Maersk and IBM have announced they will discontinue their work on their TradeLens blockchain platform. The platform, under development since 2018, will go offline by the end of Q1 next year.

TradeLens is taking action to withdraw the offerings and discontinue the platform. During this process all parties involved will ensure that customers are attended to without disruptions to their business. But why did TradeLens lose the battle in the container shipping industry?

A bit of history

In an effort to apply blockchain to the world’s global supply chain, Maersk Line and IBM started in 2018 to collaborate and develop TradeLens, a blockchain-enabled shipping solution to promote more efficient and secure global trade. It would bring together supply chain partners to support information sharing and transparency, and encourage industry-wide innovation.

TradeLens uses IBM blockchain technology as the foundation for digital supply chains, empowering multiple trading partners to collaborate by establishing a single, shared view of a transaction without compromising details, privacy, or confidentiality.

Real-time access to shipping data and shipping documents—including IoT and sensor data ranging from temperature control to container weight—enables shippers, shipping lines, freight forwarders, port and terminal operators, inland transportation carriers and customs authorities to interact more efficiently. By using blockchain smart contracts, TradeLens enables digital collaboration across the multiple supply chain partners involved in global trade.

But why did TradeLens lose the battle?

At the time, representatives from Maersk and IBM stated that their goal was to create a tool that could start a “digital revolution” for the supply chain. TradeLens sought to create digital versions of documents, like bills of lading, that can speed transactions and, in doing so, grow global trade. Maersk and IBM caused a stir when they revealed TradeLens as a blockchain solution for global trade in 2018.

It was an ambitious mission not just for the technology, but also because, as one IBM executive said in an August 2018 statement, success “rests on a single factor — bringing the entire ecosystem together around a common approach that benefits all participants equally.” However, not long after its launch, others announced similar initiatives.

TradeLens chased success for years, working with international institutions to set data standards, filing for clearance with regulators, and seeking to sign on as many shippers, carriers, data providers and port and customs authorities as possible. But in the end, it never fulfilled its lofty ambitions.

Technology is never the problem

TradeLens now, is a casualty borne from lagging adoption in a supply chain ecosystem where private data is plentiful, but often confidential or difficult to parse, integrate and share. While many other platforms — including private visibility solutions, block-chain-enabled tools and public-sector portals — have been proposed over the years, few have reached mass adoption.

“TradeLens was founded on the bold vision to make a leap in global supply chain digitization as an open and neutral industry platform,” said Rotem Hershko, Head of Business Platforms at A.P. Moller – Maersk. “Unfortunately, while we successfully developed a viable platform, the need for full global industry collaboration has not been achieved. As a result, TradeLens has not reached the level of commercial viability necessary to continue work and meet the financial expectations as an independent business.”

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This post is based on publications by Maersk, SupplychainDive, Splash and Inbound Logistics