Maersk, the shipping firm, recently announced that it would be shutting down its five-year-old blockchain project TradeLens, a joint initiative with IBM. The Global Shipping Business Network (GSBN), which is backed by COSCO Shipping Lines, Hapag Lloyd, and six other companies, is considered to be TradeLens’s main competitor. Bertrand Chen, the CEO of GSBN, shared his thoughts on what went wrong with TradeLens and how GSBN has a different strategy.
Chen attributed TradeLens’s downfall to several issues, including being viewed as a Maersk offering, despite its efforts to involve other stakeholders, and its intent to monetise data. He also thinks that TradeLens may have focused too much on the technology and not enough on solving business problems.
In contrast, GSBN is non-profit and takes a long-term view, focusing on providing infrastructure to integrate application providers rather than the applications themselves. Chen observed that blockchain is just one part of the toolset and emphasised the need to select the right technology for the task at hand, to find the best fit. GSBN, on its part, is also exploring other technologies, such as confidential computing, with its partner Decentriq.
One of the key applications in the shipping industry is related to bills of lading, and the digitisation of this process should continue despite the shutdown of TradeLens. Chen believes that the shipping industry is becoming increasingly digital, although the digitisation of bills of lading is currently estimated to be no more than 2%.
To sum it up, while TradeLens’s shutdown may have raised questions about the viability of blockchain in the shipping industry, Chen believes that it was more a business failure than an issue with the technology itself.