Some of the biggest players in the corporate world have been getting into the blockchain game, with most of them looking beyond cryptocurrency to the potential of blockchain technology to help them improve processes, transform business models and realize completely new opportunities.
Walmart, for example, recently filed a patent application for a blockchain-based system that would allow customers to register their purchases, with the aim of establishing a marketplace where customers could easily resell items. This is in addition to another patent the retail giant filed in March for a blockchain-based “smart package” delivery system.
IBM has also been working with Walmart on a blockchain-based food supply chain tracking system, with successful pilot projects tracking pork supplies in China and mangoes in Central America. That partnership has expanded into a consortium of major companies, including Dole, Unilever and Nestle, that are further exploring the possibilities for this project.
Microsoft is working with JPMorgan Chase and several other corporate giants on a similar venture based on Ethereum that would compete with IBM’s system. Microsoft is also collaborating with both Accenture and Bank of America on yet more blockchain projects.
That’s only the latest tip of the iceberg in blockchain interest by major companies. Others developing blockchain applications include Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com, shipping line Maersk, Airbus, Daimler, BAE and major financial players including HSBC, ING and U.S. Bank.
What Blockchain Technology Brings
Blockchain technology is probably most well-known for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. But its technological foundations offer the potential for many more applications. Blockchain could improve consensus and democracy in political and work environments and deliver operational efficiencies, data verification and workflows that improve customer engagement and trust.
Chief among the blockchain’s features is its ability to create trust. A blockchain stores data across a huge network of computers that constantly verify information with each other. Each computer on the blockchain network has a copy of the exact same data, so it cannot be altered after the fact.
This decentralised and immutable nature is designed to allow parties who may not trust each other or a third party to recognize a single truth and agree on transactions.
Many of the top 300 companies in the world say that between 50% and 70% of their assets are soft assets, meaning data and software. Often, elements of these soft assets could be useful to others. Blockchain and trustless environments backed by smart contract technology can enable them to safely share and monetise these elements in a trackable way.
Blockchain technology is already showing promise for established companies in the realms of the supply chain, data security and finance, among others. It could also be a boon in situations where enterprises need verified proof of provenance, actions or claims, including in court or when dealing with audits or enforcement.
In order to rely on evidence, all parties must be able to trust that it is complete, accurate and unchanged. This can be achieved by using the blockchain to record transactions.
When digital records, such as data transactions, events and documents, are stored on the blockchain, they are recorded in an immutable ledger. Each piece of data or event is permanent and can be linked to related pieces of data in a chain for a transparent and unchangeable record of a series of events, transactions or other data.
Not only that, but the blockchain offers far more security than traditional databases. A hacker would need to breach a majority of the computers in the network at the same time in order to falsify information or otherwise compromise data — which is practically impossible to do.
One example of how blockchain can help businesses is in the case of manufacturers fighting counterfeiting or proving the provenance of their products.
Traditionally, manufacturers have stored data about their supply chain and the provenance of their goods on their own individual databases —a system that is not very secure or automatically trusted among all parties.
Using the blockchain, a manufacturer can record all the various points along the way of a particular product’s journey through the supply chain, creating a permanent record of each product’s provenance. Using this type of record, a company can prove that it did not make a counterfeit item. If a serial number were copied, for example, the company could produce the record of a product’s journey to prove that the counterfeit product is a fake.
Living up to Potential
Blockchain technology is still in its infancy, and there are challenges that need to be overcome for it to live up to its true potential.
But the future holds many exciting possibilities for the embrace of revolutionary solutions in areas ranging from finance to providing verified proof — and many more to come.