Maersk – reinventing the shipping industry using IoT and blockchain

How can Maersk, the world's largest shipping company, embrace IoT, blockchain, and autonomous technology, to remain competitive in the digital world?

Maersk, the Danish shipping company responsible for 18% of container trade in the world 1, has invested heavily in IoT (Internet of things) 2 and blockchain technology 3 to improve transparency, safety, and cost efficiency for its sea freights. Maersk’s digitization effort is vital to the company’s long-term survival because these technologies offer significant cost-saving opportunities that can be capitalized by competition. Blockchain alone is estimated to save the shipping industry billions of dollars through more accurate container tracking capability and automating shipping transactions 3. Besides, given shipping customers’ increasing need to respond quickly to market trends, McKinsey predicts that they will demand more data transparency from container-shipping companies to better integrate the shipping process into their own supply chains 4. Digitization will help Maersk improve its service by delivering real-time data to customers at relatively low cost.

In the short term, Maersk piloted the Remote Container Management (RCM) system that allows its fleet of 300,000 refrigerated containers to monitor and send data such as temperature and location to the cloud 5. RCM can reduce spoilt goods for commodities such as fresh produce that need to be shipped in a tight range of temperature and humidity 6. The economic value of RCM is significant because suboptimal shipping conditions account for almost half of loss in U.S. fresh produce 7. With RCM, upon detecting higher than expected temperature in a container with 100,000 bananas, Maersk can quickly intervene to prevent these bananas from growing moldy 4, 8. Furthermore, full visibility into container conditions allows Maersk to reduce the cost and time spent on container inspection upon arrival. In 2016, the company only does visual inspection for 60% of its containers as RCM data provides certainty that the goods in these containers have been kept in good condition in the shipping process 3. Lastly, RCM data can be used to understand how highly variable sea conditions affect shipping conditions, which informs the design of more adaptable tools and processes 8.

How RCM system works

With increasing use of IoT, however, Maersk faces higher security risk. In 2017, Maersk suffered a computer virus attack that froze its port operations in multiple countries 1, resulting in 200-300 millions in losses 9. Although this attack wasn’t related to Maersk’s use of IoT technology, this highlights the catastrophic loss that can incur due to the company’s increasing dependence on technology over manual processes. Given that IoT devices have been used as the entry point to launch cyber-attack on a company’s network 10, I would recommend Maersk to invest in new security measures, especially if Maersk wishes to share its RCM data in real time with its customers, which increases security risks for both sides.

To prepare for the medium term, Maersk recently launched a collaboration project with IBM to embed blockchain technology in its supply chain. Maersk’s first Chief Digital Officer, Ibrahim Gokcen, describes the main goal to be digitizing the paper trail traditionally used to track products across shippers, ports, freight forwarders, and customers in the shipping industry 11. This effort, if successful, is estimated to save the industry billions of dollars 3 due to reduction in frauds, errors, and delays as well as reduction in documentation cost, which currently accounts for 15% of the cargo value 12. In addition to speeding up documentation processes, blockchain allows Maersk and its shipping partners full visibility into shipping records while preventing any parties involved in the shipping process to alter records without consensus 12. Participants such as retailers and ports can also integrate container location data into their supply chain to better plan for receiving goods upon arrival 13, thus reducing space, labor cost and improving inventory management. Maersk is optimistic about this technology but estimates that it will take multiple years to onboard all relevant stakeholders in the shipping supply chain to its blockchain system 12.

In the long term, my open questions for Maersk are if or when it will start investing in autonomous ships and what will be the key challenges associated with operating an autonomous fleet. Given its existing aggressive investment in IoT and blockchain, Maersk is better equipped than its competitors in terms of data savviness, IT infrastructure, collaboration with shipping partners, and relationships with top technology companies to enter autonomous shipping. However, the high capital cost and risk of building autonomous ships coupled with the highly complex operating environment of the ocean will pose significant hurdles for Maersk to fully embrace digitization.

