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Without standardization, blockchain can become a forgotten piece of code

Without standardization, blockchain can become a forgotten piece of code (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Dean Croke, the chief insights officer at FreightWaves, spoke at the Blockchain Europe Expo, elaborating on the inception of the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), the factors that led to its creation, and the need for open and neutral data standards to enable widespread adoption of blockchain.

“For many years I drove trucks over long distances in Australia. During those times I spent hours, if not months, waiting for paperwork at the loading docks across most ports. Paper documentation is a major choke point for international trade,” said Croke. “Though my experience is from the 1970s, this is something that still happens today.”

Croke pointed out that digitizing paperwork is a key to channeling efficiency within supply chains. This procedure would require unflinching trust over the transaction system, which can be enabled by funneling information through a blockchain-based platform. It is this idea that led to the founding of BiTA, with the aim of creating open blockchain standards for the supply chain ecosystem. Croke mentioned that BiTA was a consortium that was founded by accident, born out of a discussion between FreightWaves and a TMS vendor.

One of BiTA founders believed that if blockchain had the potential to solve some of the ubiquitous supply chain problems like transparency and trust, the industry could not afford the mistakes it did with EDI standards adoption, or rather, the lack thereof. Though EDI standards have been available for many decades, the industry never participated en masse, leading to a complete failure in the EDI standardization process.

BiTA’s primary goal is to unite every stakeholder within the logistics landscape under a single umbrella, making sure to double down on the standards that companies can use as a springboard to develop their blockchain platforms. BiTA’s astronomic growth since its inception echoes this sentiment, with the consortium quickly growing to accommodate more than 450 members from across the globe in less than two years of existence.

“BiTA is a community in which we have weekly webinars and newsletters, and we connect members to commercialize opportunities. We have no software or investment in any technology, and that’s not our purpose,” said Croke. “Our standards are non-profit; we have a board of directors who are a group of independent people developing standards for the industry in a completely unbiased manner.”

Croke pointed out that most of the products people use regularly have standards governing their design and manufacture. For instance, a pair of bluetooth headphones would have to adhere to several standards before it gets to commercial production. “Blockchains are going to be a consumer-to-consumer business model. You don’t really care about blockchain in the background, as you’ll just want to pick up something, scan the barcode, and learn the history of the product.”

IBM surveyed stakeholders within the transportation industry on when they believe blockchain would see widespread commercial adoption within the market. Seventy percent of the respondents thought that it would happen by 2020, which reinforces the need to have blockchain standards in place before widespread adoption happens.

“I think the number is a bit aggressive, as I’m not sure if we are there yet with the mass adoption of this technology. Sure, we’ve moved one container at a time in a truck or on a plane via a blockchain platform. But I haven’t seen the technology at a level where we can do it millions of times every day repetitively at scale,” said Croke.

BiTA released its first standards a few months ago, which can be accessed by anyone without paying any royalty. Croke mentioned that though BiTA had a stronger presence in the U.S. than it did across the rest of the world, the standards were developed keeping global supply chains in mind, with the view of integrating blockchain applications across the entire planet.

“After we rolled out the standards, what we found is that companies which weren’t a part of the consortium were adopting our standards, in the event that one day, they will have to integrate with someone in blockchain and by then, they will already have standards built into their code,” said Croke. “Having a standard code is very important. Developing it is incredibly mundane, but if we all thought about it in the right way, we would finally have interoperability within the ecosystem.”