Technology adoption of blockchain is possible across virtually any industry and/or use case that can benefit from secure digital payment, smart contracts, and identity management. We can use blockchain to alter existing processes and open the door to processes not yet automated (e.g., voting, public services, social programs, gambling). Smart contracts in blockchain can automate any exchange of things of value. For example, smart contracts can automate the release of purchase orders at certain points in the manufacturing or distribution process. Blockchain can also act as a middleware exchange for systems exchanging disparate goods using differing currencies. Recording events or telemetry information of critical systems for real-time use by multiple parties is a reality of blockchain.
As a quick mental exercise, picture any process in your existing environment that has multiple constituents outside your organization. It is unlikely all those constituents presently engage in that process in an automated way. Think of customer-facing activities that you wish to make “self-help” to reduce your support costs. Could a blockchain app address that? How about vendor/supplier information you wish you could see earlier in the process so you can adapt and optimize your production? What about lag time on any of your processes involving a vendor/partner due to resource availability to process on time? Wouldn’t automated triggers address that? Many organizations have already done these exercises and are acting upon these ideas.
Blockchain is leading to new applications in supply chain management, banking and finance, retail and e-commerce, transportation, healthcare records curation, and more. Supply chain transparency ensures that suppliers, manufacturers, transporters, and sellers have the same view of the supply chain, which prevents tampering with any part of the supply chain.
Consider the agriculture and consumables industries that have been exploring ways to solve the issues of traceability and tracking for years. The ability to track the source and path of food that shows up in stores and restaurants would be invaluable during any food contamination incidents. Organizations that move product via external carriers (particularly perishable goods) can reduce loss simply from the extra visibility(e.g., frozen meat in rail cars decoupled at railheads during transition and lost in the exchange between trains).
We can also employ blockchain for human resources records, including verified work history, education, and a criminal background check. All industries can use it for copyright protection as intellectual property moves from creators to aggregators to distributors and sellers. And we can apply the technology to track high-value and sensitive items (e.g., guns) and for unique identification services with associated artifacts, making it very difficult to steal IDs or hijack accounts, property titles, and so forth.
More examples of blockchain opportunities include:
Telematics/IoT— protecting data during transmission
Drug discovery — securing custody of samples through generation and testing
Financial — insurance, banking, investing, and so on
Healthcare — heath records management/curation
Transportation/shipping — records management
Education — securing transcripts
Infotainment — safety of payments for movies, games, apps, the exchange of “currency” between games, and so on
Entertainment — the creation, ownership, and distribution of content for literature, video, and audio
Gambling — a potential game changer in the ability of anonymous parties to wager and collect on bets
Legal — wills, property exchange, divorce settlements, and so on
Blockchain (in its current and future iterations) will certainly impact various industries and governmental applications. But we will likely derive additional opportunity and value from the convergence of blockchain with other emerging technologies (e.g., IoT and artificial intelligence [AI]). Data currently created and available from IoT devices, for instance, may very well benefit from some variant of blockchain. Capturing information from trusted devices and storing it in a distributed model accessible for monitoring and real-time analysis for use by AI packages could dramatically alter the speed and quality of delivery of services and/or reaction.
Another way of looking at the opportunities offered by blockchain is through its focus on authority using a phrase from the dot-com era: disintermediation. Specifically, many of the more innovative proposed blockchain models are trying to find ways to eliminate established players from existing markets. Could a person buy a security without engaging a broker? Can a person buy a car directly from the manufacturer? Can two people perform all financial transactions without the need for a bank?
Though the array of potential uses of blockchain can appear to be limitless, organizations must look beyond the emotional hype and hysteria and ask themselves whether existing technology can (or should) solve the problem. Or does blockchain offer some greater as-of-yet unrealized benefit that could provide your organization with a leap-frog differentiator?
[For more from the authors on this topic, see “Blockchain for Automation: Assessing and Seizing the Opportunity.”]
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