How can businesses take advantage of blockchain technology?
Blockchain deployment is seen as one of the key strategic technology trends of today. While blockchain was originally conceived of as a component of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency around a decade ago, it actually has vastly wider applications.
As Deloitte notes in its 2019 Global Blockchain Survey, “The question for executives is no longer, ‘Will blockchain work?’ but, ‘How can we make blockchain work for us?’”
The ability to create an immutable record and a shared source of trust within a network can actually provide enormous value, with applications across entertainment, politics and the supply chain.
Blockchain as a Service
With AI, the majority of businesses will access blockchain via third-party service providers rather than developing their own original solutions. This will substantially lower barriers to entry, removing the technical burden and making deployment far more cost-effective. What’s more, blockchain platforms also come with the network benefits of using shared protocols and platforms that become more valuable as more parties use them.
Perhaps the most obvious use case for blockchain is in validating financial transactions – potentially even extending secure, indelible transfers to individuals who are currently outside the traditional banking system. At the other end of the scale, blockchain could be used to mark the transfer of assets such as property, offering an enduring, transparent record of ownership and exchange.
Another use for blockchain is in the tracking of goods through the supply chain. Everledger, for example, encodes the properties of individual diamonds and gives them a unique ID – meaning that the provenance of the jewels can be tracked, while ensuring that stolen goods and conflict diamonds cannot be certified.
In pharmaceuticals, blockchain technologies can be used to certify the origin of medicines. Used in conjunction with IoT technology, batches could even be voided should they be placed in unsuitable conditions. More generally, blockchain platforms can weed out fraud and corruption and ensure that there is end-to-end transparency on the movement of goods.
The TradeLens platform, launched by IBM and Maersk, for example, uses blockchain to drive efficiency in shipping. Moving goods frequently requires an enormous amount of documentation and approvals; having an automatically updated online record, coordinated with GPS, can hence slash delays and waiting times and significantly accelerate payments. Using smart contracts can make interactions entirely seamless, whether that means completing a digital content transfer, on payment, or agreeing an insurance claim when the appropriate conditions are met.
Blockchain does have it challenge. Using shared platforms makes the technology far more accessible for most businesses, building in joint standards from the ground up and doing the hard work of integrating applications with legacy technology (problems that enterprise businesses will need to face should they choose to go it alone). But while it should be difficult to hack blockchain deployments, organisations will need to be watchful given that fraudulent records will be extremely difficult to remove or to otherwise rectify if they are ever recorded.
Equally, private blockchain networks enable an impressive degree of control over the flow of data – but users will need to ensure that only the appropriate parties are able to make changes and/or view updates. If this is mismanaged, then information could leak across the network.
Looking ahead, blockchain implementation will broadly be a question not of “if” but of “when” for large businesses. As many as 83% of executives polled by Deloitte agreed that there are compelling use cases for the technology; 53% described blockchain as a critical priority for their organisation; and 40% planned to invest $5m or more in new blockchain initiatives in the next year.
Businesses would do well to investigate how blockchain solutions can help them to tackle their core organisational challenges and to improve their delivery and service. The technology certainly isn’t a fit for every problem, of course – but where it fits, it has the potential to drive enormous change.
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