, Microsoft will handle not only the installation of the Quorum permissioned platform but software patches and updates, a full suite of application development tools as well as a template to govern the ledger, such as who can join a Quorum blockchain.

“None of that existed before. Customers had to figure all that out on their own,” said JT Rose, senior marketing manager for blockchain at Microsoft.

Microsoft unveiled its new Azure Blockchain Service ahead of its Build developer conference next week.

In November, Microsoft launched Azure Blockchain Workbench, a cloud-based development kit that enabled Azure services for encryption key management, off-chain identity and data management, and messaging APIs into a reference architecture that could be used to quickly build blockchain-based applications.

“What customers increasingly wanted was a managed infrastructure from us as well as a set of tools with Visual Studio Code and Logic Apps and Flow to write smart contracts to live on that network, manage the code of those smart contracts and interact with them – send data to and from smart contracts,” Rose said. “In our conversations with JMMorgan, they were seeing the same things.

“So, I think what we’ve evolved into is going from an infrastructure view of this in the early days…to a much more applications approach and set of offerings,” Rose added.

By making JPMorgan’s Quorum blockchain platform available as a managed service on its Azure cloud service, Microsoft said both its and the bank’s customers will be able to more easily build and scale blockchain networks in the cloud – without the need for capital expenditures on internal infrastructure.

Avivah Litan, a Gartner vice president of research, said that while there is movement into managed services in the blockchain market they’re not fully managed services –  as in an on-premesis model. And most of them are not interoperable with other clouds.

“So Azure blockchain is only talking to other Azure blockchain nodes. It can’t talk to AWS or Google,” Litan said. “Frankly, the only one that does interoperate to some extent, not on all levels, is IBM’s blockchain cloud. You can run a node on an IBM cloud, or AWS cloud or on-premise.”

The market’s still years away from true interoperability across clouds or for smart contracts to run everywhere, “which is really what you need for blockchain.

“That’s one of the pieces that still needs to be developed,” Litan added. “I think the big point here is companies do have trouble deploying blockchain, so cloud-based managed services certainly help them move faster.”

JPMorgan developed Quorum last year based on the Ethereum open-source, public  blockchain, which has smart contract functionality. JP Morgan’s version, however, is a permissioned or private blockchain, meaning a company using it can control who can join the ledger. Conversely, public blockchains, such as bitcoin, have no access restrictions.

“By utilizing Quorum, enterprise businesses across all industries will be able to shift their focus from infrastructure management to application development, ultimately driving transformative business value,” Microsoft said in a joint statement with JP Morgan. “Customers will benefit from rapid network growth, lower costs, simplified deployment and built-in governance enabled through Azure Blockchain Service.”

In addition to providing a platform for customers to build blockchain networks and applications, Quorum will continue to power JPMorgan and Microsoft blockchain programs and first-party apps, such as the Interbank Information Network, JPM Coin (a stablecoin or fiat-backed digital currency) and Microsoft’s Xbox royalty payment process.

JPMorgan likely chose Microsoft’s Azure platform out of necessity, Litan said, as it is the only managed cloud service already covering Ethereum, on which Quorum is based. Whlle it has announced its intent to support Ethereum, AWS currently only supports Hyperledger, as does IBM in terms of its managed service.

Google does not have a managed blockchain service.

“There really wasn’t anyone left other than Microsoft,” Litan said.

JPMorgan in February announced JPM Coin, making it the first major bank to offer a cryptocurrency backed by fiat money; the coin could be used on its Quorum blockchain platform for cross-border transactions. One JPM Coin has the same value as one U.S. dollar. Trials for the new cryptocoin are expected to begin in the next few months.

“When one client sends money to another over the blockchain, JPM Coins are transferred and instantaneously redeemed for the equivalent amount of U.S. dollars, reducing the typical settlement time,” JPMorgan said in an online FAQ. The technology also reduces fees by cutting out a central bank middleman typically responsible for clearance and settlement.

