We keep hearing about something called blockchain being about to change the freight world, but what is it? A speaker at the Global Heavy Vehicle Summit may have the answer.
Dean Croke is an Australian, but someone who has been based in the US for many years. He is the Chief Analytics Officer for the US-based Freightwaves, which describes itself as being the number one source for navigating the freight markets. It brings together data, news and analysis on the latest technological development for the freight industry both in the US and around the world.
Dean left Australia nearly twenty years ago after a working in trucking and on safety and fatigue management with TruckSafe and the ATA (Australian Trucking Association) in the nineties. Since then he has been involved in the trucking, the telematics field and vehicle insurance in the North American transport industry.
His latest project is an organisation called the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA) – it emerged late last year when blockchain began to emerge as a serious topic in the logistics space.
“Some of us got together and realised that if we don’t figure out a standardised data format across the supply chain, we will end up with the same problems we have got today,” said Dean. “We have lots of silo-based systems which don’t communicate very well.
“When I worked at Qualcomm we found, we spent 90 per cent of our time trying standardise the data. Trucking fleets would store drivers’ date of birth 10 different ways within one database. If you don’t standardise all of the data which goes into the blockchain, which is then immutable, you are putting mistakes in which are not changeable.”
BiTA works as a non-profit advocate for blockchain and transport industry associations. It has also developed a standards council with the goal to build standards around how blockchain technology works in freight transport. One of the priorities is to get the telematics systems used by trucking companies to use the same language.
“We are developing standards which will be open source, royalty-free,” said Dean. “So once we build these standards on how data gets communicated across blockchain technology, then everyone can use the same standards.”
Wide swathes of the industry have a vested interest in getting simpler data communication between components of the supply chain. Some large organisations are trying to develop their own blockchains which will be incompatible with others, stifling efficiency.
BiTA is also interested getting the Australian transport industry involved, picking up on some of the innovative ideas here, but also working towards common standards globally. The standards it is looking to synchronise include contracts, fuelling, location, invoicing and protecting identifiable personal information.
Interoperability between platforms is also going to be an important issue. If different operators develop their own standards it becomes much more difficult to send data between parts of the supply chain and parts of an operation.
“We want to make sure we have the same standard around how we code a vehicle, a driver ID, a truck ID, how we store electronic work diary data, CANbus data from the truck, recording temperature, all of those data points have to be stored in a standard format,” said Dean. “So everyone who develops a blockchain platform uses the same standards. We also want to ensure everything in the blockchain is auditable, especially when relating to things like smart contracts.
“We think in the next couple of years there will be a lot of early adoption trial and error. There are going to be a lot of mistakes made for sure, but we want to make sure we get it right, so we are working with some pretty big corporations like IBM and Daimler Finance. We are working with them on a project with Maersk involving shipping to develop blockchain standards in the movement of containers.”
BiTA expects 2021 to 2025 to be a growth phase for blockchain, reaching maturity after 2026.
One of the BiTA members is building a vehicle maintenance blockchain, where anyone can track the ownership of a vehicle throughout its entire lifecycle. The use envisaged is to create mileage based leasing costs as an option using telematics data to record everything the truck is doing. Not every kilometre is the same in terms of wear and tear, the data provided could be used to calculate a charge for how hard the truck or trailer is worked. This could establish trust across various ownerships. Buyers would know exactly how the truck has worked since new and choose accordingly.