Shipping is Retro
Comparative to other global sectors, we can fairly state that the international shipping industry has a number of (what some may affectionately call) ‘old school’ practices. Despite the invention of unmanned ships, automated warehouses and ever more advanced technology, the whole supply chain often rests upon the aged and seemingly fragile paper of shipping documentation. Why?
The way documents are used is time consuming. A single container might require sign off from a multitude of different organisations with many hours of communication from agencies, banking, local authorities and beyond…All being accompanied by pages of relevant documentation. Often goods reach the receiver before the documents finally arrive (if they don’t get lost on route)!
A reason shipping still relies on these antiquated methods might be the lack of technological cohesion across industry? For years big players have competed to come up with an innovative approach which hasn’t always taken root and spread industrywide. Business influencers are now coming together to address this in an open space ripe for technological disruption.
A common word being uttered amongst shipping leaders and tech boffins alike is ‘blockchain’, but what is it and how could it present a ‘slow-shipping-solution’? Blockchain within technology, is an ever-increasing list of records (known as blocks), which are linked (hence the chain image) and secured using encryption techniques.
How does blockchain work?
Basically, Blockchain is a tech platform which can operate as a communally distributed ledger for the industry. IBM explains the process, to start, ‘Shipment information is added to the blockchain. As the container awaits transfer to port, officials submit approvals electronically. Blockchain confirms the transaction and executes a smart contract, releasing the shipment…’
The container is loaded onto the ship. All parties have end-to-end visibility of the container’s progress through the supply chain. The container arrives at the destination port and clears customs.’ Finally, the receiver takes ownership of the goods ‘on time and signs electronically. Information is relayed back to the blockchain.’
Win/win or lose?
IBM and Maersk are driving the blockchain solution forward, claiming that it can help all parties involved in the shipment by helping to prevent fraud, speeding up the processing of paperwork, refining inventory management, creating a reduction in waste and decreasing the cost of courier services. At last, everybody is happy! Or are they?
Automation is often followed by a reduction in human requirement. Will blockchain or similar solutions result in decreased workloads for those working in-industry? Most likely. Will this negatively result in reduced career prospects for industry professionals? Perhaps… Or instead will this present improved workflow, allowing companies to take on more business – and staff? Only time will tell.
How about hackers?
With increased technology comes inevitably increased threat of technological foul play. Companies adopting new shipping tech will need to be ready and confident in their ability to handle ever changing security needs. However, it is unlikely that forward thinkers will be held back by this requirement – after all the choice is to innovate or be left behind, you cannot go against the tide.
DHL and Accenture are also on-board with blockchain, DHL promotes the view that ‘Improving visibility in logistics by using blockchain technology could greatly improve the security and safety of products in the market and support global economic growth.’ This reiterates another view, that blockchain and other technology solutions are in fact decreasing vulnerabilties.
Alchemy agrees with Accenture that ‘blockchain has the potential to drive profound, positive change’ reaching all manner of industries including shipping, logistics and supply chain. Our prediction is that blockchain platforms will continue to emerge, entirely disrupting these sectors whilst creating new found value, productivity and ultimately economic growth.
Professionals with Shipping, Logistics or Supply Chain experience, coupled with emerging technology skills, will become sought after. These individuals will understand industry pitfalls and the ways in which technology can address these issues. Alchemy predicts that recruitment for tech focused roles within shipping and similar sectors will increase rapidly, the shipping revolution has begun.
Katie Smith, Assoc CIPD, BA Hons, HR Advisor at Alchemy Global Talent Solutions