The Promise of Blockchain for Business

Blockchain, a distributed ledger originally used to power Bitcoin crypto currency, sparked a revolution. Invented by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, Blockchain initially seemed like a genius way to put banks out of business, solving the challenge of double-spending. Ultimately Blockchain has caught the attention of tech enthusiasts, get-rich-quick schemers, contraband dealers of all stripes, autocrats and entrepreneurs looking for the next big breakthrough.

With that wide of a following, Blockchain must be doing something right.

Blockchain has given rise to platforms like Ethereum, the bank-friendly Quorum,  open-source Hyperledger, Stellar, Ripple and others. Still other companies have sprung up as exchanges and developers of services to ride on top of Blockchain. All are pushing the boundaries of the known limitations of existing tech and relentlessly pursuing the next big leap.

At its essence, Blockchain is an airtight, traceable record, particularly suited for tracking currency without a central bank. In fact, it’s completely decentralized nature that makes blockchain so powerful — it would be impossible to fake endless numbers of ledgers stored in bits and bytes across nodes spread all over the world.

Bitcoin Billionaires & Rogue Blockchain Actors

A few high profile Bitcoin billionaires — most notably the Winklevoss Twins of early Facebook fame — drew international attention to a totally new concept of money and first introduced Blockchain to the masses. Bitcoin day traders have become a thing and big-time banks like Citigroup are positioning themselves in the digital currency foray.

The anonymous and hack-proof Blockchain also became backbone of crypto-currencies of choice for nefarious online dealings and autocrats looking to skirt sanctions imposed by Western banks. North Korea has used cryptocurrencies to find its nuclear program. Priscilla Moriunchi a former National Security Agency official and current private-sector intelligence expert on North Korea estimates the country earns somewhere between $15 and $200 million through cryptocurrency transactions.

But as Blockchain’s legitimacy became more evident, it was put to work behind more ethical endeavors.  It was only a matter of time until large-scale global enterprise would figure out the best way to put Blockchain to work for their bottom line. Turns out the universal ledger is a smart way to supercharge supply chain across languages, human interpretations and continents.

As supply chains are pushed to the edge for maximum efficiency, Blockchain both adds transparency to complicated transactions across great distances and eliminates many of the misinterpretation between suppliers which can create costly chaos.

Smart Contracts Powered By Blockchain

Smart Contracts, agreements written into lines of code on a Blockchain, take the interpretation out of the agreement. Specific actions are predetermined and self-executed. As with many new technologies, standards haven’t yet caught up to adoption, holding back more wide-scale adoption of Smart Contracts, according to Samantha Radocchia, a co-founder of Chronicled.

“The goal here is to have one smart contract standard that’s been created by the industry, for the industry—in order to facilitate collaboration while maintaining competition,” Radocchia says.

 

Supply Chains on Blockchain

Pratik Soni, co-founder and CEO of Omnichain, is out talking to top-tier businesses about the power of moving their supply chain to their Blockchain solution. Complicated, multi-national trade arrangements are simplified on the Blockchain across the globe. Soni adds the Omnichain solution, “cuts cycle time, turnaround time and helps forecast replenishment across the entire supply chain.”

Omnichain continues to build use cases in transportation, food and beverage, health care and other industries.  From patient records to FDA food compliance, Blockchain has a part to play in ensuring all sorts of processes are executed without error, which as anyone in business knows all too well, quickly translates into lost revenue.

“For instance, the healthcare industry has struggled with the proper sharing and storage of medical data and records,” Soni says. “With countless patients, doctors’ offices, hospitals and insurance providers located around globe, there is high potential for error, fraud and lost records, which has created distrust among patients and healthcare providers. Blockchain technology can help rebuild that trust by storing medical records in a secure network that can only be accessed by the connected patients and authorized healthcare providers.”

According to Statista, the 2017 global Blockchain market topped more than $339 million and is expected to grow to more than $2 billion by 2021. And as business races to capitalize, government is struggling to keep up.

U.S. Government Lags in Blockchain

Even tech-savvy California lags behind. Just this month, the California Assembly passed legislation that simply acknowledged Blockchain and agreed on its legal definition as “a mathematically secured, chronological, and decentralized ledger or database,” and has formed a working group to determine what, if any, applications Blockchain might have to benefit government.  The group will also work to identify privacy issues and develop best practices for Blockchain use in government.

It’s a start, but a long way from sorting through the kinds of issues business will ultimately need to sort through in the coming months ahead as business adoption speeds up.

Australia, however, has decided to dive into the deep end of Blockchain. Recently the Australian government’s Digital Transformation agency announced it’s building a Blockchain platform for government called the Australian National Blockchain. One Australian state is starting a pilot program to put driver’s licenses on the Blockchain. The Australian government is also working with IBM on a Blockchain national smart contracts system.

It’s time for business to stake out their own position on Blockchain and help support an ecosystem of development to push the edges of what is understood today about its promise. Distributed Ledger Technology became famous for minting a few new millionaires, but on the horizon is something more significant, less centralized and positioned to disrupt both the private and public sectors forever.

Fundamentally, it’s the fulfillment of a Libertarian fantasy where institutions like governments, banks and their gatekeepers no longer have a stranglehold on information and security. But, as Blockchain expert Jermeny Epstein cautions, it’s still early days for the technology, we can’t really even conceive of what Blockchain will ultimately mean to the grand scheme of global transactions.

“Think internet circa 1993,” Epstein says.

With a tease like that, Blockchain must be doing something right.

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