Microsoft and JPMorgan are among a growing community of Blockchain-as-a-Service  providers that includes Amazon, Google, IBM, and Oracle.

Blockchain continues to grow and evolve and is expected to generate upwards of $160 billion by 2023.

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Amazon goes live with its blockchain managed service

After nearly a year of testing, Amazon on Tuesday announced the general availability its Amazon Managed Blockchain, a fully managed service that makes it easy to create and manage scalable blockchain networks.

Amazon originally announced the blockchain-as-a-service (BaaS) at its AWS re:Invent conference last June, inviting companies to sign up for a pilot of it.

Jeff Barr, chief evangelist at Amazon Web Services, said the offering is now available for production use in the U.S. East (North Virginia) Region.

“You can use it to create scalable blockchain networks that use the Hyperledger Fabric open source framework, with Ethereum in the works,” Barr said in a blog post today. “You can create your network in minutes. Once created, you can easily manage and maintain your blockchain network. You can manage certificates, invite new members, and scale out peer node capacity in order to process transactions more quickly.”

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has joined a list of BaaS providers that already includes IBM, HP, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.

As enterprises look to deploy the online distributed ledger technology, the industry’s largest software and services providers have launched BaaS offerings as a way to allow customers to test the still-emerging technology without the capital costs or risk of deploying it in-house. The BaaS offerings also address a shortage of in-house blockchain developers, who are in hot demand.

While Amazon’s BaaS offering may seem like just another tool in the AWS box, the adoption of BaaS isn’t going to look or function anything like the adoption of other cloud services, according to Michael Fauscette, chief research officer of G2 Crowd, a business-to-business software review site.

“The use case ideas are really exploding around blockchain in a way that will drive in a wave of adoption that will happen faster than others,” Fauscette said in an earlier interview.

In addition to making it easy to set up and manage blockchain networks, Amazon said its BaaS provides simple APIs that allow customers to vote on memberships in their networks and scale up or down more easily.

Amazon Managed Blockchain offers a range of instances with different combinations of compute and memory capacity to give customers the ability to choose the right mix of resources for their blockchain applications. The service secures certificates for access control using AWS Key Management Service technology, eliminating the need for customers to set up their own secure certificate storage.

Armin Nehzat, digital technology manager for Nestlé Oceania, said transparency in supply chains is increasingly important to consumers, who want to know what is in their food and where it comes from.

“While Nestlé has begun to release information on its supply chains for its 15 key commodities, using blockchain technology enables a more precise tracking,” Nahzat said in a statement. “With Amazon Managed Blockchain, we are able to set up our Hyperledger Fabric network and easily invite our partners to collaborate in our supply chain transparency efforts.”

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FDA to pilot A.I., consider blockchain, to track and trace food

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced today a “new era of smarter food safety” under which it will test artificial intelligence and machine learning to better assess foodborne illness risks from imports and explore blockchain for tracking all foods before they hit grocery store shelves.

In February, the FDA announced pilot programs focused on tracking the movement of medicines throughout the supply chain undere the authority of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act of 2013. The pilots include the use of blockchain.

The agency’s latest moves are part of an effort to standardize and implement “new and emerging” technologies in food tracking systems in accordance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011, which vastly expanded FDA oversight, including giving it recall authority. FSMA was the direct result of a number of foodborne illness incidents during the 2000s.

When it comes to food traceability, many suppliers rely on a largely paper-based system of taking one step forward to identify where the food has gone and one step back to identify the source. But rarely is food traceable to its origin.

Last year, 210 people from 36 states became ill – and five died – from an E. coli bacteria outbreak traced to romaine lettuce. Because the origin of the lettuce could not immediately be ascertained, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning for consumers to avoid all types of romaine lettuce; hundreds of stores threw out millions of dollars worth of produce. It was weeks before the tainted lettuce was eventually traced back to Yuma, Ariz.

