Modernizing sea port logistics with a secure blockchain solution IBM Supply Chain and Blockchain Blog

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Shipping equipment at the dock yardHave you ever wondered about the complexity of the seaport? The port ecosystem is vast and includes a vast number of different stakeholders and entities. The day-to-day logistics of each port include retailers, freight forwarders, carriers, forwarders, port authorities, container terminals, shippers, shipping agents and more.

Unfortunately, each of these operators usually has its own digital system, which does not allow any communication between peer companies. Duplicated, unverifiable, inaccessible pools of data create stagnant silos, and the true potential of data goes untapped.

Imagine the modern port of the future, now equipped with interconnected digital interfaces that enhance the supply chain of all operators and carriers. There is a unified view of the data across the entire chain that serves as an accessible source of truth for all ecosystem stakeholders. That’s exactly what IBM is doing at the Port of Valencia as part of the Dataport H2020 EU project. EBM has partnered with the Valencia Port Foundation to modernize the port’s business processes for transparent, verifiable and trusted data exchange across the entire port ecosystem. We achieved this by using blockchain technology and Hyperledger Fabric.

The goal: Improve regulatory compliance with digital cargo weight verification

One of the most common business processes in a seaport involves the request and provision of a Verified Bulk Mass (VGM) certificate. The VGM certificate is a mandatory document required by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which verifies the total cargo certified in a vessel.

By digitizing the VGM process, we build a system for the port logistics community to comply with SOLAS regulations at the container scale. The digitized process allows containers to arrive at the port with the specified weight, reducing last-minute damage, congestion and delays at container terminals. In a fast-paced, high-pressure supply chain industry, these reduced delays give the port a competitive advantage.

Many different organizational stakeholders are involved in the VGM inquiry and reasoning process. The shipping company and the agent freight forwarder own the goods and ask for a VGM certificate. The scale operator provides scaling services and generates VGM. The road transporter transports containers on land and provides vehicle information such as vehicle weight. The shipping line and the representative in the port – the shipping agent – handle the containers. The Port Community System (PCS) notifies the port container terminal that VGM certification has been completed. The port container terminal needs the completed certificate to load the goods on board.

By implementing this solution on a blockchain business network, we sought to create a single, verifiable and immutable view across the entire chain of these stakeholders.

The ban serves as the best platform for such a solution. Blockchain contains a communication protocol: no organization can modify or remove a record without the permission of other organizations. The shared ledger is replicated to all participants and provides data transparency and a single source of truth. And the suspension is immutable and final. Once a record is written on the ledger, it is there to stay. But the issue of the use of the port of Valencia presented additional data privacy concerns.

Some VGM certificate data, filled by the scale-operator and including weight details and prices, are considered trade secrets. It cannot be shared with the company’s competitors from other scale operators on the network. This information should be shared with “neutral” stakeholders of the network, such as PCS, and with companies involved in the lifecycle of the weight request itself (such as shippers/freight forwarders, road haulage and shipping lines).

Scale operators are blockchain organizations that keep a copy of their own ledger. In theory, if all data, including weighted query data, is replicated equally across all peers’ ledgers, competitors of the scale operator can access this confidential information.

Additionally, all access to data must be on a “know” basis. Each stakeholder needs the ability to find and edit only weighting questions that are relevant to their organization, and only those weighting questions that are relevant to their company’s role in the weighting question lifecycle.

The solution: hyperalger fabric

Hyperledger Fabric, one of the most popular implementations of enterprise-grade blockchain technology, offers several built-in privacy protection mechanisms, such as certificate authority-based authorization, channels, private data sets, and behavior-based access control.

Channels allow us to divide a blockchain network into multiple subnets, each with a separate record accessible only to channel participants. Creating multiple channels, each used by a group of blockchain network organizations, allows us to separate information between those groups, making overall transactions visible and accessible to only a specific subgroup.

Collections of personal data may be used to protect confidential information from certain channel participants. Personal information is shared only between designated blockchain organizations, and their content is not disclosed to peers of organizations that are not designated as part of the collection of personal information.

Access to data can be restricted to users with specific characteristics within a blockchain organization, such as a specific organizational role.

Considering the richness of these built-in data privacy protection mechanisms, we found that the combination of these built-in features covered all of our needs.

Possible built-in options in fabric to ensure the privacy of business-sensitive data include using multiple channels or private data sets. We have decided to use personal information collection for two main reasons.

First, separating network and ledger information into multiple channels works best for cases where entire transactions or ledgers need to be kept confidential in networked organizations. In our case, we want all network participants to see all transactions, keeping only a limited portion of the transaction information (as the cost of the weighting process) from the competitors.

Second, multiple channels have administrative and operational costs.

We have decided to use fabric feature-based access control feature to provide data access on an on-demand basis. This feature relies on adding additional custom attributes to the user credential to indicate the user’s role and company affiliation. Based on their role and company, the values ​​of those attributes are checked in the chaincode to find only the records that the user is allowed to see.

Your turn

Now that we’ve shared a real-life use case for the Hyperledger Fabric blockchain in marine solution, you should have a better understanding of how to leverage Fabric’s privacy features to provide fine-grained role-based access control and protect data privacy.

Email Inna Scarbovsky for application details »

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