While Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are getting all the attention, the underlying Blockchain technology is the real disruptive force and has the potential to change the way business is done in many areas.
Blockchain can be thought of as a giant distributed spreadsheet which uses sophisticated encryption and consensus-building mechanisms to make it highly tamper proof. Because of the distributed nature, a lot of use cases which need a central authority can be now done without it.
For these reasons, blockchain has gained a lot of attention among enterprises. Companies like IBM and Microsoft are dedicating serious resources towards research on making blockchain a truly viable business potential and a concrete prospect for building projects. As an example, the Government of UK is exploring ways to use blockchain for public services. Below are a few ways in which blockchains could be used by enterprise clients.
In January 2017, IBM and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came together to collaborate on building a scalable health data repository that will allow exchange of data using blockchain. This system will address lack of transparency that currently plagues healthcare data while also ensuring patient privacy while sharing this data.
The two organizations have since then explored how blockchain could be used to support information exchange across various data types such as clinical trials to evidence data. The data collection initially began with oncology related data.
This exchange of data is expected to facilitate development of more effective drugs.
Decentralized Cloud Storage
Already, a few companies are exploring the possibility of performing cloud storage using the concept of blockchain. For example, Filecoin has released ICO in September 2017 and raised funds worth $262 million for building a system that allows decentralized cloud storage based on a token based system. Their idea depends on usage of unused hard drive space that exists in basements and data centers while rewarding users with tokens for allowing their device to be used as storage hubs.
Storj has also ventured about a similar idea where blockchain-based encrypted distributed storage will be allowed.
Passenger Identity verification
Organizations like SITA are currently exploring the usage of blockchain to allow easy verification of passengers across borders eliminating the need for multiple travel documents without having to share their personal data. The technology is based on allowing secure biometric authentication of passengers throughout their journey across borders. SITA lab is currently exploring the usage of virtual or digital passports that can be stored in the form of a single token on mobile and wearable devices thus reducing the cost, complexity and liability that accompanies the usual document checks that occur during passenger journey. This token shall contain contain biometric and other personal data. Using this any authority, in any part of the world, can scan your face and your token to confirm your identity.
SETL, Deloitte and Metro Bank recently tested a contactless smart card payment method for 100 customers of UK-based challenger bank. For this test, SETL provided a contactless smartcard enabled blockchain using digitised payments, Deloitte exercised its blockchain ID system known as Smart Identity and Metro Bank hosted a connected client account for information sharing.
Using this tie up, around 100 customers made purchases from multiple merchants with all balances updated in real-time from accounts held at Metro Bank.
The actual implementation of this system could process billions of transactions per day while vastly reduce the high costs for processing retail transactions and lead to competition in merchant servicing.
Loyalty programs offered by almost every growing retail, financial, and travel company nowadays causing customers to get caught up in a complex web of points and redemption options. Statistics claim that an average household is registered with 29 loyalty programs out of which it ends up using only around 12 with majority of the users wishing for a common loyalty program.
Companies like Qiibee and Loyall are currently creating a universal loyalty program that will allow users to set up their loyalty points in a digital wallet and exchange them for points that can be used with other brands for purchasing products, similar to exchange of cash for foreign currency, sort of like a loyalty ecosystem.
The brands offering such loyalty points are also incentivised to outsource their loyalty scheme to a third-party agency which promises them better security and adoption rates by helping them move to blockchain.
Building the application on Ethereum platform has allowed Qiibee to put all their data on blockchain and not have any security issues with it. The company has already worked with companies like Subway and Burger King.
Companies like Walmart are experimenting with blockchain by teaming up with IBM to trace the source of their produce from ‘farm to fork’. Using a combination of IoT sensors and blockchain, Walmart hopes that it will be able to trace and track products quickly with full view of their journey to their outlets.
This could prove useful in cases of a food scandal. For example, consider that there have been cases of sickness in certain parts of a country owing to some small issue or infections by food causing a widespread awareness, or panic, among the public. This might lead to all the items of the product being taken off the shelf even though the issue might have been with one production line or supplier. Food tracing will allow companies and stores to quickly identify the target and remove the product from shelves preventing consumers from falling ill. Companies and stores will be able to improve recalls and reduce wastage of food.
Some of the traceability points that Walmart is looking to combine include the location of the farm, lot number, date of harvest, whether the product was produced organically, whether pesticides were used in the production line, whether it was sustainably grown etc. All these attributes together give the complete picture.
Similarly, Microsoft is working on a project called Manifest which aims at tracking inventory on cargo ships, trains and trucks using RFID tags that link back to blockchain technology. It appears that Microsoft is tracking things like auto parts to address cross-industry supply chain.
Blockchain smart contracts are used to address all details such as receipt of inventory between all parties involved in supply chain process, shipment of goods, etc.
Tracking Taxpayer’s money
The UK government could use the blockchain to track money, including student loan and international aid money. Currently, the process of monitoring and tracking grants is extremely complex. A blockchain that is accessible to all the parties involved in the grant process might be the way to solve this problem.
Student Loan companies could track all the money from Treasury to student’s bank account. Similarly, Department of International Development could track all the money given to an aid organization spending the money in the country.
Auto manufacturers understand that mobility is changing in light of trends such as ride sharing, electrification, and autonomous vehicles (AVs). Renault and Volkswagen are testing vehicle telematics tracking. They are trying to track engine usage history, repair and maintenance history, and other data captured on blockchain so that manufacturers, dealers, buyers know a vehicle’s history and activity with accuracy. This is specially useful in some countries such as Germany where one third of used car odometers are manipulated.
In 2017, Toyota Research Institute led a PoC for a blockchain-based decentralized exchange for purchase and sale of autonomous vehicle driving data. This data can be purchased by automakers to use in their autonomous vehicle machine learning algorithms and car owners can in turn use the proceeds to pay for vehicle related expenses.
Above are only some of the current applications that enterprises are working on. There are many other possible avenues and applications. The future is unwritten, unseen and fascinating to think about and can be written the way we want. Just imagine the possibilities!