Late last month, the University of Central Arkansas in Conway became the first college to join the Blockchain in Transport Alliance, an international trade organization that focuses on developing blockchain standards and education for the transportation industry.
What is blockchain? The term may sound familiar because it refers to the technology that supports bitcoin, which has been a hot news topic this year.
Blockchain is a digital ledger of transactions. Like a Wikipedia or Google Docs file, the ledger can be viewed by multiple people at the same time. But no one can change the ledger unless everyone with access to it agrees to the change.
With blockchain, “you have servers located all over the world and you’ve replicated the same set of data across all the servers; so when one party in a network creates a transaction, it’s replicated across the network,” said Maf Sonko, founder and CEO of LumoXchange in Little Rock. “So, effectively, you have a trust factor built into it because of the consensus among the network.”
Companies are interested because the technology can hasten transactions and reduce transactional risk, he said.
How blockchain will eventually be used is largely yet to be determined. A transportation company could use it to track a product throughout the supply chain until it reaches the consumer.
Blockchain offers a streamlined, transparent and secure tracking process because all data on the product would be in the same place, multiple parties could watch its progress, and the data would be unchanged unless all parties who have access agree. Sonko predicted that private, industry-specific blockchains will be created to help drive efficiencies.
The potential of the technology has been touted in Arkansas and nationally, and the Blockchain in Transport Alliance is capitalizing on the attention.
Membership Engagement Executive Lincoln Duff said the alliance is the largest organization of its kind, with more than 300 companies around the globe as members. Some 2,000 more membership applications are under review, he said.
ArcBest of Fort Smith and J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell are members, along with transportation giants UPS, FedEx and Union Pacific, and technology giant IBM.
The alliance, founded in August, is based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Annual membership dues are:
- $2,500 for industry participants, such as carriers, shippers and brokers;
- $2,500, $5,000 or $7,500 for startups, depending on how much capital they’ve raised; and
- $5,000, $7,500 or $10,000 for established companies, like IBM, depending on their annual revenue.
Duff said UCA is paying the lowest fee, $2,500. The school has a logistics and supply chain management program and hopes its membership will elevate that program, Associate Professor Doug Voss said.
“Since this is an emerging technology, I think it’s important to share the information about this technology with our students and the trucking industry in the state,” he said. Voss also serves on the Arkansas Trucking Association board.
Keeping a program like UCA’s up-to-date and relevant to what is happening in the industry is a constant struggle, Voss said.
Duff said, “The job market is tough, and any kind of leg up you can get is going to look great, so students having that kind of advantage is what [Voss is] excited about.”
Voss said he also encouraged UCA to seek membership because the alliance could benefit from an academic perspective and connect UCA to research opportunities.
While UCA was the first university to join, Duff said, many schools have submitted applications since its membership was announced.
The alliance is in the early stages of its work, but he expects some initial standards or proposals to come out in May.
The organization will hold its second membership meeting that month, in Atlanta.
The first members’ meeting was held in November; about 100 companies attended, but that was basically a networking and getting-to-know-the-alliance event, Duff said.
He expects those who attend the second meeting to form working groups that will develop blockchain standards for specific areas of the transportation industry.
The alliance offers members access to a channel on Slack, the online messaging service, which they can use to communicate with other members throughout the year. It also hosts webinars and offers members discounted tickets to conferences that feature blockchain experts.