“We’re at this inflection point in society where many of these technologies emerging have been used in the private sector around us and now we’re looking at what role they can play to help us address some of the remaining health challenges that we have,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for Food Policy and Response. “For blockchain, the area that jumps out at me most quickly is the role it could play to enhance tracking and tracing food.”

Frank Yiannas Walmart Walmart

Frank Yiannis, FDA deputy commissioner for Food Policy and Response.

Part of the FDA’s job it so assess the risks of food imported into the U.S., something that has increased “exponentially” over the past several years.

“Imported foods are increasing because we’ve gone from a place where you went to a concrete structure [to get your groceries] to the world becoming your grocery store; you’re able to order foods from around the world,” Yiannas said.

The FDA has an electronic tracking system that evaluates risk using a database screening system that combs through every distribution line of imported food, ranking risk based on historical data input by people who classify foods as higher or lower risk. Higher-risk foods get more scrutiny at ports of entry.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning can strengthen the FDA’s predictive capabilities to evaluate which imported foods pose the greatest risks and, thus, require additional inspections.

Turning to new tools, Yiannas said, means the FDA can analyze more data than ever before and make screening and risk predictions more dynamic instead of relying heavily on people with subject-matter expertise.

“The idea is…we’re working a little smarter,” Yiannas said.

Prior to taking on his role at the FDA in December, Yiannas was Walmart’s vice president in charge of food safety where he oversaw the implementation of large-scale pilots of a blockchain-based food tracking system based on IBM’s Food Trust cloud service.

Walmart’s pilots showed the amount of time needed to trace a food item from store to farm was reduced from seven days (using a legacy system) to just 2.2 seconds (with a blockchain ledger).

Walmart blockchain Walmart, MIT, IDG

Frank Yiannas, former Walmart vice president in charge of food safety, and now the deputy commissioner of Food Policy & Response at the FDA, explains how blockchain cut the time to track the origin of a package of mangoes.

Last fall, Walmart asked its food suppliers to upload their produce data to a corporate blockchain ledger within a year to enable end-to-end traceability of vegetables back to the farm where they were grown.

Earlier this month, grocery chain Albertson’s announced it’s joining dozens of retailers and suppliers on the blockchain-based IBM Food Trust network to keep track of items in the food supply chain such as romaine lettuce.

Blockchain networks, such as GrainChain, have also been used to increase the efficiency of agricultural settlement payments to farmers and suppliers while providing the immediate availability of tradable commodities to buyers.

The FDA is involved in overseeing the safety of about 80% of food products in the U.S. So while the agency is looking to new technologies to update its own internal systems, it’s also seeking help the private sector standardize on methods that will scale its ability to track and trace food supply chains.

Consumers, Yiannas said, are driving the conversation around traceability as they voice concerns about the origin of what they eat.

The FDA plans to hold a public meeting later this year to discuss smarter food safety, seek industry input and share ideas on its overall strategy and initiatives. The agency  will be considering the role standards play in scaling food traceability systems and how those systems can be made more interoperable because there are many blockchain platforms in the market today.

“Our role is to be a guide and a thought partner on how these things scale so that both the public and private sectors, and ultimately consumers, can benefit and trust it,” Yiannas said. “We believe there won’t be a one solution that dominates the entire food system, so for this to scale they will truly have to be interoperable.”

Most critical to expanding food traceability among private growers, shippers and retailers through a blockchain-based network will be setting the rules around self-governance. Blockchains are built around a consensus mechanism where users determine what transactions can be added to a ledger as well as how to address business process issues when they arise.

Getting an agreement on an appropriate governance model is one of the biggest challenges for any enterprise blockchain initiative, according to Martha Bennett, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. ” I know of projects that have been halted or never took off due to failure to agree on one,” she said.

While there’s no set timeline for rolling out a production screening system that employs AI and blockchain, Yiannas said he expects the technology, once piloted, to catch on quickly.

