A key to blockchain is the data

( Photo: Shutterstock )

TMW’s Tim Leonard says if you don’t know your own data, you will get lost “real quick”

Like all of the companies at the first Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA) meeting, held last month in Atlanta, TMW Systems sees blockchain technology playing a critical role in the freight transportation industry going forward.

“Visibility, transparency and security are all problems that get in the way of solving problems in the industry today,” Dave Wangler, president of Trimble Transportation Enterprise, parent company to TMW, told nearly 150 attendees at the meeting.

Wangler noted that blockchain’s ability to solve these problems comes down to three things that it does really real: provide transparency to the processes, visibility within the supply chain, and the ability to help match demand and capacity.

“Trying to get accurate information to the right party [has been an issue],” Wangler said, who noted that TMW joined BiTA for the same reason many of the companies in attendance had: because it sees industry problems that can be solved by blockchain.

Blockchain is a peer-to-peer electronic system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust, allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party.  TMW expects to have a couple of blockchain-based products on the market sometime in 2018.

Wangler said Trimble sees blockchain being used for dealing with a wide array of industry issues that involve analytics; vehicle data; financial planning; logistics, planning and execution; and the Internet of Things.

Tim Leonard, EVP & CTO of TMW Systems, took over the presentation from Wangler to highlight some of the work TMW is conducting around blockchain. He mentioned that the company is currently testing a blockchain-enabled solution with some carriers and they are finding significant savings so far.

The key to making blockchain work for you, Leonard noted, is the data. “The data is so critical,” he said. “The data is coming from both the carrier and shipper; you have to solve for both.”

TMW is using a “blockchain enterprise architecture approach,” which uses building blocks (architecture) related to applications, data, technology and business to build the blockchain. Leonard said TMW has collected over two years of data coming from over 420 data points that are feeding into its blockchain development. “That data allows building of apps that work on blockchain” he noted.

Leonard walked the audience through an example that started with a request for proposal (RFP) and worked through each step of the process, showing how the data is stored in blocks on the blockchain along the way.

In one of the TMW tests, the RFP data and bid application are all incorporated into a blockchain. There is even a test where the truck’s route has been included, providing additional visibility. The key, Leonard said, in any blockchain is knowing your data.

“If you don’t know your data inside the blockchain, you are going to get lost real quick,” he said.

The smart contract part of a transportation blockchain is critical, as it can provide automation of a host of conditions, all self-executing based on conditions being met and verified in the blockchain. The contract pulls all the relevant information from disparate systems and updates the conditions accordingly.

Leonard said that future blockchains could potentially pull data from a number of publicly accessible sources leading to the integration of such critical information as weather, traffic, news, and fuel pricing along routes, all of which can improve the truck utilization equation and speed shipments. Management information such as census data, economic data, geographic data and industry-specific data like FMCSA carrier registration information or CSA scores, can also be included leading to more efficient overall operations.

“The hardest part isn’t building the code, the hardest thing is building consensus on both sides,” Wangler said.

BiTA is working to solve that by bringing together industry stakeholders to develop standards for blockchain usage.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.