Calgary

CP Rail joins international group using blockchain to change shipping industry

Canadian Pacific Railway has become the latest member of an international group of companies aiming to change — and standardize — how the transportation industry works in the future.

Technology could be used to improve how agriculture products are shipped and tracked

CP Rail is the latest company to join the Blockchain in Transport Alliance, along with rival CN Rail. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Canadian Pacific Railway has become the latest member of an international group of companies aiming to change — and standardize — how the transportation industry works in the future.

The Calgary-based company announced Wednesday it had joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), joining rival CN Rail, as well as UPS, Google, Cisco and hundreds of others.

Patrick Duffy, president of BiTA, said it's unique to see all of these companies, some of which would usually not co-operate, come together for a common cause — adopting standards around the data that right now lives in multiple different systems.

"When you order a pair of shoes and they're manufactured in Vietnam, currently the information you put into the website where you order those shoes goes from a website into an ERP [a type of business management software] that's transmitted to a manufacturer's system … the possibilities of the number of people involved and the number of technology systems involved, it grows exponentially," he said.

"At each one of those steps there's an opportunity for human-induced error." 

The blockchain is a type of distributed, online public ledger that's encrypted.

It's most famously used in the world of cryptocurrency, but as its mostly meant to track secure transactions it's also been touted as a boon for streamlining complex supply chains.

Duffy shared two Alberta-specific examples where blockchain could help both producers and shippers: oil and agriculture.

"Very expensive energy-related equipment, where you want to know the track and trace of those materials, where those assets are at any given time. Blockchain's a very good tool for that," Duffy said. 

"You want to know the provenance of agricultural products, especially meat for human consumption."

Duffy said to simplify those supply chains, it's vital to have transportation leaders like CP on board.

"We are excited to be on this journey," CP's chief information officer Mike Redeker said in an emailed release. "As part of BiTA, we look forward to creating opportunities and innovative solutions that benefit our customers and the broader supply chain."

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