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  3. Clark, Lindsay. “Behind Bitcoin’s glory, blockchain promises business benefits”. DirectIndustry e-magazine, Nov 2, 2017,
  4. Saxon, Steve & Stone, Matt. “How container shipping could reinvent itself for the digital age”. McKinsey, Oct 2017,
  5. Budholiya, Abhishek. “Significant growth foreseen by smart shipping containers market during 2017 – 2025”. Military Technologies, Oct 26, 2017,
  6. Wingrove, Martyn. “Maersk Line unveils remote container technology”. Marine Electronics & Communications, Jun 27, 2017,,maersk-line-unveils-remote-container-technology_48227.htm
  7. Dholakiya, Pratik. “IoT in the supply chain: anticipating the demands of the future”. IoT Journal, Nov 8, 2017,
  8. Tracy, Phillip. “Ericsson and Maersk create floating network”. RCR Wireless News, July 27, 2016,
  9. Novet, Jordan. “Shipping company Maersk says June cyper-attack could cost it up to $300 million”. CNBC, Aug 16 2017,
  10. Roberts, Freddie. “Petya or NotPetya, the IoT needs security”. Internet of Business, June 29, 2017,
  11. Haaramo, Eeva. “CIO interview: Ibrahim Gokcen, Maersk”. Computer Weekly, May 17, 2017,
  12. Haaramo, Eeva. “Danish shipping company uses blockchain in IBM partnership”. Computer Weekly, Mar 13, 2017,
  13. Groenfeldt, Tom. “IBM and Maersk apply blockchain to container shipping”. Forbes, Mar 5, 2017,



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Student comments on Maersk – reinventing the shipping industry using IoT and blockchain

  1. I think that autonomous ships might be a far way off. Even if Maersk were going to be able to execute on this from their side, you would have to get port buy-in (which is a fragmented industry) with all the different routes where you are going to be able to manage legislative risk and day to day operations when you have a non-human physical entity (ship) interacting with a human entity (port). In addition, I’m not sure how much the labor costs are when it comes to running a ship; for cars/trucks the driver represents a large percentage of the cost, but I’m not sure if that is the case for ships, meaning the financial opportunity might be a lot smaller.

  2. How does Maersk deal with risk to sensor fraud / tampering? To me, a big issue with using blockchain technology in physical supply chains is how to ensure reliability – otherwise, why is blockchain superior to other kinds of digitized sensor/tracking tech? Immutability can also be a downside. I know Riddle & Code is investigating this problem, but I’d be curious to hear how Maersk is thinking about it, too!

  3. Based on reading this, it seems like Maersk is 5 years ahead of the curve on adopting some of these technologies. However, that could easily be a negative when trying to deal with their partners, most of whom are not as savvy with respect to emerging technologies. For example, using blockchain to have properly-tracked orders across the entire chain sounds great in theory, but my understanding of the reading is that it would require other companies to also commit to adopting it, which seems pretty unlikely in a short time span.

    On the other hand, the adoption of emerging technologies within Maersk, like the RCM, sounds really cool and promising. Given the emergence of companies like Flexport which may reduce the competitive advantage of Maersk, investments in new technologies are going to be important to drive costs down further and make their operations more and more efficient.

  4. I believe that Maersk is already doing investments in autonomous vessels at some level. The company looks ahead of its competitors in testing innovative technologies as mentioned in the text, and autonomous vessels offer clear opportunities for further cost savings. According to Oskar Levander, vice president for innovation at Rolls-Royce’s marine unit, greater autonomy and unmanned shipping could cut transport costs 22%. Such economies would come from a combination of lower staff costs / higher fuel efficiency, with more space available for cargo (no need to have space and equipment to support people onboard) (

    Security, regulatory concerns and infrastructure required (particularly on land) are the main challenge to operating an autonomous fleet. Because shipping is a widely international operation, it may take some time for different countries to adapt its port operations to receive/load cargo in an unmanned vessel. Also, as mentioned in the text, wider IoT adoption increases risk of hackers invading the system, and a major attack could have broader consequences and massive losses than today, particularly because a hacked system may lose its ability to react independently in a more irreversible way when compared to a human crew under a piracy attack (armed robbery).

  5. This is a great article! The application of IoT technology could be extremely helpful here and it made me think of how IoT technology could be used in other more traditional industries. For example, there is a winery in Napa, PalMaz, that has implemented a similar technology to monitor the contents of their tanks used to create wine. Traditionally, they had checked the tanks every couple of months to see how the wine progress. Now, with the application of this technology, they are able to understand so much more about the contents of the tanks on a minute by minute basis. Now they can intervene immediately if need be to produce higher quality wines. It will be interesting to see which companies in more traditional fields see this as a competitive advantage and capitalize on it, despite the heavy upfront investment in technology.

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