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Businesses Transportation Technology

FedEx Sees Blockchain as 'Next Frontier' For Logistics (bloomberg.com) 106

Convinced that blockchain is on the brink of transforming the package-delivery business, FedEx is testing the technology to track large, higher-value cargo. From a report: "We're quite confident that it has big, big implications in supply chain, transportation and logistics," Chief Executive Officer Fred Smith said at a blockchain conference in New York. "It's the next frontier that's going to completely change worldwide supply chains." Blockchain uses computer code to record every step of a transaction and delivery in a permanent digital ledger, providing transparency. The ledger can't be changed unless all involved agree, reducing common disputes over issues like time stamps, payments and damages. FedEx's interest in blockchain and the Internet of Things are part of the company's strategy to improve customer service and fend off competition, Smith said.
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FedEx Sees Blockchain as 'Next Frontier' For Logistics

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  • is if you don't trust FedEx's information to not change and the ledger is made public with enough nodes so FedEx can't do a 51% attack. With that said, we've had several packages where FedEx changed history on tracking so they created this trust problem in the first place.

    • My question is: will the transaction time be an issue? I haven't been following crypto-currencies very closely, but the impression I got was that this was becoming an obstacle. Has that issue been solved already?

    • by llamalad ( 12917 ) on Tuesday May 15, 2018 @02:42PM (#56616204)

      Ah, trust problems and FedEx....

      A few years ago I sold a car part online. Shipped it off and a couple weeks later I got an stressed-out email from the buyer asking where his purchase was.

      Checked tracking... it had gotten to a FedEx facility in Ohio and within a few days of my shipping it and was never seen or heard from again.

      FedEx made me wait (what seemed like forever to the buyer) so they could investigate before they'd pay the insurance claim on a lost package.

      Waited, waited, waited. Finally they got back to me saying it had been delivered in July. Trouble is, I shipped my package in August (and the date I generated the label and all the tracking before it disappeared indicated this).

      It was a shockingly long and tedious argument with their agent saying it was delivered and me trying to figure out whether they used a souped up Delorean or a Tardis or what to deliver it a month before I shipped it.

      In the end they finally paid out the insurance claim on the lost package, but they made the experience so completely terrible that I've never shipped with FedEx since.

    • With that said, we've had several packages where FedEx changed history on tracking so they created this trust problem in the first place.

      The last package I got via FedEx was like that. They changed the tracking data. I was hammering refresh wondering where my stuff was, so I noticed first-hand.

      They could save themselves the trouble of dicking with blockchain by just not being liars.

      • "They could save themselves the trouble of dicking with blockchain by just not being liars."

        Stop lying? You're perilously close to attacking American core values there, citizen.

  • They looked out on the horizon and saw IBM [ibm.com] coming for them.
  • by stikves ( 127823 ) on Tuesday May 15, 2018 @02:35PM (#56616150) Homepage

    This is about having a valid chain of trust. If all parties agree on a public ledger of transactions on the package logistics then the issues on disputes / lost items etc will go down.

    The blockchains brought us bitcoin and similar "currencies", however they also brought a way to have a public eye on transactions. Like financial markets, package logistics is a complex business and having all parties agree upon terms and actions might really be useful.

    (btw i think I might have some fedex stock, so a disclosure here is probably necessary).

    • by jythie ( 914043 )
      Would this do anything to change that though? I have not heard of anyone complaining about FedEx changing data, but instead bad data getting into their system in the first place.
  • Which blockchain? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jdavidb ( 449077 ) on Tuesday May 15, 2018 @02:41PM (#56616202) Homepage Journal

    Blockchain uses computer code to record every step of a transaction and delivery in a permanent digital ledger, providing transparency

    Strange - I've been familiar with how blockchain technology works since 2012, and that doesn't sound like blockchain technology to me. Maybe they mean that they have developed some sort of custom enhancement? Couldn't they just record all this in their own database? Being light on specifics it's hard to see how blockchain technology is helping them at all here, unless it's to raise their stock price by throwing around the latest technology buzzwords without knowing what they mean.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If you don't understand how a blockchain could be used to make a permanent, transparent digital ledger then apparently you don't know as much about how blockchain technology works as you thought you did.

    • What I do not understand about all these companies using blockchain to provide all these transparent services is this:

      Correct me if I'm wrong, please, but doesn't 50.000...0001% of the network decide what is the current, valid blockchain? If a company owns the entire network, then there is no real "transparency", as they can just change the records whenever they want and say "See look! Our in-house blockchain network says it was always like this, then it must be true."

