FedEx CIO: It’s time to mandate blockchain for international shipping

TORONTO — When railroad tracks were first laid across the western U.S., there were eight different gauges all competing to dominate the industry – making a nationwide, unified rail system impossible; it took an act of Congress in 1863 to force the adoption of an industry standard gauge of 4-ft., 8-1⁄2 inches.

FedEx CIO Rob Carter believes the same kind of thing needs to happen for blockchain to achieve widespread enterprise adoption.

While the promise of blockchain to create a more efficient, secure and open platform for ecommerce can be realized using a proprietary platform, it won’t be a global solution for whole industries now hampered by a myriad of technical and regulatory hurdles. Instead, a platform based on open-source software and industry standards will be needed to ensure process transparency and no one entity profits from the technology over others.

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A panel discussion about adopting blockchain standards for shipping companies. (Left to right: Don Tapscott, executive chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute; Dale Chrystie, business fellow and blockchain strategist for FedEx; Mahesh Sahasranaman, principal architect for UPS Supply Chain Solutions; and Eugene Laney, head of International Affairs for DHL Express USA.)

“I think we’re in the state where we’re duking it out for the dominant design,” Carter said during a CIO panel discussion at the Blockchain Global Revolution Conference here. “We’re not an organization that pushes for more regulatory control, but there are times regulatory mandates and pushes can be incredibly helpful.”

For example, Carter said, mandated blockchain standards would help customs and border agents create a chain of custody to better track the provenance of goods, enabling them to identify – and then block – the importation of things such as illegal drugs and counterfeit medical devices.

“There’s an incredible amount of information moving with an international package,” Carter said. “An incredible amount of paperwork [such as] certificates of origin, and certain commodities require specific licenses. That information moves sometimes in digital forms and sometimes paper forms. As we move toward a more digital world, blockchain is where you piece all that together.”

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