“Over the years, I’ve learned these things can scale more rapidly than what people used to think. We’ve seen how some of these technologies can emerge pretty quickly, whether it’s ride sharing or Airbnb,” Yiannas said. “I think the key is once you figure out how to get ecosystems to collaborate, once we figure out the role of the public sector and the standards of interoperability, solutions can escalate.”

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Why wearables, health records and clinical trials need a blockchain injection

TORONTO – The opportunity exists in healthcare to hand over control of medical records to patients who can choose not only what info providers can see but what personal data gets added to records via wearables, genomics and even lifestyle choices.

And once patients begin accumulating more data about themselves in personal health records (PHRs), they can opt to anonymize that information and sell it to researchers, vastly expanding the pool of information available for clinical studies.

Because no data is as sensitive as a medical record, being able to assure its security and immutability through blockchain encryption represents a unique opportunity to “repatriate” and “monetize” that record for the patient, according to Dr. Eric Hoskins, chair of Canada’s Federal Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare.

Hoskins moderated a panel on blockchain and the future of healthcare last week at the Blockchain Global Revolution Conference here.

Electronic health records (EHRs) were supposed to create a longitudinal ledger –  ensuring healthcare events are tracked in their correct chronological order and span a patient’s continuum of diagnosis and treatment. But EHRs, which were mandated by the U.S. and other governments, were based on proprietary software from a myriad of vendors – meaning they weren’t good at sharing information between providers and weren’t always adept at ingesting data from new sources.

In essense, that means copious amounts of healthcare data is now being collected and recorded, but as yet isn’t being used, studied and shared broadly. That, too, is an area where blockchain could make a difference in the years ahead.

Getting paid for health data

There is already a multi-billion dollar industry that collects patient information, strips it of basic personal identifiers such as name, address and Social Security Number, and then sells it off to researchers, drug developers, marketers and others. Medical informatics companies such as Iqvia (IMS Health), Optum, and Symphony Health reap the profits of selling the healthcare data while the people from whom it’s collected have no control over how it’s used. Nor do they get any compensation for it.

Several new start-ups are developing avenues for patients to securely sell their anonymized data to researchers and others, including Hu-manity.co, which last year partnered with IBM to develop a healthcare data platform.

Rhea Mehta, CEO of Bowhead Health, a blockchain technology company that sells a health and wellness tracker, said her company is using Ethereum blockchain and smart contracts that self-execute without the need of a third party to ever touch patient data in order to distribute it.

“Patients can become owners of data and, with their consent, share data with practitioners and allow them to sell anonymous data to buyers,” said Mehta, who took part in the blockchain-and-healthcare panel.

By enabling patients to add their own details around lifestyle – what they eat, how much they exercise and sleep, a personal health record would offer physicians greater personal insights for more targeted clinical decision making.

In order to securely record, share and crunch vast amounts of sensitive data coming from external sources such as wearable medical devices and fitness trackers, a standardized database with artificial intelligence capabilities is needed.

For example, in November Amazon announced a data analytics product aimed at scouring unstructured data within EMRs to offer up insights physicians can use to better treat patients.

Securing patient data with blockchain

Blockchain uses hashing, the creation of a unique digital signature for each encrypted block of data added to an electronic distributed ledger. The hashes map back to encrypted patient data as it’s added sequentially to a blockchain ledger – and because it’s immutable (unchangeable), it creates an audit trail for government oversight. Smart contracts – self-executing business automation apps – can also be used atop blockchain to automatically ingest and process new data.

Mehta said clinical trials also suffer from outcome switching, where pharma companies are “fudging” the results of drug tests. Blockchain’s unchangeable ledger would help ensure data from trials couldn’t be manipulated.

For example, earlier this year, researchers at UC-San Francisco created a proof of concept to ensure the integrity of clinical trial data based on blockchain that could enable a global clinical trial network. UC’s proof of concept used a permissioned blockchain overseen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which operated a web portal to register users and maintain the ledger.

