How companies are using blockchain now

If I said that one day, your company might not have any leadership, no board or C-suite, no single person at the helm, what would you say?

You might immediately assume it’ll go out of business. After all, strong leadership is essential to success. But having no management is becoming a distinct possibility because of the blockchain.

Running a completely decentralised company on the blockchain is one of the more novel use cases for the technology. But nothing can be ruled out — and with many businesses experimenting with blockchain, anything is possible.

Blockchain’s potential uses

Much has been said about the blockchain and its potential for the future of work. A lot of discussion focuses on the fact that blockchain technology is impossible to alter or corrupt. Due to the way it was developed, blockchain technology is very secure — it cannot be affected by a single entity because it’s decentralised. Everything is verified across the system whenever there’s a change.

The most common use currently bandied around is blockchain’s application for accounting. It’s also the most obvious. The blockchain is essentially a digital ledger, so it’s not a stretch of the imagination to apply it to an industry drowning in (mostly paper) ledgers. There are other applications, of course, mostly across insurance, banking and logistics.

With the blockchain market expected to grow to more than $60 billion by 2024, many companies are jostling for dominance. From start-ups to global companies, everyone wants a piece.

Public companies experimenting with blockchain technology

These companies include the Chinese tech giant Alibaba. It’s working on a food supply chain solution powered by blockchain and is also stumping up $14 billion to invest in early-stage blockchain start-ups.

Blockchain technology will have a significant impact on supply chain logistics because it is transparent. Anyone within the network can track where something has originated from and key points along its journey. Inefficiencies in the supply chain — as well as potential issues with slavery or conflicts — can be resolved overnight through the blockchain.

Another Chinese company, Tencent, is working on a further application for blockchain: taxes. It is collaborating with the Shenzhen State Taxation Bureau to explore how it can better track taxes and spending.

Because the blockchain cannot be altered once a record is made, it is particularly exciting for public records. Incidentally, it could also create accurate ‘digital CVs’ for every employee, recording their academics, experience and skills better than current formats.

Of course, you cannot talk about cutting-edge technology without involving the tech giants. Facebook and Alphabet (the company running Google) are experimenting with blockchain. IBM is notable in its involvement as well. It has multiple initiatives including a partnership with The Plastic Bank to monetise plastic waste as a way to solve the global plastic problem.

Start-ups are involved too

There are plenty of start-ups developing services on the blockchain as well. Returning to blockchain for logistics, Everledger uses the technology to track diamonds in the global supply chain — preventing blood diamonds from entering the system.

One start-up, DADI, even wants to create a whole new internet. One that isn’t controlled by large tech companies, making it fairer, safer and faster. It runs on spare computing power in homes and businesses, which makes it more environmentally friendly and cheaper than current services.

Varius World Tech (VWT) provides blockchain services to the gambling industry to solve its most pressing issues. Running certain processes on the blockchain makes the industry more cost-effective and transparent, with artificial intelligence helping to spot problematic gamblers.

Then there is Medicalchain which uses the blockchain to store health records that have higher accuracy, security and are accessible across the many patient care providers.

Secure record-keeping is also a selling point for Blockpass, which uses the blockchain to tackle identity verification. Users have more control over their identities with what is essentially an online passport. It reduces compliance costs and stops companies from having to store personal data — a potential GDPR sticking point.

Gaining the ability to audit the blockchain

With many companies now investing in the technology, it was only a matter of time before the Big Four (Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC) began expanding their capabilities in the space. There is a particular challenge in putting the blockchain on the balance sheet. One that the Big Four has yet to solve.

Gaining an understanding of what they are dealing with is their first priority. After all, you cannot account for what you don’t know about. There also needs to be a common language for the technology, if it is to scale across global organisations.

This highlights some of the considerations that companies need to account for when using blockchain technology. Because it is distributed across a network, there needs to be a consensus between all parties over key factors in the blockchain (such as deployment).

To solve this, there may be some platforms that run on the blockchain that can be used across industries. Oracle is planning to launch one such platform, for enterprise customers that want to use the blockchain with less hassle.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype surrounding blockchain, which is why it’s so important to identify a clear business case. Pilots aren’t going to be successful without linking to wider business goals and challenges.

Blockchain early adopters must keep evolving

Blockchain technology is still evolving, so companies experimenting now will need to constantly adapt and refine their solutions. It’s very much a work-in-progress. Companies that dedicate time and resources to understanding it today, will be better prepared when it hits the mainstream tomorrow.

Photo by Hitesh Choudhary on Unsplash.


Originally published at guild.co on November 7, 2018.