The problem we identified and set out to solve has so far been considered unsolvable, as well as largely unseen by the vast majority of logistics industry. In order to properly view the problem, it must first be understood just how fragmented and diverse the field of logistics information support systems is.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of software products, services and solutions out there in active use. Very few of the are built in a way which would allow them to communicate meaningfully with each other. System integrations on any level are almost always built as one-on-one relationships between operational ERPs and their databases, and are thus very much costly and tailored work.

Even the bigger companies who can handle continent-wide supply chains by themselves find themselves in a very interesting situation – in order to scale their business up without resorting to very aggressive market play, they must find independent contractors to cover the geographical areas they are unable to reach. This, when done effectively and long-term, requires again quite a lot of expensive system integration work.

The reality of logistics business inter-company data flows are therefore quite a can of worms, so to speak. Operational information is routinely passed over phone, email and – you guessed it – good old fax machine. Human component as the information exchange hub is rather the norm than the exception. It could well be argued that cargo moves as efficiently as the laws of physics allow, but the information relating to the cargo flows does not.

Solution

Blockchain technology has several very interesting and novel properties. Among those, the most critical for any use case is the ability to deliver trustless connections and maintain a guaranteed data integrity in the same time. This works especially well with multi-party transaction scenarios – which are what supply chain business is virtually all about.

We are introducing a scenario where all kinds and sizes of logistics companies are able to share and tap into a common blockchain, which will consist of all the relevant information pertaining to the movement of intermodal containers throughout the European Union transport corridors. The information will be gathered from the companies own operational information management systems, sufficiently anonymized and filtered, and then shared among all blockchain participants.

Within the project, we will use the data to answer more completely some key questions: exactly how does the introduction of total, or greatly enhanced operational information visibility within a supply chain affect  the individual company’s business, and what is the effect to the totality of operations inside a given transport corridor?

For the project duration, we will complete several agile development cycles and keep on analyzing the data. Constant iteration and improvement of the data model and the blockchain solution should give us a pretty good idea exactly how blockchains could and should be implemented in the logistics business.