Jorden Woods, managing partner DoubleNova Group Inc., a boutique management consultancy with a focus on high-tech startups, said blockchain could also reduce fraudulent medications from entering the pharmaceutical network. He cited blockchain’s ability to provide a “single source of truth” through its transparent electronic ledger technology, which can also track product provenance in a supply chain.

“There’s hundreds of billions of dollars of fraud in medications,” Woods said. “One hundred thousand people die each year taking poison – drugs that were not what they thought were taking.”

Additionally, 30% to 40% of the costs of administration of the pharmaceutical industry by U.S. government agencies is considered waste because of inefficiencies from a disparate tracking system. A single, standardized network for regulators to oversee drug manufacturing and distribution could reduce that waste, Woods said.

“Blockchain’s cryptography can provide the underlying security so patients and doctors can share data. In terms of single source of truth, it’s very important for everything from supply chains to doctors and patients being able to communicate,” Woods added.

Finally, another problem that could be solved by blockchain involves ransomware, which costs a typical hospital on average $5 million per year. Ransomware cybercriminals rely on their ability to cut off access to a single source of data – say a relational hospital database.

That can imperil hospital operations and patient lives.

But blockchain is distributed, meaning there isn’t a single copy of data; instead, there are many copies saved across any number of computer nodes. Blockchain is also immutable, so it is far more difficult to corrupt data on the network – both data provider and users can prove the data hasn’t been altered.

That would lower the chances of successful ransomware attacks against healthcare providers.

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FedEx CIO: It’s time to mandate blockchain for international shipping

TORONTO — When railroad tracks were first laid across the western U.S., there were eight different gauges all competing to dominate the industry – making a nationwide, unified rail system impossible; it took an act of Congress in 1863 to force the adoption of an industry standard gauge of 4-ft., 8-1⁄2 inches.

FedEx CIO Rob Carter believes the same kind of thing needs to happen for blockchain to achieve widespread enterprise adoption.

While the promise of blockchain to create a more efficient, secure and open platform for ecommerce can be realized using a proprietary platform, it won’t be a global solution for whole industries now hampered by a myriad of technical and regulatory hurdles. Instead, a platform based on open-source software and industry standards will be needed to ensure process transparency and no one entity profits from the technology over others.

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A panel discussion about adopting blockchain standards for shipping companies. (Left to right: Don Tapscott, executive chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute; Dale Chrystie, business fellow and blockchain strategist for FedEx; Mahesh Sahasranaman, principal architect for UPS Supply Chain Solutions; and Eugene Laney, head of International Affairs for DHL Express USA.)

“I think we’re in the state where we’re duking it out for the dominant design,” Carter said during a CIO panel discussion at the Blockchain Global Revolution Conference here. “We’re not an organization that pushes for more regulatory control, but there are times regulatory mandates and pushes can be incredibly helpful.”

For example, Carter said, mandated blockchain standards would help customs and border agents create a chain of custody to better track the provenance of goods, enabling them to identify – and then block – the importation of things such as illegal drugs and counterfeit medical devices.

“There’s an incredible amount of information moving with an international package,” Carter said. “An incredible amount of paperwork [such as] certificates of origin, and certain commodities require specific licenses. That information moves sometimes in digital forms and sometimes paper forms. As we move toward a more digital world, blockchain is where you piece all that together.”

Information about packages is as important, if not more so, as the packages themselves, Carter said.

Traditionally, the international shipping industry’s information systems have used paper legal documents, and electronic data was transmitted via electronic data interchange (EDI) – a 60-year-old technology that doesn’t present real-time information. Shipping participants have also shared documents via email, fax and courier.

FedEx has banded together with competitors – DHL Express and UPS — to hammer out blockchain standards that could be deployed industrywide. All three shipping giants are part of the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), an industry organization with more than 500 members.

FedEx Rob Carter blockchain IDG

FedEx CIO Rob Carter displays two IoT sensors used to track packages and record ambient data about them.

“The three of us are looking at this globally,” said Dale Chrystie, a FedEx business fellow and blockchain strategist.

