Last year, US tech giant IBM tripled the number of its blockchain patents compared to the previous year. This and other signals speak for themselves: there is enormous potential in the blockchain industry. Christian Schultze-Wolters heads the Blockchain Solutions division for IBM DACH. In an interview he talks about IBM’s blockchain-based supply chain management project TradeLens, the digitization of the logistics industry and realistic prospects for encryption technology.
BTC-ECHO: Hello Mr. Schultze-Wolters, what is the interest of an IT giant like IBM in logistics?
Christian Schultze-Wolters: It’s relatively simple: Of course, we traditionally come from IT, but many years ago we geared our entire organization much more towards industries because the IT requirements of our customers are increasingly relevant to the industry. This includes logistics, trade, insurance and banks – accordingly, we have geared our entire organization nationally and internationally to these industries.
BTC-ECHO: Name a specific blockchain application that IBM is currently working on .
Christian Schultze-Wolters: Our TradeLens solution, which uses IBM Blockchain technology. IBM started developing TradeLens with Maersk about four years ago. Maersk is the largest container shipping company in the world and is based in Copenhagen. TradeLens has been live and in production for about two years and now includes more than 180 companies. This means that they have access to the platform, load data on it and digitize documents. In addition, this platform also includes more than 600 ports and terminals worldwide, because it is about the entire ecosystem of ocean freight.
BTC-ECHO: And what advantages does TradeLens bring to the ocean freight ecosystem?
Christian Schultze-Wolters: This solution addresses two challenges. Firstly, the question of where the container and thus the goods of the customer or recipient are currently located. We want to make this information available securely, with high quality and in near real time; not just one company, but the entire ecosystem involved in the supply chain. Second, it’s about targeting this incredible paper addiction in the logistics industry. Because this is inefficient, prone to errors, costs a lot of money and is simply extremely inhibiting when it comes to setting up digital processes.
BTC-ECHO: If companies are interested in blockchain technology in logistics, how easy is it for them to get rid of this “incredible paper addiction”?
Christian Schultze-Wolters: Nothing in life is easy. Digitizing complex processes, such as global supply chains, and bringing them to a platform does not just happen. It’s not about scanning documents and uploading them as PDFs. There are around 25 different document formats that we make digitally available here in the supply chain for everyone involved and that can be processed – in the blockchain. Of these, eight or nine (as of today) have already been completely digitized and can be used digitally on the platform.
But these processes are also very demanding. In addition to the companies that send and receive the goods, you also need customs authorities, shipping companies, ports and other so-called governmental authorities who then also accept these digital documents.
BTC-ECHO: Is IBM making good progress overall in digitizing its projects using the technology?
Christian Schultze-Wolters: The basic procedure for blockchains is “Start small, grow fast” – a so-called blockchain journey. As a result, we generally proceed step by step, customer by customer, role by role, use case by use case, industry by industry, and sort of break the whole thing down into parts, which then enable us to concentrate, purposefully, step by step for the respective use Case and thus the added value for the industry.
BTC-ECHO: What kind of blockchain is IBM building the TradeLens solution on?
Christian Schultze-Wolters : At IBM, we only work with a classic private blockchain, i.e. neither Bitcoin nor Ethereum. The blockchain technology that we use in around 98 percent of all projects is called Hyperledger Fabric. From our point of view, this is the only really “enterprise-ready” blockchain technology.