      I may be completely missing the mark on

      • Yes, the network is what secures the blockchain. I'm not sure who would run network nodes outside of FedEx, maybe their larger customers?

      • by tricorn ( 199664 )

        I've always assumed the point of "blockchain technology" is that you'd commit a block of transactions, authenticated by a digital signature of whoever is attesting that the information is correct. It's "blockchain" because each new entry includes a reference to the previous entry's hash code. Each new entry locks in all the previous entries. In that sense, it's just a variant of git. If you change an earlier entry, it's made obvious because the hash code doesn't match or the signature doesn't validate,

      • This is not about trust of third parties, this is about trust and management of internal data, the blockchain and ledger replacing traditional databases with integrity checking and verification on the way.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      It's just a more expensive, and complicated way of doing the job that has the advantage of being buzzword compliant.

      There's always rampant engineering malpractice in these technology fads, with guys padding their resumes rather than solving real problems. In this case you also have management angling to snag gullible investors and customers, but you expect managers to have no ethics.

    • It is a replicated mysql network where everyone has to agree on the insert, and lost the previleges for update and delete. There you go

    • I can't help you with any more information. The "article" was awfully light. I came here hoping to find more technical details but lacking that, I can at least guess.

      The article indicates that they might be interested in the transparency and traceability of a digital ledger. If so, they don't a full blown blockchain with mining and stuff, just a simple digital ledger with one hash per set of documents in a transaction and a head hash. When a package changes hands, the sender and receiver sign the transactio

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Would you trust their database? With a Blockchain is harder for them to lie, and easier to deflect lawsuits claiming they lied.

  • They cannot even agree on a standard exchange of status reports. Ignoring all other standards (like X12, RosettaNet, UBL, ...), just looking at the logistics companies who use UN/EDIFACT IFTSTA messages to report a status. They all use it differently, in some cases even not even adhering to the standards as defined by the format.

  • So.. is this just some cynical ploy to get their customers to foot the bill for server costs rather than pay to have someone maintain a traditional database with redundancy? I fail to see how this helps with 'transparency' when they would be the ones actually inputting all the transactions, so they can still put garbage in.
  • Fedex Freight fails to send EDI on roughly 2% of what we ship with them. Apparently this is due to mis-keying information off the shipping documents. Who cares about blockchain when they're still using manual keying of shipping reference data?

  • "(Blockchain will)....completely change worldwide supply chains"

    So we're going to have a code that essentially encapsulates a record of everything that happens during a shipment? Wow I'm so excited.

    While blockchain may be slightly* more convenient and concise....this is ALREADY how logistics works.

    There is a clear chain of documentation, signatures, and custody from the origin to the destination. For international ocean shipments that may go by truck, then train, then truck again, then ship, then truck,

    • What if the purpose of the digital ledger is to resolve disputes and not replacing the documents? You would use it to verify all documents that were used in a certain transaction are both unmodified and present. You can't say "X never arrived" because then you can't recreate the hash. From your experience, would such a system be an improvement or just redundant?

      I know "blockchain technology" has been discussed for various forms of registries like property ownership but I believe they are mostly interested i

      • I agree that sure, it might be useful?

        But the title of my post was 'hyperbole' - this will not "completely change" anything.

    • Where are those documents stored? How hard is it to 'lose' some of them or change them later?
  • when people in a (former) tech news site don't know that there is difference between blockchain and bitcoin, and not all blockchain ledgers need Proof of Work (aka mining) for consensus.
  • in any sufficiently big system there are wholes which may make your records go missing, not lost just not being identifiable is enough. On my last encounter with KLM they did it to me - claiming I was not on outbound flight which due to no show up policy cost me dearly on return. Situations like this are not common but can be tragic to persons affected. In my case these were just few hundred of my hard earned money. What about systems that claim you did something that you did not do or vice versa? Smaller
  • I wish FedEx would teach their drivers how to read!

    I've been ordering online since the beginning, and ordering by mail or phone before that. The only problems I've ever had with deliveries have been because of FedEx. Right street, wrong house number. Right house number, wrong street. Right street and right house number, wrong city.

    UPS and USPS can read the street signs and my house number. Why can't FedEx? All the new technology in the universe won't help if the drivers can't read.
    • Oddly FedEx used to be the one that was the best for me. They were the only ones that used to deliver packages to me that weren't terribly damaged. My favorite being when UPS delivered something to my house by throwing the box so hard at the door that it left a chip in the door and broke part of the item out of the box.

You will never amount to much. -- Munich Schoolmaster, to Albert Einstein, age 10