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© Stepanenko Oksana

Digitisation is seen as key to transparency, but concerns over control of data have left carriers, shippers and terminal operators worried over where it leaves them in negotiations.

Speaking at last month’s Maritime Day at the European Shippers Council, Lamia Kerdjourdj of the European Association of Terminal Operators, said: “Those that control the data are in control of the ‘new oil’, and this can leave everyone blind, with terminal operators weak in the negotiating process.

However, the chief executive of blockchain platform Shipchain, John Monarch, believes he and his team have an answer.

“What we offer is a system that allows people to validate the data, without necessarily having to have access to it,” Mr Monarch told The Loadstar.

“Effectively, it works like a barcode; all the parties can check that the information entered is correct by matching the barcode – if these don’t match, there is a discrepancy.”

These barcodes are referred to as “hashing algorithms” in technical parlance, and are able to ascertain if the data has been tampered with.

The technology could ease industry concerns over data sharing and control.

“So, our users put their data into ours – you can consider the customer, like you, would be the public internet, and our system  is akin to an intranet,” continued Mr Monarch. “And to get rid of any concerns over ownership, we have made it open source, to allow competing systems to build on top of it.

“They can build entirely different systems and post it to our blockchain; this allows people to know that no one really owns the system.”

He believes this will provide a big boost for the platform, especially after the roll-out of the TradeLens platform from Maersk and IBM.

But, said Mr Monarch, while TradeLens has had numerous supply chain customers sign up, it is the absence of the other big shipping companies that speaks most loudly.

“Carriers don’t want to join TradeLens out of competitive fear, but as ours is public, no one owns it and no one owns or can see the data unless shared,” he explained. “Interoperability has been one of our goals for quite some time, and they don’t have to interact with the visual side through the API.

“We are here to build a base layer. We don’t want to make people hurl away systems that they have spent billions on as it is ineffective.”

While blockchain platforms are hardly new, with numerous suppliers offering similar systems, Shipchain differs in its ease of use, it claims.

Vice president of technology Camille Carpenter said: “Shipchain allows people to not only use the standard set up we supply, but to build their own systems on top of the blockchain. And the platform is custom-designed by each individual user so that they can get access to, and see, exactly what they want.”

Even so, Ms Kerdjourdj worries that the logistics sector arrived late to the party, noting that big players including Amazon and Alibaba are looking to take control of the process.

This, however, did not concern Mr Monarch who said Shipchain “stood out by its sheer usability”.

“Typically, a lot of these supply chain solutions look like they were built by engineers for engineers,” he added. “We want to make it so it’s an intuitive system. There still has not been enough of a focus on the usability aspect of this sort of technology. Legacy systems have been behemoths.”

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