Blockchain is most widely known as the technology that underpins digital currencies such as Bitcoin. But, blockchain has the potential to transform a whole host of industries, not only banking. Pilot projects run by the many dynamic companies and organisations based in Rotterdam’s exceptional maritime sector, are already giving us tantalising glimpses of future scenarios.
“With blockchain, we are already beyond the hype,” explains Martijn Thijsen, digital strategy, transformation and business development at the Port of Rotterdam. “It’s early stages and there are challenges to figure out. But, we see multiple uses for blockchain technology and the impact potential is enormous. Rotterdam’s ambition is to be the world’s smartest port and we see this technology as key to supply chain optimisation and energy sustainability.”
Why do we need blockchain to improve port logistics?
Stakeholders across the enormously complex logistics supply chain are urgently demanding faster, cheaper and more secure and sustainable flows of goods, services and energy. All this while global trade is becoming more complex and less predictable. Digitalisation has delivered some improvements, but there remains a mountain of documentation, time delays and a lack of interconnectivity. Companies still operate with completely different administrative systems in their own little silo, which can be immensely time consuming and expensive. For example, it can take weeks to trace a single product and all its components through the entire supply chain, and to clarify its origin and ownership at every step in the timeline. A single purchase order number from beginning to end is typed over more than a 100 times in mails, systems and documents.
Rotterdam’s innovative maritime community recognises that blockchain has the potential to solve such issues and improve the efficiency of supply chain management and port logistics. This open and collaborative eco-system welcomes companies large and small and offers them excellent business opportunities to develop, test and bring blockchain solutions to the market.
BlockLab: putting blockchain technology into practice
BlockLab was co-founded by the Port of Rotterdam and the City of Rotterdam. As a Smart Industries Field Lab their role is to put blockchain technology into practice. They are also embedded in the regional innovation ecosystem with the Port Authority and they participate in the Dutch Blockchain Coalition.
What is blockchain? Blocks, chains and smart contracts
Here’s a straightforward guide to blockchain technical terms from BlockLab.
Blockchain is effectively a way of sharing a database securely across a network of computers. It’s often described as a digital ledger or spreadsheet duplicated thousands of times and stored in a distributed network across multiple locations. This network is designed to regularly and instantly update the spreadsheet or ledger, wherever it is located.
Once a record (block of data) has been added to the chain, it is very difficult to change. And, to ensure all the copies of the database are the same, the network makes constant checks. That means digital information can be distributed, but not copied, and the information is constantly reconciled with the database and updated instantly.
Such reliable, public and verifiable records increase transparency and trust. As there’s no central location and the data exists simultaneously in millions of places, it is also more difficult to hack. Effectively, blockchain technology creates a database (shared by every participant in a network) that stores data that can’t be modified without the approval of all members.
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September - October 2019