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Transport operators need to realise the power of blockchain – here’s why

This blog is co-authored by Rabih Arzouni, Chief Technology Officer for Transport, Fujitsu EMEIA, and Reo Hayashi, Business Development –Digital Business Solutions (DBS) at Fujitsu EMEIA

Historically, transport was an industry at the cutting edge of innovation.

In the 1800s, the steam locomotive drove the industrial revolution in the UK. And then the mass production of affordable cars opened up new opportunities for the transportation of goods and people.

But today, the world is exponentially more fast-moving – and it seems that transport has been left behind.

This is especially true when it comes to blockchain. This technology is sometimes referred to as a ‘distributed ledger’, since it records transactions in a way that is immutable and tamper-proof.

Transport organizations have been slower than most to recognize the value in this technology, but we are seeing that uptake is increasing – largely thanks to the growth of smart cities. This means now is the perfect time to open the dialogue around blockchain, and its potential to solve many of the transport sector’s biggest challenges.

Smart cities are demonstrating the value of blockchain in transport

The benefits of blockchain revolve around six key themes.

  1. Identity – a blockchain can be made public, or it can be restricted to a certain number of trusted individuals.
  2. Data and contents – the ledger is sequential. This mitigates the risk of data being lost, altered or damaged – so transport operators and their partners can always be sure of the accuracy of their data.
  3. Tracking – blockchain keeps a record of what has been added to the ledger, when, and by whom. This means you can track changes to the record, giving you a full picture of events.
  4. Immutable – once something has been recorded on the blockchain, it can’t be altered. This is because each block in the chain contains all of the other blocks that have gone before it. If you changed one block, the whole chain would break. This means you can trust that your information will stay in its original state.
  5. Repeatable – blockchain is capable of dealing with a vast number of transactions, so it is best for high-volume, repetitive tasks.
  6. Automated – blockchain can be integrated with an automated system, using smart contracts to authorize actions – like confirming a payment – when the right requirements are met.

The best example of these six benefits in action can be found in smart cities.

Smart cities, new and diverse generation coming into the workforce and communities are demanding new innovative services. Emerging in particular blockchain around data sharing and connected services in transport will unlock some of these services.

Transport and automotive are historically sectors with valuable data that can be analyzed for useful information to benefit a consumer end-to-end journey, for example, a rail operator, for example, will be able to collect data on each of their passengers: what time they usually travel, where they usually go, and what route they use.

This kind of information is invaluable for other industries. A local authority, for example, manufacturing and retail sector can benefit from this information to analyze peak traveling hours and routes to optimize their operation around logistics, supply chain, and maintenance. They might then decide to have additional emergency services staff on standby during these busy hours. A Public Service provider, City planner or Commercial Developer might also benefit from sharing the data securely with the wider ecosystem to deliver value across the chain.

Meanwhile, a developer can look at which stations are busiest. They might choose to build a retail store next to a station with a particularly high number of passengers. The retailer itself might examine the times that passengers tend to travel to inform their opening hours – if lots of people travel late on a Thursday, they might close later on this day.

Clearly, the data held by transport companies is extremely valuable.

And as this data becomes increasingly commercialized, organizations will need to use blockchain to verify its accuracy and origins.

Driving transport efficiency

Blockchain doesn’t just deliver in terms of transparency and trust. It will also drive efficiency – something transport operators value enormously.

It can speed up processes and reduce cost like supply chain management, contract and invoicing. Invoice flow and Document flow, in fact, is something that we have been focusing on especially at our Blockchain Innovation Center in Belgium.

Blockchain can also help future-proof your operations. In the course of the next ten years, we can expect a massive shift in the transport sector towards seamless end-to-end journeys and a highly personalized level of customer service. The Internet of Things (IoT) will have a bigger and bigger role to play in this.

Unlocking new revenue stream

In order to realize this vision of the future, transport operators need to establish a trusted exchange of data between emerging technologies for example edge devices utilizing blockchain, and a secure, immutable way to store passengers’ personal information.

By breaking down the barriers between the originally isolated business across industries and start to share invaluable data, it will unlock new value proposition for the customer experience. Businesses should move away from isolation embrace innovative/disruptive commercial operation models utilizing connected emerging technology and services.

This is where blockchain comes in. It enables you to connect with passengers and their devices to provide the best level of service possible – preparing you for the future in the process.

Future of the transport

We could say as just a fact that not putting innovation with emerging technology on the agenda, the longer you leave it, the more continuous catch up will be waiting for you. It will become a norm to share the data between the businesses without concerns of security, while blockchain will bypass those concerns in a trusted and seamless way.

Where should transport operators start?

The benefits of blockchain are clear. Transport operators have a huge opportunity in their hands.

But where should they start?

Well, the most important thing is to start. In the initial stages, you will want to pick a small challenge where blockchain could be applied to improve operations or customer experience.

Test blockchain on this challenge, and see if it works for you. Once you have completed these tests, you’ll be in the perfect position to introduce the rest of the business to blockchain.

But if you don’t start, you’ll risk falling behind – and that means you will forever be playing catch-up.

Transport’s biggest opportunity

While blockchain has lots of benefits, it has its drawbacks.

Currently, scalability is a struggle. And, while open data is set to be the model of the future, attitudes still need to change before we get there.

But even in the face of these challenges, it’s clear that blockchain presents a massive opportunity for transport operators. By providing a single source of the truth, it enables the generation and commercialization of passenger data.

And, equally as important, it can help them streamline operations and prepare for the future.

We’ve seen that blockchain and transport are natural partners. Now, all that’s left is to get started.