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FedEx, UPS, DHL executives see eye-to-eye on blockchain

Dale Chrystie (from left) of FedEx (Chair of BiTA Standards Council), Mahesh Sahasranaman, of UPS and Eugene Laney of DHL, at Blockchain Revolution Global. (Photo credit: Blockchain Revolution) Global

Executives from FedEx (NYSE:FDX), DHL and UPS (NYSE: UPS) took the unusual step of sharing a single stage and found common ground on how blockchain technology can transform the global supply chain.

“This is not a process improvement initiative. This is a breakthrough discussion. This is a different way to think about how global clearance looks in the future,” said Dale Chrystie, FedEx business strategist and blockchain fellow, during Blockchain Revolution Global conference in Toronto on April 25.

Chrystie, also chair of the Blockchain in Transportation Alliance (BiTA) Standards Council, joined Eugene Laney, head of international government affairs for DHL USA and Mahesh Sahasranaman, Principal Architect, UPS Supply Chain Solutions, in a discussion with Don Tapscott, Executive Chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute (BRI), which is based in Canada.

“This is really happening,” Tapscott said, making light of executives from the rival parcel carriers appearing together.

The three executives agreed that there is a collective interest in embracing uniform standards and getting governments on board with blockchain technology.

“This is an issue that must be looked at with a global viewpoint,” Chrystie said. “These dots are going to connect. The question is how are you going to accelerate that process.”

Customs clearance is an area where blockchain can play an important role, one that requires making governments part of the conversation. Laney pointed to the long lines of trucks at the U.S.-Mexico border as an example of where blockchain, with the use of digital fingerprints, could improve the backlog.

“How can we take all those standards and share the best way we can with each other – and share with governments that are part of that supply chain?” Laney said.

“Blockchain is a team sport; no one company today completes customer supply chain shipments by itself,” Laney remarked after the panel. “As such, there is a real need for an open and standardized version of blockchain to be shared by all shipping participants.”

Sahasranaman discussed the need to “wrangle the standards” to avoid fragmentation. “Standards bodies like BiTA and BRI help that conversation, to move it forward,” Sahasranaman said.

He continued, “Collaboration to create standards, ensure that standards are agreed upon, and further ensure those can be used as designed on the blockchain platform is essential for a multi-party supply chain environment.”

Sahasranaman pointed out after the discussion that “The supply chain panel between UPS, FedEx and DHL should stand out as an example – that organizations regardless of how hard they compete, must seek to collaborate in areas that would maximize benefits from this technology to all supply chain participants.”

Chrystie stressed the need for blockchain standards to be open source. “We don’t think you get to a global supply chain blockchain without doing that [open source standards],” Chrystie said. “We need to come to get to agree how we can do that.”

Laney stated after the panel that, “DHL Express has mastered tracking and tracing single supply chain transactions, but it can be challenging for some companies to fully manage their goods from production to final delivery. Along with other key elements, such as IoT and RFID tags attached to 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.”

Laney also commented on the use of blockchain to solve significant issues. He said, “Governments often ask manufacturers and their supply chain participants to ensure that dangerous and counterfeit goods can be detected and stopped. We see the application of blockchain as a way to help us solve these issues to secure transportation networks and stem the tide of counterfeit goods.”

Tapscott applauded the three executives as “wonderful examples how you need to think big, have integrity and be considerate of the interest of the global economy when you set out to embrace new technology.”

Tapscott said after the discussion, “To fully realize the potential of this second era of the internet, companies will need to coordinate and collaborate on a scale they’ve never done before. The BRI’s goal is to bring industry leaders together, inform them and inspire them to work together and achieve this blockchain revolution. I know BiTA shares that goal as well.”

Sahasranaman complimented BRI and the panel, stating, “This event was unique starting from the stage layout of the event, the broad topic areas that covered – different industry groups/sectors, governance, standards and technologies and the overall content with engaging discussion.”

In summary, Tapscott stated, “Blockchain Revolution Global had many ‘firsts,’ and bringing together UPS, DHL and FedEx on a single panel was one of the most exciting. It really speaks to the leadership and vision of these companies that they can acknowledge this new paradigm, and work together to build a common framework for the future.”

Nate Tabak

Nate Tabak is a Toronto-based journalist and producer who covers cybersecurity and cross-border trucking and logistics for FreightWaves. He spent seven years reporting stories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a reporter, producer and editor based in Kosovo. He previously worked at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Jose Mercury News. He graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied the history of American policing. Contact Nate at [email protected].