Tech Nomad Notes
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Tech Nomad Notes

Chasing blockchain: what are the odds?

By Olga Grinina

Blockchain technology today is apparently looked upon as the silver bullet to each and every industry. Is that really so? Well, it definitely has a wide array of use cases, yet it shouldn’t be speculated merely for the sake of making XXX-profits at sneaky ICOs or for the jump in stock price by virtue of mere putting the word ‘blockchain’ or ‘crypto’ in front of the company’s name.

No doubt some investors and media can be severely misled by mentioning crypto or blockchain in a business-plan or a pitch deck. Those savvier would probably be questioning the very necessity for implementing the distributed ledger on this specific platform in the first place. If we are to examine the real benefit blockchain technology is carrying it is surely traceability, cost-effectiveness, immutability, eliminating human error and speeding up transactions and agreement relations between the parties utilizing smart contracts. Hence, the industries that benefit from leveraging blockchain are those that need all of that. Take for instance state bodies and governments: the service is mostly bad and at high cost and everything is dependent on government officials. Given recent data privacy concerns notorious cases of private user data breaches, it looks like putting Facebook or Twitter on blockchain seems to be the most logical leap. And it’s probably about to happen in a matter of months: Telegram — an encrypted messaging service is setting a new ICO-cap record by raising $1.2 billion as we speak! As Tim Draper (who, apart from being one of the strongest, yet at times ridiculous, advocates of Bitcoin, is one of the first to have invested in Google and Amazon) fairly notes blockchain’s biggest power is the capability of safeguarding user personal data, which leads to a number of other use cases for all those industries that need accurate and secure data to run smoothly: healthcare, e-commerce, insurance, etc.

And we don’t need to go far to see examples where world top-tier corporations are leveraging blockchain to enhance their operation. Bank of America has just received the patent for the blockchain-based storage system. It addresses the issue of data transferring and tracking, and describes a system with automated data authentication and secured access to data. All the big names in IT and telecom are actively implementing distributed ledger for data protection and securing transactions too: Amazon also filed for the patent for streaming data marketplace that would enable users to receive real-time cryptocurrency transactions data. This development is seeking to assists corporations in managing big data by processing streaming data on a large scale with relatively low latency. Google is also in the loop: last week it announced two blockchain projects it’s working on: a “tamper-proof” auditing system and a cloud operations platform. Another telecom giant Cisco is now working on confidential communication system based on blockchain to ensure confidential and secure group messaging, file sharing, and tracking of membership history.

Healthcare is one of those industries where once applied blockchain has the greatest potential to serve for the good of humanity on a global scale. And it’s developing quite rapidly: a company based in Germany has just developed a Blockchain-based solution for the management of sensitive medical data, United Health Group — a big industry player in America — has also made its entry into blockchain. What all of those startups are doing is basically improving security and effective distribution of information among involved parties, providing for the integrity of medical records and speeding up insurance claim payments.

Turning to fintech, recent cases count Mastercard’s patent for a Blockchain system to store and verify identity data: “Marsh sees great opportunity in leveraging Blockchain technology to better serve our clients by maximizing efficiency and creating new opportunities in the insurance value chain”.

Of all those use cases, the most global regarding its potential to shift the whole economic system is probably blockchain’s implementation into supply chain system. And it well looks like e-commerce use cases are in a way stemming out of there. Making online payments easier and more secure is only the top of the iceberg. The whole idea of applying blockchain to supply chain is coming from its power to tokenize assets. Why tokenize? Well, the economic reality now is that there is a large gap between the amount of money available and the number of valuable assets. And tokenization would allow any business to place their existing assets like real estate and inventory on the blockchain, i.e. in a virtual space. This week’s headlines featured the news of Salesforce working on a blockchain product. Salesforce is delivering a CRM product and sells commercial applications of social networking through acquisition and internal development.

Speaking of traceability and immutability, one of the fields in bad need of disruption is definitely online opinions and scoring. Its importance for the global economy and business growth cannot be overestimated. Yelp is not working anymore and brings zero value with fake paid reviews flooding around. Blockchain might fix that by eliminating the possibility to alter or delete a review. And this is hugely important: if a reviewer knows that his opinion is to stay online forever and all the alterations can be traced — he would probably take more responsibility in expressing it. Add an incentivized awards model and there is a perfect solution to tackle the issue. One of the recent examples here is a Moscow-based startup /*/ that ultimately seeks to create a win-win situation for consumers and businesses companies alike. By building the platform that helps companies to get genuine reviews and develop their businesses accordingly, it is poised to bring blockchain to the masses and fuel the growth of the global sharing economy.

However, sometimes blockchain use cases that first looked ridiculous in terms of the necessity to be put on smart contracts, now appear to be making more sense at a closer look. Take ‘Cryptokitties’ for instance. Is it just about buying pretty kitties and choosing fancy accessories for them? Or an attempt to create a virtual universe with virtual goods to be able to capitalize on? If you are a gaming and VR fan, you totally see what I mean.

I’m a strong advocate for the distributed ledger. But as with any emerging technology, the adoption time naturally varies significantly from one industry to another: a conscious team leader or CEO would not be pushing for ‘putting the business on blockchain when realistically there are absolutely no grounds for that. At the same time, tech-community and crypto-economics researchers should make every effort to raise public awareness of how blockchain operates and in what ways it may benefit the businesses. Ultimately, like any new fundamental technology shift, the distributed ledger has great potential to reimagine the way the global economy works contributing to the development of sharing economy or even paving the way for some sort of new economic model — let’s see what happens in the next 10 years.

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