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BiTA Symposium @HOME: Blockchain in logistics discussions (Part 1)

Blockchain in logistics (Graphic: BiTA)

The BiTA Symposium @HOME on June 10 featured speakers presenting blockchain use cases and possibilities across various verticals within the supply chain industry. They illustrated ways to leverage blockchain to bring more transparency and visibility into logistics operations. In a series of two digests, FreightWaves attempts to outline key aspects of those talks individually. 

Founded in August 2017, the Blockchain in Transport Alliance, or BiTA, has become the largest commercial blockchain alliance in the world, with nearly 300 members. BiTA members are primarily from the freight, transportation, logistics and affiliated industries. Alliance members share a common mission to develop a standards framework, educate the market on blockchain applications/solutions and distributed ledger technology, and encourage the use of those applications.

COVID-19 testing solutions for transportation companies

Stephan Noller, CEO of German-based blockchain startup Ubrich, spoke of the hassles that companies have guarding their sensor data against being tampered with. Apart from compromising the company’s integrity in question, insights drawn off tampered data can be flawed and end up being detrimental to downstream logistics operations.

Ubrich leverages blockchain to make data trustworthy. Blockchain is used to seal the data at the source via digital signatures, which is marked over every piece of data that is generated during the logistics operations. Customers who wish to verify data can run a query against the verification API to check if the data has been compromised.

Ubirch came out with a COVID-19 certificate that is a digital representation of a test result made verifiable via blockchain. Users can show this digital certificate when they are stopped and checked. Authorities can scan QR codes embedded in the certificates to verify their authenticity, making the whole interaction seamless and more efficient.

Proof of concept on blockchain-enabled tracking and chain-of-custody ecommerce 

Rick Ryan, fellow at retail logistics firm Pitney Bowes, spoke of real-world learnings from the company’s proof of concept (PoC) project focused on tracking and chain-of-custody within ecommerce operations. Pitney Bowes’ PoC was an internal trial – kept that way to have more control over the project and its ease of access. One idea was to test non-sunny day scenarios like missed and out-of-order events and network outages.

Though the chain of custody of a package looks relatively simple from the point of shipping to last-mile delivery, there are several complexities associated with logistics. For instance, not every single event creates a change to the parcel status on the blockchain. 

Pitney Bowes used the Hyperledger Fabric platform for its full implementation. Events that were looked at and pushed on the blockchain were simple reports that included shipment arrival and departure, aggregation and disaggregation of trackable entities, and unnesting of items. 

Ryan explained that learnings from running the pilot highlighted the need to plan for missed and out-of-order events. “It was really important to include the event time, which is part of the constructs in the BiTA standards. Using the event time, you can reconstruct what happened when events come out of order,” he said. Companies also need to plan for attempts to write multiple events for the same asset simultaneously. Pitney Bowes’ also simulated the project with historical data, which was found to reflect reality. 

Chainyard and Trust Your Supplier: trust your product in the supply chain

Gary Storr, general manager at blockchain services company Chainyard, spoke about the company’s product called Trust Your Supplier (TYS). TYS is a product that helps buyers and suppliers establish a partnership to do business, with its use case centered around the pain points of buyers, including supplier qualification, validation of supplier information, and physical onboarding of a supplier.

“We see a lot of inefficiencies in that process, leading to huge delays in transaction times. Regulatory requirements are also moving very quickly, but technology is not really meeting that pace,” said Storr. “We came up with TYS, which led to a 90% improvement in the ability of a supplier to provide relevant information to a buyer. We’ve seen a substantial reduction in cycle time around onboarding and an associated reduction in cost.”

Storr likened TYS to be similar to a LinkedIn profile, where people can provide a single link to their profile, rather than sending out resumes individually to people looking for a background check. The digital identity provided by TYS is easily consumable by buyers, further augmented with expertise from organizations that Chainyard works with. 

Chainyard has partnered with IBM to create a “white label version of trust” for the suppliers delivering essential medical utilities to hospitals and healthcare organizations. When medical supplies like PPEs were in severe shortage, hospitals had to buy them from unconventional suppliers like General Motors, Ford and even Gucci. Chainyard developed a solution that used blockchain to protect the associated financial transactions and keep bad actors and fraudsters out of the system. 

Linking insights for transportation with NorthStar Digital Solutions

Linking insights for transportation (LiFT), is a program initiated by NorthStar Digital Solutions, which is an on-the-ground actuation of hyper technology in the trucking market. 

Dave Brajkovich, the CTO of NorthStar Digital Solutions, spoke about how the company uses robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), and deep learning to allow its users to interact with the automation routines to make their lives easier, while also enhancing their skill sets in other areas of the business. 

Brajkovich explained that NorthStar captures and integrates data arising from trucking assets. “The measures we took were to bring LiFT into a category where there’s digitalization. Automation is a big piece, as we deal with loads of documents – from order to dispatch and dealing with customs. We ended up integrating our APIs into our ERP back-end, and with intelligent OCR and machine learning, we arrived at a scalable solution,” he said. 

This automation has helped NorthStar during the COVID-19 situation. Employees were able to work remotely from home, as the bots kept working around the clock. 

To achieve further automation, NorthStar worked with IBM’s Hyperledger Fabric to create a blockchain platform that logs incoming orders coming through the system and pushes that to its partners. These businesses accept orders through smart contracts with data being embedded inside the Hyperledger. All partners and clients in the network are privy to the process and have the ability to check progress at every stage. 

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Vishnu Rajamanickam