In January, FedEx’s supply chain subsidiary, Trade Networks, rebranded itself as FedEx Logistics, reflecting the company’s focus on meeting customers’ increasingly complex cross-border shipping, transportation, value-added services and brokerage needs.

FedEx Logistics CEO Richard Smith pointed to a White House memorandum released earlier this month on the need to combat the trafficking of counterfeit and pirated goods. An estimate from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) put the value of trade in counterfeit and pirated goods at approximately half a trillion dollars annually, with roughly 20% of it infringing upon intellectual property belonging to U.S. entities.

FedEx executives discussed how the company could address the issue with regulators, other carriers and retailers such as Amazon and Alibaba – and Smith said he pointed out the answer was staring them in the face: blockchain.

“It’s what it does: authenticity,” Smith said. “So you want to know this merchandise is authentic and not counterfeit? Blockchain can do that. The concern from the government is that it hadn’t been widely adopted. My response to that was, ‘You’re the government. You can mandate that it’s widely adopted.’

“Why not plant a flag in the ground and say in the next five years all importers have to be up on blockchain? It’s the only way you’re going to be able to do it without slowing commerce to a crawl,” Smith added.

Permissioned blockchains can create a transparent and immutable record of transactions, meaning every authorized entity on the ledger, whether public or government, can have the same information in real-time about the provenance of goods on a supply chain and where they are. Smart contracts, a business automation tool, could enable the automatic processing of electronic documents once digital handshakes took place at borders.

FedEx blockchain IDG

FedEx CIO Rob Carter displays an IoT sensor capable of transmitting package information to a blockchain ledger.

FedEx and other shipping companies have also been speaking with healthcare customers about how to authenticate pharmaceuticals and medical devices, particularly as the industry moves toward 3D printing them.

FedEx has been conducting a proof of concept with “sensor-based logistics,” using two types of IoT sensors about the size of a stick of gum that can track whether a package has been opened, its internal temperature and how much vibration it’s experienced on its journey. One of the two sensors can automatically transmit data to a blockchain ledger, according to Carter.

Blockchain, however, is a team sport; no one company today completes customer supply chain shipments by itself, according to Eugene Laney, head of international government affairs for DHL Express. For example, a company may use DHL Express to ship an automobile part to Germany to be assembled, and then use FedEx to convey the assembled part from Germany to another plant in Latin America. Then, yet a third shipper such as UPS brings the part to the U.S. for final assembly, Laney said.

“So how can we take all that information and share it amongst each other, and more importantly with four different governments?” Laney asked, emphasizing the need for an open and standardized version of blockchain to be shared by shipping participants.

DHL Express, Laney said, has mastered tracking and tracing single supply chain transactions. But the system breaks down when DHL begins working with other shippers to get their customer’s parts to a final destination. Along with other key elements, such as IoT and RFID tags attached to the packages, blockchain would improve visibility, not only for shippers but also for customers who could watch in real time as parts move through their manufacturing lifecycle.

“The key for me with standards is that they’re agreed upon by a majority of participants…, so you can build applications around them,” said Mahesh Sahasranaman, principal architect for UPS Supply Chain Solutions.

FedEx, DHL Express and UPS each serve 220 countries, 90% of whom depend on taxes and duties for their revenue. Those nations also need to know they’re charging the correct taxes and duties on international shipments.

Additionally, governments often ask manufacturers and their supply chain participants to ensure dangerous goods, such as counterfeit toys made with lead paint, can be detected and stopped. In 2007, the U.S. and Chinese government asked importers to provide product designs to regulators to comply with U.S. safety standards, which has banned the use of lead paint since the 1970s. The counterfeit toys continued to seep through borders.

And in 2010, packages containing printer ink cartridges and explosive devices were   discovered on FedEx and UPS flights from the Middle East. Police were tipped off to the shipments, even as governments asked shipping companies to heighten their inspection of those types of packages.

“Blockchain would have helped us solve that,” Laney said.

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