Beer Goes Electronic

In what could be one of the great milestones of the horizontal integration of technology, IBM Corp. will collaborate with Heineken N.V. to electronically track the shipment of beer from Europe to the United States. The project will explore the possibility of using sophisticated software and hardware to wirelessly expedite international trade. Shipping giant Safmarine has signed on to carry out the experiment; the University of Amsterdam will serve as research coordinator; and the customs services of The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States will participate in the effort. The undertaking will be known as the Beer Living Lab.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, more than 30 different documents are needed for a single cargo container crossing a border, which amounts to about five billion passes annually for shippers. In the beer-cargo experiment, Safmarine will ship ten sensor-equipped containers of Heineken beer from locations, in both Holland and England, through their customs authorities, to the Heineken distribution center in the U.S., IBM said last week.

The project will use IBM's Secure Trade Lane system to provide real-time visibility through an advanced wireless sensor platform that uses data from satellite and cellular tracking technology. An IBM services oriented architecture (SOA) called Shipment Information Services leverages globally accepted Electronic Product Code (EPC) standards, so instead of building a big central database, distributed data is linked, allowing it to be shared in real time between Heineken, Safmarine, and the various customs authorities.

"The Beer Living Lab is setting a roadmap for the next generation e-customs solutions," said Yao-Hua Tan, professor of electronic business at the University of Amsterdam. "We test innovative solutions, based on IBM's Tamper Resistant Embedded Controller and SOA developed by IBM that could revolutionize customs. Companies using these solutions could benefit greatly due to less physical inspections by customs; thus these e-customs solutions greatly facilitate international trade."

The findings of the project could provide an alternative to manufacturers, shippers, retailers, and customs officials as they look to move to a paperless trade environment. Upon wide adoption, such a system would support initiatives such as the GreenLane Cargo Security Act, which aims to create a more efficient and secure inspections process, among other benefits for shippers and governments alike.

"Because efficient collaboration is a paramount requirement to making this work, IBM built the Shipment Information Services to address interoperability," said Stefan Reidy, manager of IBM's Secure Trade Lane initiative. "If governments around the world are serious about electronic customs and paperless trade, they need to encourage each country to adopt open standards environments to enable collaboration and data sharing throughout the trade lane. The Beer Living Lab project is the first step in building the Intranet of Trade, which will help to substantially improve efficiency and security in the global supply chain."

We anticipate the project will be met with enthusiasm from the international community. If there's one thing people around the world can agree upon in launching a new technology system, it's beer.

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