TradeLens, the global trade blockchain platform developed by IBM and Maersk, is enlisting help from a third-party solutions provider to establish what is known as organizational identity for entities participating in the platform.
TradeLens will use software from Blacksburg, Virginia-based Digital Bazaar, which develops blockchain-based identity management and payment solutions for enterprises.
Blockchain, also known as decentralized ledger technology, is a type of database designed to provide more trust in the data stored within it through more robust encryption than a traditional database. The decentralized nature of blockchain is thought to be a good match for the dispersed nature of global supply chains.
TradeLens is aimed at digitizing documentation related to container shipping and global trade processes, including data provided and used by ports, container lines, customs, authorities, third-party logistics providers (3PLs), and shippers. The platform is also intended to provide participants with better visibility of those processes, and digital authentication of the data and providers of data.
Part of the process of enabling trust between parties is ensuring that an entity participating in a blockchain is authentic, and one of the theoretical use cases for blockchain is in establishing identity credentials. That theory is being tested in financial, healthcare, and governmental sectors, among others.
“Identity and role management is an essential challenge to support [TradeLens’] ambition, and we are always on the lookout for new ways to achieve it,” Nis Jespersen, lead architect for TradeLens, said in a statement. “Participating in the Organizational Identity Proof of Concept has been a true eye-opener of how emerging standards and technologies should be embraced within our own solution.”
Balancing transparency, privacy, and performance
The partnership comes amid the release in recent days of a report that shines a broader light on data security of blockchains in supply chain and whether some logistics-oriented products called blockchains are, in effect, true blockchains.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) on Tuesday said that companies participating on supply chain blockchain systems need only share information with other parties relevant to those parties, and that all of an enterprise’s data shouldn’t be stored on a blockchain.
“For example, a logistics provider at origin must share the purchase order numbers with the origin consolidation facility for a given consignment or shipment,” Nadia Hewett, WEF project lead, blockchain, and Anne Flanagan, WEF project lead, data policy, wrote in a commentary for JOC.com. “However, the carrier does not wish to share other purchase order information, such as end-customer details. In this case, the purchase order number will go ‘on-chain’ but other details attached to the purchase order will be kept ‘off-chain’ and therefore will not be visible to the origin consolidation facility.”
Hewitt and Flanagan wrote that this approach not only has data security benefits, but also helps the performance of blockchain-based systems.
“The best technique for storing authenticated data on the blockchain is to simply store the hash of data on the blockchain, while the data itself stays in a database off-chain,” they wrote. “This is a popular solution for documents, which are data-intensive files. In addition to increasing data privacy, this structure helps with the throughput rate of the blockchain. The less data there is on the blockchain, the less time it takes to run a query on it so that the data can be processed.”
The commentary was related to the WEF’s fourth white paper on the practical deployment of blockchain technology in supply chains.
The report also touches on identity management.
“Where personal data must be incorporated into a blockchain supply chain application, a potential solution would be to store only a hash of the relevant personal data on the blockchain,” Hewitt and Flanagan wrote. “This keeps the control and security of the original personal data maintained by the data controller, and allows the data controller to continue to protect and fulfil any data subject rights.”
A hash is a cryptographic representation of a larger file and is made of a randomly generated sequence of numbers, letters, and characters.