IBM trials “Beer Living Lab”: honeshtly

The term ‘beer living lab’ might conjure up thoughts of student digs, where one puts to the test the old adage that one ‘cannot live on beer alone’ with long stints of intoxication punctuated only sporadically and very briefly by periods of vague sobriety.

But despite this connotation, or perhaps partly because of it, IBM was pleased to announce a new wireless project with Heineken, international shipping company, Safmarine, and the University of Amsterdam in conjunction with Dutch Customs, UK Customs and US Customs and Border Protection. The project’s called “Beer Living Lab”. I kid you not.

Sadly it’s got less to do with students’ late nights drinking Heineken and listening to Jimmy Hendrix, than it has to do with the wireless tracking of cargo shipments of Heineken beer from Europe to the United States using satellite and cellular technology.

mank_jimi.jpg

Jimi Hendrix, Smoking, London (1967) by Gered Mankowitz © Bowster Ltd. 2002

It may be Carlsberg that uses the advertising strap line “it’s so good that the Danes hate to see it leave”, but it seems Heineken is pretty keen to know where its beer is going too, and more importantly reduce the documentation required by customs on its route across international borders.

The stakeholders involved said the goal of Beer Living Lab is to “create paperless documentation through better system interoperability, resulting in faster deliveries and reduced costs for international trade.”

IBM said its Secure Trade Lane system will provide real-time visibility and interoperability through a wireless sensor platform and services-oriented architecture (SOA), based on IBM’s WebSphere platform.

“The project’s SOA, called the Shipment Information Services, uses the EPCglobal network and EPCIS (Electronic Product Code Information Services) standards, so rather than build and maintain a large central database with huge amounts of information, distributed data sources are linked, allowing data to be shared in real time between Heineken, Safmarine and customs authorities in the Netherlands, England and The United States.” Simple.

For the project, Safmarine will ship 10 containers of Heineken from locations in both the Netherlands and England, through their Customs Authorities, to the Heineken distribution centre in the US. The University of Amsterdam will coordinate the project.

Sounds like a lot of effort to get some beer to the States, until you realise that more than 30 different documents are associated with one single container crossing a border, which equals roughly five billion documents annually.

“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,” said Stefan Reidy, manager, Secure Trade Lane, IBM. “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.”

This isn’t the first project of its kind — I’ve heard Tibco talk about how its integration and SOA architecture enabled freight company Con-way Transportation Services to reduce the amount of time each of its trucks spend on paper-based form-filling between the US and Canadian borders.

IBM appears to be going slightly further though, working with the University of Amsterdam to not only coordinate the project but also provide best practices documentation in this area to share across the European Union.

The only question really is why the project’s called Beer Living Lab. I do like it though. Hey Joe, where are you going with that Heineken in your hand?

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