Alibaba signs up to IPCSA blockchain Bill of Lading initiative

The International Port Community Systems Association’s (IPCSA) Blockchain Bill of Lading project has received a major vote of confidence, with Chinese e-commerce and technology group Alibaba signing up to back the initiative.

The new agreement will also see the organisations work together on blockchain projects as part of the Logistics Visibility Task Force, focused on standardisation and delivery of proof-of-concept (POC) for blockchain applications in logistics and e-commerce.

“Alibaba and IPCSA have been working closely together for the past two years,” said Zhu (Judy) Hongu, Head of the Standardisation Department at Alibaba Group.

“In October 2018, in collaboration with LOGINK (China’s national logistics information shared network), we set up a global intelligent logistics network, named the Logistics Visibility Task Force. In its work to develop global smart supply chains, the Task Force has focused on the development of track and trace solutions and the use of ISO standards.”

“Following on from this work, Alibaba has signed up to the IPCSA Blockchain Bill of Lading initiative, effectively making this a second workstream of the Task Force.”

IPCSA member Israel Ports Company, which operates the Israeli Ports Community System (IPCS), is leading the Blockchain Bill of Lading initiative, and has already run a number of successful pilots earlier this year using blockchain technology for the transfer of electronic Bills of Lading.

Examples include the shipment of cargo via ZIM Shipping Company from Israel to Ukraine, where IPCSA member PPL 33-35 operates that country’s Port Community System. The exporter was Adama Israel, with shipments to Adama Ukraine, supported by customs agents Damco (Israel) and Rem-trans (Ukraine).

A Bill of Lading was electronically issued by the shipping company and transferred to the exporter, and then forwarded to the importer in Ukraine and Spain. The blockchain-based system provides immutable information as to which party holds the electronic Bill of Lading at any time, together with the logistics status of the cargo.

“There are numerous strong reasons for using blockchain technology for Bills of Lading. Blockchain is transferring an asset, and there is huge value in linking the consignment to the information that Port Community Systems hold. This can match the Bill of Lading to any ‘event’ during the movement of the cargo – for example, that the cargo has been loaded on the ship, arrived at port, been unloaded, been cleared by customs, or exited the gate,” said Richard Morton, secretary general of IPCSA.

“By matching these events to the Bill of Lading, the solution gives much-needed information and flexibility. There are multiple parties involved in this process – shippers, shipping lines, importers, banks, forwarders, agents, and so on. By matching information in this way, nodes can be added to the Blockchain relevant to specific partners.”

“Standardised and structured data is the key to making this work. We recognise that this is a journey. Getting people to use structured data – especially small and medium-sized companies – is a challenge. The IPCSA Bill of Lading will also accept adding PDF and JPG documents in the first version, but ultimately it will be entirely based on Blockchain structured data.”

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Rob O'Dwyer

Rob is Chief Network Officer and one of the founders of Smart Maritime Network. He also serves as Chairman of the Smart Maritime Council. Rob has worked in the maritime technology sector since 2005, managing editorial for a range of leading publications in the transport and logistics sector. Get in touch by email by clicking here, or on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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