‘The implications of an interoperable data sharing platform are immense’

Deanna MacDonald, CEO of Blockchain Labs for Open Collaboration, gives Splash readers a glimpse of a new white paper she has coauthored that will be required reading for all containership operators.

Over the past few years, blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) have emerged as a serious topic related to the future digitisation of the maritime industry. Several use-cases, start-ups and proofs-of-concept have been making their way to the media with proposed solutions that allegedly will usher a new blockchain-enabled era in the maritime industry.

I recently co-authored a whitepaper with Karim Jabbar of the department of computer science at the University of Copenhagen which looks into another initiative: the Container Streams platform solution developed by Marine Transport International (MTI). The first application for Container Streams is entitled SOLAS VGM, aptly named after the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) regulation that requires an EDI data transmission of the weight of each container to the shipping line prior to the container’s arrival to the loading port.

This first application extends the reach of the shipping infrastructure into the landside of operations, and to connect previously disconnected actors into the shipping infrastructure. Given the complexity associated with the various types of enterprise reporting systems and legacy IT systems in the shipping industry, MTI had to develop an additional product in the Container Streams Ecosystem in order to standardise inputs into a common ledger, or what has been termed an ‘adapter API’. Via this adapter, all actors are able to interact with a common distributed ledger via seamless integration of their legacy systems which then transmits this data as a message to the appropriate shipping lines in any format required.

The result of this development, and what the whitepaper has documented, is that MTI’s Container Streams solution brings forward a value proposition to the industry that is unique: complete interoperability of the underlying DLT with all kinds of existing systems (legacy systems, blockchain systems, shipping portals, weighbridges, etc) and messaging protocols (EDIFACT, e-mail, API). This creates a streamlined, visible and verified data flow and communications between all actors in the supply chain. This is because this interoperability, afforded by the introduction of customisable data adapter APIs, allows for the seamless sharing of data between all parties of the supply chain, regardless if they are registered on the Container Streams platform or not, and lower barriers to entry for the smaller players upstream in the landside of the supply chain. Container Streams can thus contribute to expanding the digital reach of the existing supply chain, while making it more transparent, faster, and easier to securely connect to by all parties.

Container Streams Ecosystem, comprised of its first application, SOLAS VGM, and the adapter API, is addressing the need for legally required transmission of VGM information while also providing the platform for connecting the various upstream actors in the shipping and logistics value chain together to share data and information. This is a significant step forward in the digital transition and upgrading of the maritime industry wherein data, business processes and transactions have been historically siloed and unconnected due to the multitude of individualised systems used to manage data and various small-scale operations.

The implications of an interoperable data sharing platform for the maritime industry are immense; from creating efficient and streamlined processes, to reducing complexities in the logistics supply chain and levelling the playing field by creating an accessible platform for all shipping and logistics providers. This technology is a fundamentally new way to address the transition from traditional patchwork of siloed legacy systems to a global digital ‘commons’ for the shipping supply chain on which a whole range of innovative applications can be built, thus fostering more transparency, efficiency, and security in the digital infrastructure supporting global trade.

The whitepaper, Container Streams, is available for download here.


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