A joint venture between Maersk and IBM is to release a blockchain-powered digital platform for use by the entire global shipping ecosystem.

The two firms have announced they will establish a company that will commercialise and scale a platform jointly developed on open standards, which aims to address the urgent need to provide more efficiency, transparency and simplicity in the movement of goods across borders.

Based on blockchain technology, it empowers large networks of disparate trading partners – including manufacturers, shipping lines, freight forwarders, port and terminal operators, shippers and customs authorities – to collaborate through one platform. It will establish a single shared, immutable, real-time view of a transaction without compromising details, privacy or confidentiality.

Banks providing digital trade finance products will similarly get increased visibility of key events affecting their financing, as well as the digital documentation supporting the transactions. The hope is that this will free up more capital for banks to lend elsewhere.

The platform will employ other cloud-based technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT) and analytics to help companies move and track goods digitally.

The announcement of the joint venture is the next step in a collaboration that started in June 2016, which has since involved pilots with various parties, including DuPont, Dow Chemical, Tetra Pak, Port Houston, Rotterdam Port Community System Portbase, the Customs Administration of the Netherlands, US Customs and Border Protection.

The new company, which has not yet been named, will now enable IBM and Maersk to commercialise and scale the solution to a broader group of global corporations. According to a statement by the two firms, many companies have already expressed interest and are exploring ways to use the new platform. These include General Motors, Procter and Gamble and freight forwarder and logistic company Agility Logistics. Customs and government authorities such as Singapore Customs, Peruvian Customs and the global terminal operators APM Terminals and PSA International are also considering the platform.

An IBM spokesperson tells GTR that two core capabilities are expected to be fully released within a few months.

The first is a shipping information pipeline which will provide full supply chain visibility, enabling all actors involved to securely exchange information about shipments in real time. The second capability, “paperless trade”, will digitise and automate paperwork filings by enabling end-users to securely submit, validate and approve documents. Smart contracts will ensure that all required approvals are in place, which will speed up approvals and reduce mistakes.

According to Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice-president, IBM Industry Platforms, the joint venture will speed up blockchain adoption for “millions of organisations”.

To address specific needs of the industry, Maersk and IBM are also establishing an advisory board of industry experts, which will provide guidance and feedback on the platform, services and open standards. Michael White, former president of Maersk Line in North America, has been appointed as CEO of the new company.

Maersk chief commercial officer, Vincent Clerc, will be the chairman of the board. He says the joint venture marks “a milestone” in the conglomerate’s efforts to drive the digitisation of global trade.

“The potential from offering a neutral, open digital platform for safe and easy ways of exchanging information is huge, and all players across the supply chain stand to benefit. By joining our knowledge of trade with IBM’s capabilities in blockchain and enterprise technology, we are confident this new company can make a real difference in shaping the future of global trade,” Clerc says.