Open-Source: The Key to Accelerating Supply Chain Digitalization
Sean O'MalleyGlobal Supply ChainBlog
Created on Jun 20, 2024
Updated on Jun 20, 2024

The advantages of digitizing supply chains are undeniable: improved visibility, enhanced efficiency, reduced costs, and better decision-making. Despite these benefits, the adoption of digital solutions has been slower than anticipated. The root of this issue lies in the immense complexity and proprietary nature of these global networks. However, open-source software that is modular offers a promising solution by empowering companies to build upon a shared digital foundation.

Obstacles to Digitization: The Complexity Factor

Transforming complex supply chains is challenging due to several obstacles:

  • Legacy Systems: Many existing supply chains rely on outdated, fragmented systems that do not easily integrate with modern solutions.

  • Lack of Global Standards: The absence of universally accepted data standards creates communication difficulties between different systems.

  • Cost and Expertise: Implementing and managing comprehensive digital supply chain solutions requires significant investment and technical expertise.

  • Trust and Collaboration: Building trust between supply chain partners is often crucial for data sharing and successful collaboration, yet it can be a slow process.

The Way Forward: Open-Source Modularity

Open-source modularity provides a powerful framework for addressing these challenges:

  • Building Blocks, Not Monoliths: Instead of imposing "one-size-fits-all" solutions, open-source software allows companies to select and combine modular components that address specific needs (e.g., eBLs, tracking, inventory management, customs).

  • Shared Foundation: Open standards and protocols promoted by open-source projects create a common language, enabling seamless integration and data exchange between different solutions.

  • Collective Innovation: A large community of developers contributes to open-source projects, driving innovation, security improvements, and rapid problem-solving.

  • Lowering Barriers: Open-source reduces the cost of entry, especially for smaller businesses, who can leverage pre-built components instead of starting from scratch.

  • Focus on Differentiation: Build proprietary solutions atop open-source modules.

The beauty of open source is that it encourages businesses to focus on competitive differentiation. By utilizing proven open-source modules, companies can:

  • Develop Unique Solutions: Innovate by building proprietary software that tackles their specific supply chain challenges, adding value to their core offerings.

  • Accelerate Time-to-Market: Focus development efforts on unique features instead of reinventing basic infrastructure.

  • Create a Thriving Ecosystem: A diverse ecosystem of proprietary solutions around a common core benefits all stakeholders.

The Bill of Lading: A Prime Starting Point

The electronic bill of lading (eBL) is a perfect illustration of this model. Projects like Open eBL are establishing the fundamental framework for creating and managing eBLs. This open-source foundation paves the way for a wide range of companies to build complementary, value-added services that leverage the bill of lading (e.g., customs, financing, payments), accelerating the shift away from paper-based processes. The following image demonstrates the power of Open eBL’s solution across every part of the supply chain.

Open eBL’s Modular Architecture Allows Proprietary Solutions atop Open Source


As Open eBL is a data storage and transmission protocol it leaves the business logic around specific applications to the application layer. In short, companies (like trade fiance Banks) using Open eBL will continue to be able to leverage their same tools (i.e Bolero) with the benefit of a common data storage and data transmission system across platforms.

As the network of Open eBL expands, there is the added benefit of a marketplace of standard Apps and integrations that can allow all stakeholders to further benefit from the growing ecosystem. The systemic expansion of the Open eBL network and community will create the opportunity for participants to collaboratively explore and experiment with solutions to wider digital trade document concerns including solving for other related trade documents critical to trade.


Open-source modularity will play a critical role in accelerating supply chain digitalization. It embodies a philosophy of collaboration, flexibility, and focused innovation. By embracing this approach, businesses of all sizes can unlock the full potential of digital transformation, creating more resilient, efficient, and sustainable supply chains while also developing their own differentiating solutions. For the companies that embrace this trend, they will likely leap ahead of the competition.

This post is originally posted on Sean O'Malley's LinkedIn.